I finally attached myself to a group that was chanting “no discrimination in the constitution.” I believed in what I was shouting, but I knew I was holding back. I didn’t want to be the loudest voice in the crowd, the one who stood out. I stood in the rear, sometimes yelling and sometimes just mouthing, then moved on to another group. What was my hesitancy about? Why did I feel little like that boy in the schoolyard on his first day of school watching the other boys play dodge ball? These were people on my side, people like me. Well, sort of. These were young gay college students, people in their sixties and seventies who, if they weren’t gay themselves, I imagined were the supportive parents and grandparents of gay children, the PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays). A sad truth: many gay men of my generation had died.
So I felt both welcomed yet out of place, the forty-something gay man, walking about alone, both eager and reticent to claim my voice in the crowd. It wasn’t in me to wave signs at cars or yell at the woman holding the crucifix. So I struck a tacit bargain with those around me: I’ll let you be in the spotlight, I’ll let you be the ones on TV with your voices and your signs, if I can just stand in the back and copy you. I gave myself permission to just be present, to not feel obligated to lead the march or even strike up conversations with those on my side of the issue. I wouldn’t have known who to speak to anyway. With my khakis, button down shirt, dark green overcoat and leather gloves, I looked downright nerdy compared to the young people with brilliant scarves and secondhand chic coats. They had come of age just as the tide was shifting towards gay people. They were confident, not concerned with politeness, not only speaking out but expecting to be heard. I felt like they had come to demonstrate for gay rights while I was waiting for the formal lecture on the topic.
“This is ridiculous,” I heard behind me. “Next thing you know, they’ll be letting you marry your grandmother.”
The man, with a stubbled chin and smoking a cigarette, was talking to me. I didn’t know what to say, so I looked away from him. One of the young women who had been chanting spoke to the man.
“Hey, if you want to marry your grandmother, you go right ahead,” she said. “Personally, I think it’s sort of weird.”
“No,” the man said, this time louder and more guttural. “You’re the one that’s gonna make it so people end up marrying their grandmothers.”
“I plan to marry my girlfriend,” the woman said. “You can marry whoever you want. But your grandmother? That seems a little unnatural to me.”
The man started muttering something about having sex with other relatives, but the young woman smiled at him until he ran out of steam. He walked away.
“That was impressive,” I told the woman. “I’d never have thought to say that.”
“You just can’t let them get to you,” she said. “If you do, you’ll never make it through this whole thing.”