I can count on one hand the number of times my husband, Paul and I have argued. Ten years together and five fingers represent the occasions when we have raised our voices to the level that crossed the threshold from "lively discussion" to argument. The last one took place in Florida when Paul told me I was being too much of an "activist." It was the way he used air quotes that left me rankled.
"Activist?" I sang, hand held up, voice slipping into the soprano range. Mariah Carey would have been impressed.
We were searching for an escape from the long, cold Boston winters and a place to potentially retire. The marketing materials for a housing development were scattered about the hotel bed in front of me. They included photos of an attractive, older couple clutching tennis rackets and baring white, Chiclet teeth, a family gathered at a picnic table with a red checkered table-cloth, father and son in blue polo shirts (tucked in), Mom in a pink blouse, daughter in purple. They were all very white and all very straight. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but it was wrong for me. That's when I became the activist.
"Liberty, Tradition, Freedom?" I held up the glossy pictures printed with the names of the house models and shook them, exhibit A.
"They're adorable," Paul replied.
It was the biographical insert about the builder that tipped me off. I Googled him. He had been a Florida politician and a member of the Christian Coalition, a staunch defender of "traditional marriage" and campaigned against same-sex marriage. Paul wanted me to line the builder's pockets by considering the purchase of a house in his development.
"How can I buy a home from someone who thinks we shouldn't be allowed to share one as a married couple?" I asked.
"They're affordable. I'm just trying to do what's best for our family," Paul raised his voice.
"Our family is gay!" I shouted, my voice now in falsetto.
Ten years together, five arguments and this one was becoming a real chart-topper. That's when the tears started rolling down my cheeks. I wasn't angry at my husband for calling me an activist. I am one. I've just grown so fucking weary of appending the phrase "gay friendly" to my Google searches for restaurants, bars, hotels and cities.
"Why does it matter what the builder thinks?" Paul asked.
It's not what the builder thinks, it's what I think. And what I think is that the daily stresses we face as a gay couple are damaging. It's as small as the hotel desk clerk asking if we'd like two beds when Paul and I check into one room and as immense as listening to the news about the largest mass shooting in America that took place at an Orlando, Florida gay club.
I was born with a bulls-eye on my back and every day, no matter how fleeting, I worry that something I do may trigger someone's ire. I can't kiss my husband in public or take his hand without surveying the surroundings first. When we rent a new home, I have to consider whether the landlord has a deep-seated hatred for gays. When I mention Paul in conversations, sometimes I trade the term "husband" for "partner." And when I search for a place to spend my golden years, I narrow it down to the LGBT+ friendly Goldilocks zone, knowing that a single bigoted neighbor could ruin it all.
It makes my blood boil when politicians take away our rights with one hand and offer hypocritical condolences after we are murdered, with the other.
I'm typically not a complainer. I prefer action over whining and that's why I choose to spend my dollars and cast my votes where it benefits me and my family. I can't research every single thing I purchase, but when it becomes known that an anti-gay person or organization may receive one penny of my money, I withhold.
"Can I get a hug?" Paul asked.
Five fingers and five arguments, but one finger stands out more than any of the others and that's the one surrounded by a band of gold. I fought for it by testifying in the New Hampshire State House against a proposed bill banning marriage equality.
Paul is the optimist, the one who finds the good in most people and thinks we may serve as an example to bring about change, while I generally think that most bigots will always remain bigots. It's this point counterpoint between our two voices that makes our relationship sing and on the rare occasion, sound somewhat shrill.
"The hugs are free," I replied and melted into his arms. "But I'm not selling my soul."
I cupped my hand around the nape of Paul's neck and mentally tallied on each finger some of the names I have been called. I have been called an activist. I have been called a faggot. I have even been called a diva. But my ring finger is reserved for "husband" and anyone who stands in the way of me being called equal gets the middle one.
William Dameron's personal blog is "The Authentic Life"