An Eye for an Eye

A different kind of chair...

A different kind of chair…

As I sat in a doctor’s waiting room for hours this week while my partner of 25 years was being treated for an emergency detached retina – surrounded as I was by numerous, very old married couples with walkers and canes tending to each other and being called Mr. and Mrs. this and that by staff while CNN blared an ongoing loop of the Supreme Court hearings on marriage equality in the background – it became quite clear to me that if things got really bad and the doctor or any of those working for him decided to be assholes and think of me as no more than “the ride,” that I could be quite screwed – really screwed – and not in the good way I have enjoyed for the last quarter century. That, in itself, is THE reason for gay marriage – a state of being that my partner and I to this day don’t have much of an overwhelming desire to enter into but will probably nevertheless take advantage of as living and breathing human beings in a societal reality ruled by laws and a medical reality where walkers, wheelchairs and various other physical maladies seem as guaranteed as our eventual legal right to one day tie the knot so as not to be screwed in that no so good way.

Things to note before we go further:

1-    My partner is recovering nicely and will have full sight again.

2-    Aside from the four plus hour wait, the doc and his staff were great

3-    I have overwhelming support from both our family and friends and enough backup to ensure I will have some, but not all legal rights to his present and future medical illnesses and the fallout/aftermath from them. This is the best that can be done right now, a lot better than many others and yet, shamefully not nearly enough of what it should be for two people who have chosen to love each other and spend their lives together for a really, really long time.

But back to the waiting room.

It's gonna be a while...

It’s gonna be a while…

At one point an older but not ancient couple (They were in their 70s – which might seem ancient to some of you but to me now just seems “older”) from Palm Springs started talking to me.  She was reading one of my favorite books, Angela’s Ashes, so I couldn’t help chatting her up, especially after I heard her dishing to her husband about the bizarre outfit one of her friends back in Rancho Mirage was wearing the previous night in an attempt to look young (That big pink scarf tied on her head, she thinks it looks good?)

In any event, this woman and her husband, a dead ringer for James Cromwell, talked to me about the news report of the new Pope giving up his luxury apartment in Rome (Can I live there?, she asked), the book she was holding in her lap (I’m only on page 2 but so many people keep telling me how good it is) and their grandson, who is a writer.

On the latter, she related:

“He just sold a script.  But it’s his first thing and he’s young, so he’s really excited.”

“Oh, trust me,” I answered, well aware that everyone but the gal at the receptionist desk in this office had long passed the point of being considered fresh-faced, “ it’s always exciting no matter what age you are. In fact, after a while you live for that excitement.”

Her husband guffawed at that one in particular and, this being L.A., I began to wonder if this indeed was James Cromwell. Sadly, it wasn’t.

... or I've probably been watching to much American Horror Story.

… or I’ve probably been watching to much American Horror Story.

Still, despite the laughs, this same couple quickly grew silent when suddenly CNN began playing arguments made by the lawyer defending California’s Prop 8 anti-gay marriage stance, and the questions being asked of him by several Supreme Court judges clearly in support of that position.

“You know,” said the woman as she turned back to me after the report was over. “We have these two very nice guys who live across the street from us in a gated community.  Now why does anyone care if they want to be together?  Do you think that’s right?”

I paused for more than a few moments.  This was because a. she didn’t know I was a gay man (uh, no she wasn’t blind) waiting for his partner to emerge from the secure medical sanctum inside and b. it meant she, a woman who was statistically assumed to be more than likely against gay marriage, would be asking this question of anyone of any sex or sexual persuasion with whom she was having a particularly friendly conversation with in a doctor’s office.  So I said:

“Well, I’m really happy to hear you say that because I’m here waiting for my partner of many years and it’s good to know others feel that way.”

Granted, it wasn’t the most original response but, then again, I was a little taken aback by her boldness and more than a little stressed that I was here at all enduring an unexpected and quite serious medical emergency of the person I share my life with.  Perhaps sensing this, she didn’t miss a beat and responded:

“Well, I don’t like when the government tells me what to do about anything,  And that includes what I can eat.  (Since we weren’t in New York I took that as a general statement and not one directed at Mayor Bloomberg for his desire to limit the size of Big Gulp sodas one can buy on the street). I just don’t think that’s right at all.”

Better not cheat!

Better not cheat!

