When I was growing up, everybody around me—my parents, my grandparents, my sister and brother, my cousins, my scoutmaster, my teachers, the priest, politicians—thought the same way about how I was feeling. I was definitely aroused by men and by particular aspects of men’s bodies, and when I started becoming aware of this, I was aware that I should absolutely not tell anybody else what I knew. My whole culture condemned me for feeling the way I felt. Today I remember how it felt to feel something and to know that everybody thought I was feeling the wrong thing or that I was wrong to feel the way I felt. Part of what I wanted, after I divorced my wife and moved to Boston, was the right to feel without being condemned. It was years after I moved to Boston before I first began to know what it felt like to have my own feelings and to know that other people around me felt those same feelings or respected those feelings.
What was needed—and I didn’t know this when I was in my twenties—was some change in the culture that allowed it to accept and to reinforce the feelings I had. At the time, I thought we needed to address the places in the law that prevented me from serving in the Armed Forces or, later, that prevented me from getting married, or that taxed me differently from straight people, or that prevented me from getting into bed with a man without being afraid that I was going to end up in jail. But as we have moved toward success in those areas, we also have had to address the fact that our culture for years has refused to give me and others like me the elemental acceptance of our feelings. This was much more complex than my need for my culture to accept the way I felt about men’s arms. It was a need for the culture to accept my sense of the impermanence of feelings—what I both felt and learned—and my sense that love was not the same thing as sex, and that much of the impermanence of heterosexual marriages and the cause of the high divorce rate among straight people was the consequence of the heterosexual culture always seeming to think that sex was love. What was needed was for us to tell the larger culture what our life was like, to say it over and over again and then to expect the straight world to take seriously everything we said. Taking the Stonewall Riots as a plan, we needed to demand respect.
What makes a gay man is a serious question, and the four men, and two women (one adult woman and one fifteen-year-old girl) in Adam in the Morning don’t agree on an answer. They don’t argue about it—they love one another and respect one another and so don’t argue about most things—but they do discuss. Belle, for example, backs away from her proposal:>
‘I think I may get pregnant without asking any of you for help. I don’t want to be in a position of asking any of you men to give up being gay, even for a minute, so I can get pregnant.’
[Bo answers] ‘Belle, there is no brick wall between gay and straight. Being gay is not something you can give up, no matter what you do, but it’s also not something that governs every single sex act and thought you engage in.’ [Belle and Bo in conversation, Tuesday afternoon, on the roof, Adam in the Morning, Adriana Books, 2010]
If the affection among these folks is strong enough, he may do it, on the other hand he may not, and he’ll tell us what he’ll do and what he won’t, which is the way it should be, and we will respect him.
The courts don’t want to allow this. Chief Justice Margaret Marshall of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, which declared that same-sex couples should be allowed to marry in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, also declared marriage in the Commonwealth to be “a voluntary union of two persons, as spouses, to the exclusion of all others.” But we, not so committed to the identity of sex and love, know that we can have commitment and love without monogamy, and so even though we can now have marriage in the Commonwealth, it is marriage defined by the Justices of the Supreme Judicial Court and is not ours, not defined by us or by our experience.
In the Commonwealth, the Chief Justice defined marriage in a way that conflicts with the feelings and the actions of a significant number of gay people. We’ve been here before. We’re being told, “We’re going to let you do this. These are the rules.” I expect what will happen is that we will vote with our feet, gradually changing in new and unexpected ways the institutions we now are getting legal access to. Until we change marriage, we will have to live with another version of what we lived under from my birth in 1940 to my heterosexual marriage in 1964, a dishonest contract, imposed from outside.