Last June I was sexually molested by another gay man during L.A. Pride. It's not worth getting into details, but suffice to say, this wasn't your run-of-the-mill dance-floor groping. I was in a dark, unfamiliar room, alone, powerless, terrified. As I walked home that night, I turned to look back at West Hollywood, and I wanted to burn it to the ground.
I've been called a faggot while taking a punch, alienated by people I love, told I'm ugly and worthless, but this? This was dehumanizing. I was a piece of meat. And it happened during a celebration of LGBTQ identity, and it was done to me by a gay man. Pride? Proud of what, exactly? The question haunted me for weeks. I couldn't sleep.
Two weeks later, the New York Senate passed the Marriage Equality Act, effectively legalizing gay marriage in one of the most populous states in America. New York City is arguably the capital of the New World; this was quite possibly the most significant domino piece to be toppled thus far, and now with Maryland following suit, the legalization of human love is more than a pipe dream.
I was sitting at the LAX airport when I heard the news, waiting to board a flight to San Francisco. My phone buzzed, and a text popped up from a friend: "Wanna get married in NYC?" At the time, it was bittersweet for me, personally. Later, on the plane, as I watched California sprawl beneath me, I wondered if gay men deserved to marry. Is it too late for us?
The first time I ever heard talk of gay marriage, I was probably around 10, and I was listening to my aunts and uncles spout about politics at a family reunion. It was becoming a hot-button issue at the time, and while I still didn't quite grasp exactly what gay people were, I was one of those kids who liked to pretend that they could keep up with adult speak. "Why do gay people want to get married?" I asked my uncle.
My uncle laughed. "Crazy, isn't it? Listen, I know gay people personally. And believe me, none of them want to get married. Why would they? They just screw each other until they drop dead of AIDS." His wife shushed him and told me to go play with my cousins.
As I walked around S.F. Pride last year, this conversation popped back into my head. I watched as people held signs proclaiming "Marriage Equality" and "Love Is Equal," and I wanted to join them, but I couldn't.
I don't think people quite comprehend the profound effect it has upon a group of people when they are told that their love is not valid. My generation of gays has grown up with the notion that we aren't equal, that our feelings are weak shadows of straight love.
Is it any wonder why we have such self-destructive reputations of promiscuity, drug use, and abuse? These seem to be the main accusations that anti-gay-marriage activists dole out. What a vicious cycle. Gays can't marry because we're all sluts... and we are sluts because we can't marry.
I found a quiet place under a tree at Dolores Park, where the S.F. Pride festivities were taking place. I took in the sheer volume of the crowd, every color, age, gender, and size possible, a gathering of people who had in common the fact that they were different. People smiled at me, and I smiled back. It was beautiful, and there was a Great Hope that permeated throughout the crowd. For the first time in a very long time, I cried. Not because of what happened, but because -- despite it -- this Great Hope overwhelmed me.
I realized then how momentous this was, how someday I'd be telling my grandkids about how I was at S.F. Pride the weekend after New York legalized gay marriage.
And it had nothing to do with how one piece of meat treated another piece of meat on a drunken night. This is a battle, one of the few in my life in which I am not just an army of one but part of a greater movement that is fighting not just for gays but for humankind.
What is marriage? It's more than a few signatures on a piece of paper, and it's more than our needing recognition. Marriage is a shining hope that we can aspire to. It gives our love a reason and a meaning. It narrows our search to one person. It makes the idea of a soulmate seem less like a silly romantic comedy for straight people.
Sure, none of this may exist, and monogamy and marriage may just be outdated institutions. But don't we deserve the opportunity to give it a go as much as the next person?
One day, I will marry. I'll have a wedding ceremony, maybe on an idyllic beach, and I'll invite everyone I know. When it's time to cut the cake, I'll smear it on my husband's face and let him lick it off my fingers. We'll have a honeymoon, somewhere I've never been, like South America or Australia, and I'll forget to pack my cell phone.
Fast forward a few years, and I'll be sitting in the living room watching our kid play as we unwind our day. I'll be the typical Asian parent ("Educational toys only!" "No TV on weekdays!" "Finish your rice!"). But I'll also teach our kid about how lucky we are to be a family, and how my friends and I fought and yelled, side by side, obliterating these limitations on love. "People have suffered and persevered so I could have you," I'll say, "and I will never take you for granted."
I'll remember, easily, the scary place in which I grew up. I'll never forget this long moment in my life, this subhuman era. Yes, but someday I will be a husband and a father, working at my job and worrying about mundane things like the mortgage and college funds. I'll argue with my husband over many things, because when I love someone, I become a micromanaging control freak. (Theoretically, he has the patience of a saint... and the body of a sex god.)
Don't worry. Sometime soon, today will all just be a memory of a confused time when good people believed they were nothing more than pieces of meat. And our kids will read about it in history books, turn to each other and say, "Crazy, isn't it?"
Follow Justin Huang on Twitter: www.twitter.com/justinhuang