This couple didn’t seem to have any family members or any gay friends other than acquaintances, so they then asked me a few questions about what rights I did have as a gay person.  They were particularly incredulous that my partner and I couldn’t joint file our federal taxes (“Really, we thought you could,” he said), didn’t understand why we were taxed on health insurance premiums when one partner was covered on another’s policy, were angered when they turned to the television and heard 83 year old Edie Windsor on the steps of the Supreme Court in Washington DC, talking about paying more than $350,000 in inheritance tax when her lesbian partner of 40 years died, and just shook their heads when they watched a fundamentalist type on camera talk about the dangers that gays tying the knot posed to the sanctity of marriage. (I don’t know what he’s talking about, the woman commented, her and her husband turning disgustedly away from the set and averting their eyes in disbelief).

Though I know all good things, even waiting room chats in a doctor’s office, must come to an end, I was still naturally disappointed when a moment later this couple’s names were suddenly called and they began to slowly get up. I thought our conversation was over.  But in some ways, I realized by their parting words, this conversation had only just begun.

As Mr. Cromwell pulled his extremely tall frame (no, it was NOT him!) out of that fairly uncomfortable waiting room chair, he squarely looked me in the eyes.

“I want you to know, it was really a pleasure speaking with you, ” he told me as he helped his wife get past him.  An unusually large smile formed across his face.  Then he nodded.  As did I.

“I so enjoyed meeting and talking to you,” she said, straightening out her blouse and moving through the inner sanctum door that her husband waited by as she deliberately passed through first.  Then, she looked back to me and smiled one last time.  And then they were off.

I sat there for a while thinking about this couple, about my life up to this point as a member of a minority group that has struggled for equal protection under the law for many years (well, who hasn’t?), about how much I’ve seen in my relatively short time alive of this struggle, of how many people of my kind have not lived to see our accomplishments up to this point, and about how much more this country and this world has seen and how much more it’s changed through the centuries on so many political, social and moral issues.  And then, I thought about this couple once again.

Amen

Amen

It is easy, given all the vitriol being tossed about  equal rights, messing with tradition, the intent of the framers of the Constitution and God’s Will, to ignore that on the whole we live in a country where the REAL average American (regardless of age) believes in fairness, equal opportunity, and the expansion, rather than the retraction, of human rights.   A country where the Constitution is a living and breathing document that allows for the abolition of slavery, the guarantee of women to the vote, and the integration of the races so that anyone of any color skin can live, go to school or work in any place in the U.S. that they choose (well, theoretically, anyway).  Never matter that at one point it was not this way.  In time and with social change, we live in a place that can, in its laws and rules, also change based on obvious (or as they say, self-evident) truths predicated on the will and evolution of the majority of its population.

That time, change, evolution, whatever you want to call it, has come on the question of gay marriage.  Just as I, as a person who never wanted to be married (the living in sin part still really appeals to me), now realize that as the decades go on it is important to make my love relationship legal if for no other reason than that I can’t be legally screwed, the majority of people in this country have decided that to prohibit their gay sons, daughters, friends, co-workers, neighbors, or any other LGBT person they happen to meet in a doctor’s office and strike up a nice conversation with from the same equal rights that they enjoy, is essentially, and in every other way, wrong.

Marriage is not a perfect institution and no marriage is perfect.  Neither is love or any particular love relationship, or any one of us.  But legally allowing gay people to participate, enjoy and be exasperated by any and all of the above is, in 2013, part of a new social contact – one that consistently changes through the centuries – and one that ensures that this place where we live continues to evolve, grow stronger and survive over time.  Mostly, it shows that as a people we’re fair, and we’re in the equality fight for the long haul.  Not just for ourselves but for everyone.

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10 thoughts on “An Eye for an Eye

