Marriage Equality was something I never thought I’d see in my lifetime. It was a myth, a story that we told each other; more pipe dream than reality. I’ve known I was gay since before I knew what the word even meant. And growing up, I knew that meant I’d never get married and that if I wanted children, I’d have to find someone to donate sperm or I’d adopt. These were the truths of my life, growing up as a gay woman in the Eighties. We had great hair, awesome fashion, and complete invisibility when it came to our rights.
Growing Up Gay
Before we get too deep into this, I want to make something abundantly clear; I believe that I was born a Dyke. I believe that regardless of what did or did not happen to me in my life, I would still be a Dyke. I say this because, many professionals in the world have put forward the nature vs nurture argument for sexuality. I don’t know whether they are correct or not, but I believe that I was born this way.
That being said, contrary to many other LGBTQ individuals, I never had a big “coming out” moment. In my house, you didn’t talk about sex; it was too risky. From the time I was six until I was seventeen, I was routinely sexually abused by my step-father and, despite telling my mother on two separate occasions, nothing was ever done about it until I was old enough and strong enough to make my threat to castrate him viable. He believed me and never touched me again. But the abuse was always there, so sex was never spoken about. So there wasn’t a “coming out” so much as there was just … me. I dated a handful of girls in high school and I dated one or two boys (I wanted to see if the feelings were the same … they were and they weren’t, but that’s a story for another day). I managed to get through high school (Catholic, no less), survive my abuse and get out of my parents house.
I dated here and there through my twenties. Had a couple of long term relationships that helped me to more firmly identify who I was. Came close to getting married to a wonderful guy but thankfully, our relationship didn’t last and we ended things before we had a chance to hate each other. He’s now one of my best friends, which is how we always should have been (waves at Dexter).
The next time I had a relationship with a woman, I began to realize that marriage equality didn’t exist. By this time, I no longer living in Massachusetts and I could already see the differences between the people I had grown up around and the rest of the country. This was in 2000/2001 and people were just starting to talk about it; there were whispers about people taking up legal efforts. I had begun to chat with a woman across the country (the early days of chat, when we had MSN Messenger … yeah, that’ll take you back) and even before I laid eyes on her, I knew I was lost.
By 2002, she and I were living together and starting to build our life together. We were raising our son and, while I missed the early stuff, like first steps and first words, I got to see the fun stuff … like the first time my California born son took a header on a patch of ice and went down on his ass. Or the first time he saw snow (I was expecting excitement; I got ‘shut the door. Its cold.”). It was love at first sight for me and, by 2004, I was already asking her to marry me. I knew it wouldn’t be legally binding but I wanted to show her how important she was to me.
In 2005, Massachusetts became the first state to openly welcome same-sex marriage. Prior to that, there were no laws anywhere that specifically prohibited marriage equality but it was “not done”. (I’m so proud my home state was the first one). We were living back in Massachusetts by 2006 and I really started asking. And she really kept saying no. I didn’t understand why; we loved each other and it’s legal here so, what’s the problem?
My wife had never had a “coming out” to her ultra-conservative, religious family. She was petrified of telling them, terrified of the rejection that may accompany such an announcement (let’s face it, coming out even just a decade ago, usually accompanied horror stories more often than joyous acceptance). So I waited. I was happy to just have a life with her.
Marriage Equality Is For Everyone
2007 was the worst year of our lives. I’ll spare you the gritty details but suffice to say it was a harrowing year that involved thirty-six trips to hospital, pneumonia, RICU, myocardial infarctions, and a doctor that I’m still not entirely convinced was old enough to BE a doctor.
But it did prompt my wife to embrace who we were to each other and what we wanted to be. In mid 2008, she shakily dialed her parents in Florida and told them she was gay. I was sitting beside her, holding her hand and bracing myself for the rejection I was sure would be coming. And I was surprised, pleasantly so, that her parents simply accepted it and have always been welcoming and warm towards me and our relationship.
On October 12, 2011, in the Clerks Office for the City of Salem, in front of my biological father, step-mother, good friend from middle school, and our son, I stood with my wife and exchanged our vows. It was a simple ceremony but it will forever be the happiest moment of my life (even though I’d like to point out that I still think Jordan is a perfectly lovely surname).
Unless You Live Somewhere Else
In May of 2013, we moved from Massachusetts to Florida. We were tired of the snow and we wanted to move closer to her parents. We knew Florida didn’t recognize same-sex marriage but thought it couldn’t be too much different. After all, most of the people in Florida were retirees from New England anyway, right?
Oh … so wrong. The open hostility was almost tangible. The hatred, the whispers, the “not-so-whispered”, the stares. I regretted moving to Florida within the first six months. I knew the weather was better for my wife’s breathing so I sucked it up and continued to just stay under the radar. I stopped holding my wife’s hand in public. I looked around us before kissing her forehead or cheek. I stopped to think about our environment before every action. Not for myself … for my wife. To shield her from as much hatred as possible. This was the first time in my life that I was actually frightened for my safety. The first time I contemplated owning a gun.
