A brief history of the relationship between homosexuals and marriage.
I’ll be forty-eight years old this summer. My generation has witnessed a lot of change in the LGBT community in our lifetime. Our relationship with the heterosexual world continues to shift daily. It has been a long struggle against discrimination, but it’s safe to say that the world is becoming more tolerant of homosexuality.
Personally, I’d like to teach a class to novice homosexuals. Before the young gays run off and get married, they should learn what their older peers went through to achieve civil rights.
My class would be called: Gay Rings 101.
Unit One: Rings to Deceive
While there’s always been deception about straight, married people taking their wedding ring off to appear “single and ready to mingle”, it wasn’t unheard of (in a dangerous, oppressed world) for an unattached gay man to put on a wedding band so he could be perceived as heterosexual.
I have a shifty cousin who is over fifty and still a bachelor. A few other family members and I have always suspected he’s gay. He’s always been attractive, but has grown into a hot daddy-type and lives in the South.
It’s 2013. Why doesn’t he just come out?
My allegedly closeted cousin has a high paying job for a conservative, male dominated company. It wouldn’t surprise me to find out that he wears a “ring to deceive”. If he does wear a fake wedding band, it would no doubt make it “safe” for other closeted men to have sex with him. A ring on his ring finger could be saving his reputation and his job. He could be having more sex than any of my openly gay friends do in San Francisco.
Unit Two: Gold Wedding Bands
Even today, it isn’t that unusual for homosexuals to legally marrying the opposite sex. More often than not, the nuptials are an attempt at heterosexuality. Having children is usually their biggest motivator. The married gays wear their traditional wedding bands with as much dignity as they can muster.
I have a soft spot for these people because I used to be one of them: I was married to a woman when nineteen. My wife and I divorced by the time I was twenty-two. It’s hard for me to grasp that I could have been so naive, but I wanted that wedding ring and all that came with it. My ring was gold and had “Friends Forever” inscribed inside. I don’t have the wedding ring anymore. My ex-wife took it away from me during an argument, and I never got it back. She and I didn’t remain “friends forever”.
Unit Three: Going for the Gold
It was almost unheard of for same sex couples to have a wedding ceremony when I was growing up in the 1970’s and 1980’s. It never even occurred to me until gay bodybuilders Bob Paris and Rod Jackson tied the knot in 1989. Their controversial Unitarian wedding got a lot of national publicity. They wore wedding rings despite the law.
In 1995, I did a play called Mr. Universe in Seattle with Rod Jackson (he was cast as a mute muscle man). Rod was still somewhat of a gay celebrity at the time, but I was shocked that he no longer wore a wedding ring. Rumor had it that his illegal marriage to Bob Paris was over. I wondered if the fact that their marriage wasn’t legally “real” made it difficult to sustain. It surely made it easy to walk away from when the relationship soured. I wish I had thought to thank Rod Jackson for blazing the gay marriage trail.
Unit Four: A Silver Ring Instead
In my thirties, I was tired and frustrated with dating. I bought myself a silver ring and wore it for a while on my right hand. Eventually, I switched it to the “ring finger” on my left hand — the married finger. It was a twenty dollar ring that I bought at a store called Something Silver at a mall store. I figured that since I was gay and society didn’t accept me, I could do whatever I wanted. It was my “I’m being true to myself” ring until a cute guy took it off of my hand. The silver ring instantly turned into a more traditional marriage symbol (which I couldn’t admit to myself I wanted in the first place). Of course, I was delighted to let the cute guy wear my ring and immediately went back to the store to buy myself a matching twenty dollar silver ring.
That relationship only lasted a few months. The cute boy gave me my silver ring back and left town. I tried switching the ring back to the other hand but it didn’t feel right. There was too much history tied to those rings. Both silver rings are in a box somewhere with my watches and an extra set of keys to my condo and car.
Unit Five: Rings With Pride
Many of my coupled friends did their own version of wedding bands. Mike and Steve have been together for many years. Back in 1993, they got their wedding rings for their commitment ceremony at a LGBT specialty store in Seattle called The Pink Zone. The rings they chose had a triangle motif that were a nod to the pink triangles worn by the gay people who were imprisoned in Nazi concentration camps. In the years since World War II, pink triangles had become a symbol of gay pride.
Mike and Steve moved to southern California and later renewed their vows despite the hurt of Proposition 8. The couple traded their old wedding rings for a more traditional, plain gold band as a “Fuck You” to the conservative voters of the state who made same sex marriage illegal. I liked to think of them as “giving the (ring) finger” to the state of California.
Unit Six: The Rings that Sting
In the BDSM culture (bondage, discipline, sado-masochism), dominate players “collar” their submissive partners around the neck with a device that symbolically mimics a wedding ring. The practice is done in both gay and straight BDSM circles and brings a new twist to “love, honor and obey”.
Do gay couples take a collar more seriously than a straight couple because of the laws against same-sex marriage?
What is the significance in the “rings” being around their partner’s neck?
My friend, Tim, collared his “boy” Kody last summer after uncollaring his previous “boy” Charles. Kody’s collar is padlocked around his neck and has a metal D ring to attach a leash. Tim doesn’t endorse traditional marriage for homosexuals, so there was no need for regular wedding rings. Six months later, the couple is just as giddy as any newlyweds I’ve ever seen. They deeply love each other and no one can say their commitment is weak.
Unit Seven: Gay Gold (Finally)
In 2012, same sex marriage was legalized by voters in the state of Washington. Many of my gay friends in Seattle were finally able to legally tie the knot and wear the same gold rings as any straight couple.
My extremist friends Richard and Glenn have been together for many year and swore they would never get married if it were legalized. Despite the practical benefits and discrimination surrounding gay marriage, they radically felt gay people shouldn’t imitate straight culture.
Deep down, I knew Richard and Glenn were just naysayers: jealous and afraid to admit it. Who could blame the activists for thinking the way they did. A decade ago it still seemed impossible to grasp the idea of two men legally marrying each another. It was easier to be bitter and embrace the worst case scenario.
My militant friends made me proud when they got officially got married in the first wave of legal wedding ceremonies in Seattle. Both Richard and Glenn have a ring permanently tattooed on their ring fingers.
Unit Eight: NO RING!!!
Now the old rhyme of, “first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes the gays with a baby carriage”, can be legit. Just like in the straight world, there are those that just aren’t the marrying kind. I can name at least ten of my gay friends who are fine with just casually dating. I can name another ten friends who don’t even want to date; they strive to have no strings sex and remain single. Wedding rings don’t mean anything to them. They just want to have fun, and I see nothing wrong with that.
But What About Me?
It still seems so foreign to me to think that I could actually get married if I wanted to; a funny feeling for a man in his forties.
After making all that fuss about equality, do I really want to be a husband? Will being married to a man make me a happier gay person? What if the fight for same-sex rights was more fun than settling down with a life partner?
How do straight people have equality and civil rights and not get bored with it?
I’m curious as to what the LGBT world will be like when I am fifty. A lot can happen in two years.
Photo by joseanavas.