  1. Sigh……….Thanks, Steve, for that. Like millions of us (yes us and, yes, millions of US) this past week was a revelation. It was a window into how much has changed where Equality is concerned, at least. Listening to everyone from Rachel Maddow to Bill O’Reilly (did I mention both of their names in the same breath???) putting it out there. Listening with awe as Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Elena Kagel BLEW past the rest of their associates and make absolutely clear that the extremists on the Right have no valid argument whatsoever. Yet, my partner of 33 years, Gabriel and I, stood before the City Counsel of the City of Santa Fe and had to ask, beseech, again, for an up vote on a simple resolution that would recognize same sex marriage in this, supposedly inclusive city. To be honest, it was humbling, humiliating and really pissed me off. Particularly when an elderly Hispanic couple from one of the outlying areas, stood to speak of how “holy they and their friends are, that we are filthy and UNholy in the eyes of God, and (that) we make no contribution to our community, instead take from it, (that) we couldn’t possibly raise children in the eyes of God, and (that) we should be ashamed to be taking up space at the counsel meeting”. This kind of outburst happens less these days, I think, and yet I can’t tell you how it hurt. I don’t think I will ever be able to completely forget it. Perhaps that’s a good thing. A reminder of how far we’ve come and, how far we still have to go. Maybe it’s my Buddhist teachings that remind me to have compassion for every living being, without exception, I guess it doesn’t matter. What I know, after all these years, decades and a certain eye and ear for history, is that it’s what we think of ourselves that has brought us to this tipping point. When a dear friend founded National Coming Out Day and coming out became the rallying cry for virtually every aspect of the LGBT community’s efforts, we knew. It doesn’t start with THEM acknowledging or respecting us. It starts with US. This is why we have come to this moment. We have done this by growing as the participants in our communities, in our states and in our country; by becoming parents and committed aunts and uncles; by saying our truth even when it was terrifying to do so and, by encouraging the LGBT youth, letting them know that “it gets better”. THIS is our work. Thanks to groups like The Trevor Project and PFLAG. I guess drones don’t exist only in the sky, sorry for blathering on but, I’ve never felt like this. Never felt so strongly for all the work that has been done or, laid bare and weeping at how much there is yet to do. The next job, after achieving a modicum of tolerance, is to move towards acceptance which is much more complex. It takes time and history…..stones laid for the foundations of understanding and, for LGBT youth to see before them. We look back, they look forward. Still, we need to look forward too. To the day when we can sit in the doctor’s waiting room as recognized spouses and never feel odd. To the day when gay couples won’t think twice about applying for a marriage license that isn’t tainted or thought of as skimmed.

    • What a lovely, thoughtful response. And since I’m not a Buddhist of Christian I can happily say on this Easter Sunday that the elderly Hispanic couple who stood up at that meeting to speak against you are fucking assholes.

  2. Steve, with apologies to Mrs. Reiner, I’ll have what you’re having! Give my best to Steve T. I hope he’s well on his way to recovery.

  3. Great post! Personal stories like yours and Edie Windsor’s bring light and truth to ignorance and fear. I really feel like most people do not understand what this debate is about. It is about equality and civil rights, not their church being invaded and forced to marry LGBT people, or about people wanting to marry their pets (this and, what if someone wanted to marry their father!? are, sadly, things people have actually written about gay marriage! No words for those people. Seriously.) It is about unfair life-long taxation for unequal representation, which is against the tenants of our true U.S. Constitution, until amended by foul-mouthed, bigoted DOMA. It is about about everyday life for countless U.S. citizens, it is about punitive laws and the systemic discrimination of an ENTIRE CLASS OF PEOPLE who live a back-of-the-bus, 2nd-class existence in hospitals, as surviving partners, as care-takers, as firefighters, teachers – or any public service in which LGBT people valiantly serve only to be given LESS, simply because they are a dis-favored minority, who very ironically, pay MORE taxes than their straight counterparts. People should not get it twisted up in all their blah dee blahh my church, my pastor, pets, parents, my sacrament, my blah blah blech – this is blatant, systematic, inexcusable bigotry, and We The People are better than that! Edie Windsor is NOT a 2nd class citizen, nor are you, Stephen, me, or any precious LGBT person! So, I hope everyone reads your story. And, I hope dear, sweet, wonderful S.T. heals very fast. Thanks for sharing this great story. Keep them coming.
    xo,
    Marcia

    • You are sooooo right. Invading religious institutions? I don’t think so.

      ST is doing a bit better. And I only hope that at 83 I am still as smart as and look as good as Edie. Thanks for writing. We missed you at the Trevor Holiday party! xo

      • I am so glad ST is doing better. Please give him a hug for me. YES-Edie Windsor is beautiful inside and out, and what a trailblazing, inspirational woman. I wish I was as smart and good looking as Edie now! Hahhaaa…I was sad that I had to miss the holiday party. It was really fun the year before. Hopefully, there will be another chance. xo

  4. A detached retina?? Ay, caramba! Did Steve have to be suspended upside-down on a gurney for a few weeks, or has the treatment for the problem finally come into the 21st century?
    Glad he’s on the mend and that, at your wedding, the flower girl be a seeing-eye dog.

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