June is Pride Month, the annual celebration and remembrance of the fight for LGBTQIA+ civil rights. Rainbows emerge everywhere — on Facebook profile pictures, retail clothing and accessory lines, home flags and banners, cookies, cakes, and more — providing visibility that is powerfully important and necessary. Among the parades, there are stories of loss that permeate this fight for recognition, for the right to embrace identities that were first fought for internally.
I grew up as one of those people who believed that things are supposed to happen in a certain way. Go to college, get married, have babies. I intended to squeeze in a fabulous career with a luscious wardrobe. I had the career and the wardrobe, but the rest was someone else’s reality. Relationships felt like a perpetual struggle to find the Chandler to my Monica, the Mr. Big to my Carrie. With a broken engagement, a short marriage, too many relationships that never got off the ground or that crashed and burned, and a health-related decision not to have children, my journey was decidedly not neat and orderly. I envied the friends of mine who married the men of their dreams and had solid, strong, and long relationships and became more than convinced that there was something that I wasn’t bringing to the table. While I was on a steady diet of self-help books, I rationalized that my solid, strong, and long relationship would be with work. I even went so far as to say that it made sense — work was always there for me and almost never let me down.
The Universe had another journey planned for me.
When I first saw the woman who is now my wife, I recall her smile, her style, and the way she lit up the room of 300 people we were in. Andrea was being welcomed as a new employee at our organization and, in the span of that 30 seconds when her name was called and she stood up, people were drawn to her. And I was one of them. I was transported back to high school, hoping that the new cool kid would become my friend.
What followed was a rippling of work interactions, overlapping circles of friends, and life changes. She ended an 18-year relationship and struck out to make a life of her own, a moment of bravery and courage that still astounds me. Not unlike many characters in a game of Name that Romantic Comedy, she dared to believe that she could have a different life. She knew there was something — or someone — more for her. My moment of bravery and courage was a Facebook friend request some two years after that first introduction and a suggestion that we meet for lunch. Not even close to the magnitude of her leap of faith, but it was a leap for me, nonetheless. What I was most sure of was that I wanted to be around her. Letting that lead me was the bravest thing I could have done.
I had only dated men. I had been married to one for four years. Andrea and I didn’t have a Glennon Doyle / Abby Wambach “there she is” moment that led to a whirlwind romance, but our love story has some of the same elements. Reading Doyle’s book Untamed was inspiring and also made me feel less alone in my own journey.
The relationship Andrea and I built was everything that was missing from those that came before it. It still is. There was no competition, only mutual admiration and adoration. I was no longer trying to fit into a certain gender role (or justifying that not fitting them was not a character flaw). There was pride in who we were as individuals and who we became as a couple. There was a mutual love of shoes. Never before had I wanted to make someone as happy as I wanted to make her.
I don’t have a “coming out” story like so many others do. Sure, I went through some serious introspection about my attraction to Andrea, what it meant for me to contemplate a same sex relationship, and how that information would be received by others, but I didn’t publicly declare that I’m a member of the LGBTQIA+ community. My declaration was “I’m in a relationship with Andrea.” I chose the direct route simply because I didn’t know what box to check. By default, I must be bisexual, but that’s the analytical side of me working overtime and making a conclusion based on the evidence presented. Previously married to a man + now married to a woman = Bisexual. But, the more I thought about which box I would check, a bigger question emerged — does the box even matter?
A friend summarized it profoundly, succinctly, and brilliantly, talking about her own process of marrying the first woman she dated — “I didn’t know how to come out of a closet I didn’t know I was in.” The truth of that statement still gives me goosebumps. And, no one (other than my wife) has asked me how I identify.
Another friend said, “I didn’t know you were attracted to women.’’ My uncensored but honest response that “I’m not attracted to women, I’m attracted to THIS woman” helped me to understand that the box I was checking was irrelevant. What mattered was the person in front of me, the person with whom the broken pieces of me were mended, strengthened, and brightened, who could make me laugh more deeply than ever before, who truly and proudly loved me, supported me, and appreciated me — SHE was everything. For someone who likes things neat and orderly, I now embrace the absence of that order. I don’t care as much about the identity label, I care about the relationship and how I am in it.
When we disclosed our relationship, the support from family and friends was immediate and unequivocal. I may have questioned how some people outside of our immediate circle would receive the news and the mental gymnastics proved overwhelming, but, I never once thought about NOT disclosing. I never questioned the relationship because my head and my heart were finally in lockstep. The bigger message was not lost on either of us. The ease with which we could announce our relationship was a result of the decades of struggle of those who came before us. That we could marry, buy a home together, be each other’s health care proxy and life insurance beneficiary, and more simply but profoundly, express our love for each other without fear, is the reason June is so important.
Now approaching four years of marriage and with our family rounded out by our Golden Retriever, Piper, I’m not only happy and in love, I’m content. The undercurrent of unease is gone, the feeling that there is something more/different/better in my future has been replaced by something new, peace. We are happily supported and celebrated by a group of friends, gay and straight, who love us both and have joined us on this journey that is just getting started. These are luxuries that many did not and do not have. My privilege is showing.
The adage, “self-pride is no pride,” cautions against being boastful, but framing that advice through a lens of self-acceptance gives it a different meaning, one that is strongly positive. Self-pride means accepting who you are at the deepest level and reflecting that to the world with confidence and with contentment. I’m not entirely there yet. But, I’m closer.
This June, and throughout the other 11 months, I acknowledge with the LGBTQIA+ community the joy and the work in the journey. Along the way, acknowledging that everyone is on their own path toward peace and happiness gives us all the freedom to meet people where they are, neat and orderly or not, with a box checked or not.