It was sometime around the spring of 2005 when a gay teenager at Cheyenne Mountain High School broke up with her first and only boyfriend and gave a scribbled love note to a girl who may or may not have known her name at the time.
Love notes and awkward confessions are a standard part of everyone's teenage years, sure, but for me this was a defining moment. I was that gay teenager, and the girl — who it turned out did know my name — became my wife last month.
People see "coming-out" narratives on TV and think that's all there is. As a culture, we seem to forget that there's life after the closet doors fly open. Movies and television sensationalize our stories with a hefty dose of pathos and a subplot about bullying. Then the credits roll on the queer character, and we're left with some lesson about being an underdog or being true to yourself.
My life started when my coming-out story ended. Being gay isn't a plot point; it's a character trait. It's influenced me in profound ways, yes, but it doesn't make me very different from anyone else.
Here's what my life looks like now:
I wake up in the morning and make my coffee, sit on the couch and check the news or Facebook while my cat snoozes on my lap. Around 8, I get up from the couch, kiss my wife on the cheek and wake her up for work. We get ready, talk, and I head off to my job here at the Indy. When I come home, I make dinner (though "make" might be too liberal a word for heating up frozen pizza), and spend the evening with Caity writing, watching movies or playing video games.
It's routine, boring even — and I've never been happier. And still there are people who think that because the person with whom I share these boring moments is a woman, I'm somehow lesser, or at least different.
No, I don't get it either.
My wife Caity was born in Pennsylvania and moved here when she was about 11. I first came to Colorado Springs at 6 years old, so we both spent our formative years in this city. We met and fell in love in high school, but broke up in 2007 when she moved to Georgia and I chose to attend college in Montana.
The time apart, while living in two historically red and rural states, definitively influenced the kind of women we would grow up to be. While Georgia and Montana aren't bastions of acceptance, I had it comparatively easy.
Missoula is hardly your stereotypical Montana town. It's full to bursting with old hippies and young liberals, with an organic coffee shop on every corner and a bustling community of musicians and artists.
While the queer scene wasn't as intersectional as one might hope, it still had a queer scene, and it wasn't a bad place to learn how to embrace my identity. I was only 18, two years out of the closet, so I threw myself into the gay-bar-every-weekend routine like I'd just stumbled onto an oasis in a desert.
While in Missoula I went on dates with other women and felt comfortable enough doing so openly. I went to drag shows and volunteered for Montana Equality Now and the 2008 Obama campaign. I seldom encountered people who were outright discriminatory. When I did, I learned to avoid them. It was a great privilege being able to avoid them.
A 19-hour car ride away, Caity was living in Madison, Georgia, a blink-and-you'll-miss-it town.
"Madison was a small town that actually felt like a small town, that movie, idealistic view," she says (yes, I'm interviewing my wife). "It was a great place, but there were a lot of Confederate dead in the graveyard, a memorial of the 'War of Northern Aggression...' so there was that very potent reminder of where you were."
Unlike me, Caity had never come out to her parents, and coming out to her sisters had mixed results. Being in the closet at home made it impossible for her to come out to anyone else in town. "My parents lived there, you know? I would tell one person and it would take zero time for it to get back to them."
There were two openly gay couples in town — older gay men who owned local businesses. The more affluent couple didn't seem to suffer much, but Caity suspects lack of support was the reason the other couple had to leave town. "If you were gay and had money, you were gay. Otherwise, you were a faggot," she says sadly.
It was only when she went to college in Milledgeville, a neighboring town, that she came out to her small but supportive group of friends. She split her time between staying four days a week at school and working three days a week in Madison, so there was a definite duality to her life.
"I was closeted at home but out at college, so I spent half my week being myself and half my week in Madison. So college and home were two different worlds — but that was survival."
Emotionally, she worried about disappointing her family. "It was like, 'Well, here's your depressed college dropout who's also going to be the only queer person in the family.' At the time I was pretty sure, but I didn't know they'd be OK with it, and it was so much a part of my identity that if they invalidated my sexuality it would invalidate my entire self."
Having embraced (or come to terms with) our queerness in vastly different environments, there was dissonance. When we did get back together — though we were long-distance for a few years — it took me a long time to understand why she wouldn't hold my hand in public, or come out to her family, and she didn't understand why I told everyone about her almost immediately upon meeting them.
In the world I'd been living in, with the people I'd been living around, I saw no reason to hide it. For her, hiding it was a matter of security.
I learned discretion from her, and from a few startlingly homophobic remarks by bosses and "friends." It wasn't always outright homophobia that made me keep my mouth shut, though. More than anything, both of us just became tired of having to field ignorant comments when we came out to new people.
"Being out comes with repeatedly validating your existence," she says. "It's innocent on their part, but there's just experiences that they will not understand because they've always been able to be themselves."
We, along with most LGBTQ people I know, have what Caity calls a "sixth sense," a skill we develop over years. We learn to spot red flags, zero in on even the most innocuous homophobic remarks and identify the people who will or will not be accepting.
"You can't risk telling the wrong person," she says, and she's right. Some people are still violently homophobic, and even our sixth sense doesn't always identify them.
Though I never lied about my sexuality and always opened up over time, I became fond of the gender-neutral term "fiancé(e)" when describing Caity to people I'd just met, though we weren't technically fiancées for a long while.
I asked Caity to marry me at least once a week for a year or so, but we didn't get engaged until late 2013 and didn't exchange rings until the following spring. We figured we would save up for a big wedding somewhere down the line, giving Caity time to tell her family. I didn't push it, having learned my lesson after outing her to half our friends in high school.
