"Shane, we get it. Your boyfriend died. Stop living in the past!"
"People are starving in the world, people are dying of cancer every hour, and yet you go around blabbing your mouth and telling your sob story, over, and over, and over again."
"It's been two years since the queen died! Get over it and just SHUT THE FU** Up!"
I often hear comments like these. It's true, many of you have probably already heard my story, if not multiple times then perhaps in passing. On May 7, 2011, I lost the love of my life, Tom Bridegroom, in a tragic accident. We had been committed to each other for six years; we owned a home, a business and a dog together. We dreamed of starting a family and vowed to marry when it became legally possible. Following Tom's death I was denied access to his body, banned from the funeral and threatened with violence by his family if I dared to show up.
I spent the months after Tom died lost, confused and desperate to find an outlet for my grief. I eventually made a video, "It Could Happen to You," a 10-minute account of our relationship and the horrific aftermath of his sudden passing that I released on YouTube on the one-year anniversary of his death:
Now it's been exactly two years since I lost Tom. The pain is still sharp, the tears still very real. But in those moments of darkness, I still wake up every single day thankful to have had the time with him that I did.
A few months after Tom died, my therapist recommended that I write a letter to him (a common tool for dealing with grief). It was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do; I had lost Tom so abruptly and unexpectedly, and it seemed impossible to compile all my thoughts, feelings and unsaid words into a single letter.
Two years later, writing a letter to Tom is still painful and challenging. However, I thought it would be a fitting way to honor his memory and share my love for him with all of you: the friends, family and even complete strangers who have been so patient with and supportive of me.
My dear Tom,
I never understood why you chose me. I couldn't understand how you, the athlete, the musician, the popular kid who excelled in everything, wanted to be with me. You were so intelligent, compassionate and funny; everyone loved you. I was an awkward kid from Montana who barely survived high school and moved to L.A. wearing a red fleece vest that I wore even during the summer.
But you always believed in me. You challenged me to be a better person, and you tried so hard to get me to see the good in myself. You tried to convince me that I was worthy of love -- of your love.
Throughout my childhood, I remained silent. I allowed fear and years of bullying to prevent me from standing up for myself. I never thought my voice would be a voice to which anyone would ever care to listen. Yet you constantly reminded me, even after you died, that my voice can be just as loud as everyone else's, that my story is just as important, and that my life matters.
After losing you, I spent a year searching for myself. I tried to make sense of it all. I didn't understand how someone like you, full of love and talent, with an amazing future, could be taken from us at such a young age. You were full of life, healthy (even vegan!) and destined for greatness. I was overwhelmed with guilt after you died. I felt like I didn't tell you I loved you enough. I felt like I could have treated you better. I felt like it should have been I who died, not you.
As the first anniversary of your death approached, I finally reached a point where I had had enough of silently grieving. I was tired of living in fear and feeling like my life was meaningless. I posted a YouTube video, and soon the world knew about you, me and the love we shared. I had been so ashamed to be gay, even while we were together, but your death gave me the strength to stop hiding and shout it from the rooftops. I was scared, but you gave me courage. I was sad, but you made me smile. I was ashamed, but you made me proud, and now I encourage others to be proud too.
I am proud. I am proud to have called you my best friend, my boyfriend, the love of my life. I am proud that the world knows about our once-secret code for "I love you" -- tap, tap, tap -- and that it is becoming a symbol of equal love. I am proud of you, Tom, for somehow managing to affect the world with positivity and light even though you are no longer physically with us anymore.
Our story is now a feature-length documentary, and it's named after you: Bridegroom. I still can't comprehend that. George Takei and other influential friends helped launch the most successful crowd-funding campaign ever. Our story was accepted into the Tribeca Film Festival, President Bill Clinton introduced the film, and we won the audience award! You and I only ever wanted to love each other, quietly, without prejudice or harm. We weren't granted that, but the power of our love is opening people's hearts and minds in a very big and public way.
Over the past year I've had unimaginable support, but I've also heard from thousands of people who want me to "shut the fu** up and kill myself." Tom, I know that awful things happen to people every day, and that I'm so lucky to have ever been loved by you at all. But losing you taught me to speak up for what's important and believe in myself. I owe it to you and to every gay person who dreams of getting married someday not to keep my mouth shut.
I would give anything to bring you back or spend one more day with you, to hug you, kiss you and tell you I love you, over, and over, and over again. I know that that can't happen, so I am channeling those dreams into a new purpose in life. You showed me how to love myself and fight for what's right, so I'm devoting myself to doing the same for others.
Two years ago I lost you and felt like life wasn't worth living without you. Two years later my heart still breaks without you. There are still moments when I question my ability to go on, but then I am reminded of the love and support I have from people all over the world. I refuse to give up. I refuse to allow anyone be treated as a second-class citizen. I refuse to remain silent. For whatever reason, Tom, this is my path, and you led me here. Even in death, you, Tom Bridegroom, stand for something much larger than yourself.
People have told me that I'm living in the past, but I believe that the only way to truly move forward from past trauma is to learn from our experiences by reflecting on them. I believe that by sharing our story, we may change the way people view the LGBT community. Today I feel more alive than ever, fighting for you, our love and the equal rights of everyone. I will not selfishly stay quiet because I am scared. You never did. I want to live how you lived, and I want to do things that make you proud.
You taught me that life is short, but life is sweet. And I plan to live my life accordingly.
You are lost, Tom, but never forgotten.
Tap, tap, tap.