Ria Tabacco Mar, the lawyer for the gay couple in Colorado that were denied a wedding cake by a Christian bakery, has an op ed in the Washington Post about something I’m familiar with: staying in the closet.
Charlie Craig, one of the men that Masterpiece Cakeshop, a Colorado bakery, turned away because they are gay, said something about shopping for a wedding cake that stuck with me: “That day,” he said, “I really let my guard down.”
I knew exactly what Craig meant. Not just because he’s my client but because I keep my guard up most days, too — just like nearly every LGBT person I know.
My spouse and I sometimes commute together. Do we kiss goodbye on a crowded subway car, risking a negative comment — or worse? Or do we wave goodbye as if we are just friends who happened to run into each other on the way? Some days involve just one or two decision points such as this, but other days require many, many more. I pick up two coffees, and a friendly barista asks which is for me and which is for my presumed husband. When I’m out with our kids, fellow parents refer in passing to their imagined dad. Is it really necessary to correct all of these people, I wonder? If I don’t, what will my children think of my casually erasing our family? And each time I let faulty assumptions slide, am I making them more likely the next time?
These calculations — weighing the risk of censure or even violence against the personal and political costs of invisibility — happen in a split second. But they exact a toll — a mental burden that can’t be quantified.
I know exactly what she’s talking about. Thirty-four years ago next Sunday I met the man I would spend the next fifteen years with, sharing house, home, and life until we parted in 1999. Both of us were out to our friends and family — hey, it was 1984; who cared, right? — but we still kept our guard up. We never held hands in public, we avoided using endearments when talking in public, and if asked by an inquiring landlord or curious straight neighbor, we were housemates, nothing more. Both of us are by nature not outwardly demonstrative so it wasn’t a large burden to keep our relationship out of the public eye, but it still inhibited us and may have indirectly led to our break-up. There were a few other factors in play, including dealing with addiction and recovery, but who’s to say that keeping up our guard up constantly didn’t contribute to it as well.
I’ve been single ever since, and while I’m openly gay to anyone who asks and I’ve never denied it either at work or with friends, it’s still something I guard. Like Mr. Craig and Ms. Mar, it would be nice that if I do meet someone and we feel the need to hold hands in public or share a kiss when saying goodbye at the front door, not to have to wonder if it’s going to cost something.