Over the holidays, my husband Ray and I were being seated at an event at which the hostess and I were marginally acquainted. A lovely woman, she knew I was gay; this was of no consequence.
"Richard, why don't you sit here," she said, scanning the assemblage, "and your friend Ray over here."
"My husband," I quickly corrected. I blurt this out all the time nowadays without giving it a thought.
This was not always so. A few years back, upon clarifying my and Ray's status as a married couple, I would immediately assault myself as being rude, overly assertive and putting a perfectly well-meaning person on the defensive, leaving them feeling chastised, even slightly humiliated at being a victim to his or her own insensitivity. Get with it, girl. A flash of anger might register when a straight matron, politically well left of center, knew Ray and I had been living together for years.
Even among good friends I used to be reluctant to say "husband" when so many same-sex couples were electing not to go this route for a variety of reasons. It could often feel childish: Look at us, aren't we special?
In let's call it a red-state situation, especially the Country Club "het-set," I began seizing any and all opportunities to introduce Ray as my husband. There was that moment of startle to their eyes which I savored.
I am not, nor have I ever been, sadly, a social activist. But such occasions of practically shouting in hostile territory that I was not only a homosexual but married to one seemed tantamount to sticking up a middle finger in their faces.
Is this the nice, polite, well-mannered little homo that I raised myself to be? Maybe no longer so nice.
Strutting into a college reunion not so long ago with Ray (who is very handsome, so I am constantly told, as if I need reminding), arm-in-arm, was an experience of devilish glee. An Ivy League, privileged lot, you'd think it would be oozing acceptance of diversity, since they themselves reside securely on the top of the heap. However, not a queer in site. In fact, the throng was a sea of Wall Street lawyers and investment bankers, affable George and Barbara Bushes with pot-bellies and pearls. Boy, did those introductions elevate some heavy-lidded eyes.
But now to the point: Once folks learned we were married, they melted into warm hugs. We belonged to the club. We put love at the forefront. Out poured tales of gay sons and nephews and employees and colleagues adopting babies. We were normal. Such a relief! Forget the icky stuff, the unmentionables, what happens behind closed doors can stay there, where it belongs.
Also over the holidays I met a gay couple who has been together for 27 years. For one of the men, never was the reality of his relationship spelled out for friends, let alone family. (Fair enough, it was the outback, Nebraska or one of those foreign countries.) They eloped in a state now sanctioning same-sex marriage. Afterwards, this man told his parents, who were never comfortable in the partner's presence. Suddenly, the partner was "family." They embraced. "A son-in-law," beamed the mother.
States legalizing gay marriage are gaining steamroller momentum. What's to stop it? Not politics or the courts of law. The body of this business is buried deep within ourselves, to continue to step forward into the light of day for all to see.
It was recently reported http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/28/business/a-year-for-rebounds-rights-and-refusals.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0that Exxon Mobil, one of the world's largest corporations, is now recognizing "all legal marriages for the purposes of eligibility in (spousal) benefits." However, in a more basic way, they do not protect against discrimination in hiring, firing and everything between. In order to gain those same-sex spousal benefits, a person has to come out as gay, which many are still very reluctant to do because of the antagonistic corporate culture.
As Cece Cox of the Resource Center Dallas, an LGBT service organization, succinctly puts it: "Will gay employees feel free to put a picture of their spouse or partner on their desk?" http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/28/business/a-year-for-rebounds-rights-and-refusals.html?pagewanted=all&_r=
Whether a gay friend or partner or husband or wife, we'll know real progress in winning hearts and minds, our own included, is at hand when this proudly-displayed desktop photo is no longer a big deal.
Richard Alther's latest novel is "The Scar Letters."