But there was hope. There were people fighting for marriage equality in Florida! I donated to the cause and started looking at other struggles in other states. I had never really been that political outside of a general “facebook summary” sense. I began to see what was going on. The indifference, the hatred, and the love. I began to see stories of other couples who’d buck the system and get married anyway. I began to see heartbreak as couples were beaten, where a couple that had been together for years and years weren’t allowed at their loved ones bedsides.
Not All Marriage is Equal
On January 28th, 2014, I took my wife to the DMV in order to get her a Florida license. Per their website, we brought a copy of our marriage license issued from the State of Massachusetts, her birth certificate, two pieces of mail in her name at our new address, a copy of our lease, and her Massachusetts license. The clerk looked everything over, smiled, and issued a license to my wife in our surname of Padrona.
On March 4th, 2014, I went to the DMV in order to get my license. Same paperwork, same DMV office. This time, the clerk took one look at me, waved my marriage license up and announced quite loudly, “I can’t take this. Florida doesn’t recognize your marriage. I can issue you a driver’s license in the name on your birth certificate, not this other name.” I pointed out to him that my state issued ID (MA driver’s license), mail, lease, and credit cards are all in the married name of Padrona. Once again, he dismissively said something along the lines of “As far as the state of Florida is concerned, you aren’t married and I can’t put a false name on state issued identification.”
(I’d like to take a moment here and thank my beloved wife for not letting me go over the counter at that point. She’s one smart cookie.)
I don’t remember much after that … I could see my heart beat pulsing in the corner of my eyes and I was that sick-to-your-stomach angry/scared/frustrated. If I had opened my mouth at that point, I promise you, I’d be writing this shit from a prison cell somewhere.
Marriage Equality in Florida – August 24, 2014
Judge Robert Lewis Hickle announced that the the statutory and constitutional bans on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. His decision was stayed until Jan 5, 2015 so you can bet your ass where I was at 8am on January 5, 2015.
Sadly it was not the same clerk as the first time but I walked in and out with my license in my married name. I don’t think I ever smiled so wide in a license picture before or since.
So now, Melissa and I were officially married again. (I know there’s a joke in there somewhere about getting back together with an ex) However, we’re still in Florida and despite the legality of our marriage, the looks and whispers continued.
SCOTUS Marriage Equality Decision
I had been anxiously checking my Facebook, my text messages, and Google all day long. I had an appointment with my therapist that morning so I had to put my phone down to drive (shush, Melissa) but I was anxious. So much hinged on this decision.
It was June 26, 2015. The day the Supreme Court was expected to release it’s decision in the Obergefell v. Hodges case.
Just as I was pulling up to my therapist’s office, my phone pinged. Now, anyone who knows me, knows the rarity of that. I keep my phone on silent almost obsessively. The only time my phone makes noise is when I’m listening to music or an audiobook. My hands were shaking on the wheel as I turned into the parking space and reached for my phone. (Melissa shifted us into Park).
It was a text message from the Human Right’s Campaign. LOVE WINS!
I was married again.
I was married finally.
I am a married woman.
Yes, I cried. A lot. I hugged my wife, my therapist, my best friend … I was a hugging bitch that day. We had won. We achieved Marriage Equality!
Soo … Rainbows and Sunshine, Right?
A few weeks back, I had a wonderful friend of mine, Hollie Jackson (Yes, I AM friends with the Original Narratrix) make a post regarding the concessions we make for who we love. In her case, her bi-racial husband and her fears regarding their safety simply because of the open hatred and bigotry that runs rampant in our country. It brought to light that while I have marriage equality … I have a wife … I still hold her hand with extreme caution and I’m hyper-aware of our surroundings. Because the hatred is still very much alive. At the time, it occurred to me that despite how far we’ve come on the road to equality and acceptance, there are still so many steps to go and sometimes, it’s so tiring all I want to do is quit. Go back in the closet. (Those of you who are laughing can stop that right now, okay. Just because anyone who has ever looked at me has just “sensed” my Dykeness means nothing. I could totally pass for a straight)
But then I see other people struggling. I see friends who are terrified to use the restroom in a public place because of their gender identity. I see children … KIDS, people … I see the stories of them being beaten, murdered, committing suicide because of bullying … I see stories of others finding their identities, whether binary or non … I see beauty in the smile of my friends when they achieve a milestone in their journey towards self-acceptance. These experiences, both positive and negative, are what fuel me to keep fighting. To keep getting involved to improve things, to make a better path, an easier path, for the generations coming behind me. To honour those who paved the path before me. So I could be here and witness history.
Someday, I’m gonna be sitting on a front stoop, drinking a cup of fresh coffee and telling stories of how we fought to my grandkids and have them roll their eyes at me because we were so stupid not to recognize it sooner.
Wow … this got way longer than I’d intended. I literally wrote this just to wish my wife a Happy 2nd Anniversary of our 3rd marriage (SCOTUS decision).
I love you, Melissa.
D. Jordan Padrona
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