When I tell you I live in San Francisco, you may think being gay here is just a done deal. And most of the time, you might be right: I don’t worry about who I am or whether I am or seem “out” to anyone else. My wonderful wife and child and I can simply exist.
Then I remember the irony of the train ride on the evening of Tuesday, November 4, 2008. A group of us took the F-Market train from the No On Prop 8 headquarters down to the democratic campaign headquarters at the St. Francis hotel, all decked out in our No On Prop 8 shirts, carrying No On Prop 8 signs and generally excited though uncertain about what was to be a long roller-coaster night of heartbreak ahead.
We were taunted on the train. A group of kids were seething slurs at us, and the slurs were not at all pretty. We were, basically, publicly humiliated.
It’s true so much has changed even just since then. Five years later we’ve not yet seen the repeal of Prop 8, but other states have managed to overcome the barrier to popular vote for the rights of gays and lesbians to marry. We feel the tide turning. But we still have a long ride ahead.
Last week we took the Amtrak Coast Starlight up to Seattle and back for Loret and Aimee’s beautiful wedding on Saturday, April 6. The thing about these long rides on Amtrak trains is that you’re not just traveling – you’re dining, watching movies, squeezing through tight corridors, and generally hanging out with a bunch of people you don’t know. For an entire day.
When you go into the dining car for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, unless you’re a party of four already, you’re placed together with others who fill the table. Each time, you try to have conversations.
“Where did you get on the train?”
“Where are you headed?”
“Oh you’re going to a wedding – how wonderful!”
“Is your daughter going to be in the wedding?”
“Who’s getting married?”
Conversations with strangers are wonderful – even when one is badly slept and unshowered on a rocking train. Conversations about our gay families though – even in 2013 – are still risky. Here’s what it’s like:
“Who’s getting married?”
All in a split second, you consider the 2012 election result that approved same-sex marriage in the state to which the train is heading, stick the fact in your back pocket that 53.7% approved the marriage you’re going to witness, and by proxy your own marriage, and come up with the figure that roughly 1 in every two you meet, were they Washington voters and did they vote in this particular election, are going to be thusly supportive of the conversation you’re about to consider having.
And you try to evaluate: which one is this?
Not everybody gets this opportunity to have their relationship status a subject of national debate. Usually this is considered a good thing – a matter of privacy – but we’re global citizens, sharing the same world, the same country, the same dining car table – and marriage is nothing if not about a societal conversation and recognition.
I don’t always succeed in taking the opportunity to represent who I am, even in the face of a 53.7% chance of being met with frank approval.
On the train, I failed at the first meal, with the couple from Imperial County in California. Somewhere my mind made a judgment from within the context of the 2008 Prop 8 verdict of their home county, and I answered the dining questions vaguely, for which I felt like a deceptive and bad global traveler.
The rest of the conversations would go differently. With the mom and her kid, who seemed almost mirror images of my daughter and me and were returning to their home city near Seattle — with them we talked freely, and I thanked them for approving R74 – even though I had no idea how they actually voted. They reacted supportively – almost like this wedding thing is just a given.
Then there’s an entire other end of the spectrum. My wife Leanne was practically jumped upon by a self-professed conservative Republican who wanted to apologize for his party and wish us well whatever the hell we wanted to do. Eventually for Leanne it became a matter of choice NOT to keep talking to this fine fellow — she had other things to do on the train, after all.
What a difference indeed the five years – the ten years – the knowing of one out of every two – makes. I should represent like every other person who is alive today can, but I get this extra chance – to represent in the face of a flying social issue. I do try, and not always very well.
The flip-side of the 53.7% factor is the 46.3% factor. For this good reason and many better ones, conversations on our journey, still risky, are more and more important, rewarding, and hopeful — every day.