Then this May, we made a decision. The money was never going to magically appear for the big wedding, and we both work so much we didn't want to deal with the stress of planning one or deal with the guilt of asking my family to fund it. The more we thought about a low-key courthouse wedding, the better we felt.
Suddenly, getting married didn't seem like this big event we had to save for (mentally or financially). It felt like what it should be to us — a confirmation of our commitment to each other. No fanfare, no bells and whistles, just us and a four-day honeymoon to get used to calling each other "wifey."
The only hitch was that we'd only planned it for about two weeks out, which worked just great for us. Not so for everyone else.
It was hard to explain to my out-of-state family, who wanted to fly in to attend, why we were suddenly in such a hurry after being engaged all this time without planning anything.
Honestly, we woke up beside each other every morning knowing we were going to wake up beside each other for the rest of our lives, and one day it seemed silly to wait a moment longer. Besides, if the worst should happen, we'd need to be able to be with each other in the hospital. If the worst didn't happen, it was still practical to combine our finances, file our taxes together and finally be able to tell men who hit on us that we're married (which goes over much better than having the lesbian talk — again).
We want a family celebration eventually, and we will plan it, but in that moment two months ago, we just wanted to be married.
Of course, deciding to do it so soon meant Caity didn't have much time to tell her family. She officially came out three days before we went to the courthouse.
As you can probably imagine, her parents weren't surprised, since we'd been living together for three years. Moreover, they were incredibly supportive. I remember her mother saying over the phone, "We were just talking the other day about how you were probably going to marry that girl!"
It was beautiful to see the relief wash over Caity, after nearly two decades of switching pronouns in casual conversation and second-guessing every mention of her "roommate."
"It's going to sound corny, but I think it made my mother and me closer," she says. "For so long, every time I had a conversation with her, I had to leave out the centerpiece of my life. She only got the crust. Even now, what, a month later? My heart skips a beat when I mention it, and I try to correct myself."
It's hard to unlearn old habits, Caity says, though she's only had a month's practice, and it will get easier with time.
Almost immediately after Caity came out to her parents, our quick Facebook post and my dad's big announcement spread like wildfire across our friend and family groups.
Under the outpouring of love and well-wishes, a few folks were asking why. After fighting so hard for gay marriage, why were we doing it this way when we should be celebrating as loud as we could? Why not let our pride flags fly and make a big deal out of it?
I struggled with that myself. For a decade, I have been an out-and-proud gay woman. A small part of me did want that hullabaloo in a public park, where we could kiss in front of a crowd and put our middle fingers up to the patriarchy.
But that's not me, and it's not Caity. I'm glad we finally decided to do it our way.
The wedding itself was lovely, if entirely informal. Three friends attended, much to our surprise since we didn't tell them when or where it was going to be until the night before. One had stayed up late to make us a honeymoon mixtape, and another took (and later edited) beautiful photos, though we had expected nothing more than cell-phone snapshots.
I did wear a white dress, one I had picked up at Walmart earlier that day. Caity wore the same dress she'd worn to my brother's wedding, and we didn't expect our friends to dress up at all, though it was sweet when they did.
The judge who married us, Larry Martin, was fantastic, encouraging us to step closer to each other or do the ring exchange formally. My favorite moment was when he said "for richer or poorer" and I think I muttered, "I know which one we're in for." We all had a good laugh at that. I never thought I'd be cracking jokes at my own wedding, but it would have felt strange if we hadn't laughed at least once.
After the brief ceremony, a few more photos and a cocktail with our friends, we went to pick up my car from the shop (yes, I went to Brakes Plus in my wedding dress) then hit the road for our honeymoon. The whole thing, including drinks, lasted about an hour, and then we were done. Married. For two stressed-out introverts, this was the best possible wedding we could've conceived.
But by no means are we the poster children for gay marriage. I don't know many who've gone the courthouse route. In fact, a lot of people go big. My dear friend and former manager, Christopher Brewer, 43, and his husband James, 42, have had not one, but three weddings. "It's a lot of dates to remember, and it gets expensive," Chris jokes.
The two married in a commitment ceremony in 2006, then finally signed the papers last year to make it legal. Their first wedding was a gathering of family and friends in the old Bambino's restaurant (after being flooded out of General Palmer's Wildflower Garden in Monument Valley Park, where they originally planned to get hitched).
It wasn't a major extravaganza, Chris says. "We made the invites, we had a gentleman donate his photography skills, my friend made the flowers and the wedding cake, my dad paid for the food, and so we just made it happen by the skin of our teeth and the kindness of others."
That is why their 10th anniversary vow renewal (technically wedding No. 3) a few weeks ago went off in a major way. On June 19, the couple took part in an all-inclusive group wedding at Denver Comic Con, which provided convention passes for each couple, plus passes for family and friends, wedding gifts, cake and live music. It was the big, geeky wedding Chris and James always wanted.
Chris was delighted to have such a big to-do, and I don't blame him. Just 10 years ago when they first got married, the climate was vastly different. They even called in The Denver Guardian Angels for protection, since they planned to hold the ceremony outdoors and weren't sure whether they might be harassed.
"Nowadays, " he said, "there are LGBT mass weddings and things like gay proms. When I was coming out, we had one measly little gay bookstore, and you were lucky if you didn't get beat up on your way down there."
He came out when he was a teenager, living in downtown Denver. Though he and his husband now live in Manitou Springs, which is more accepting, he is grateful his time in Denver taught him street smarts to avoid those who might harm or harass them.
"You develop those skills and that discernment. So we're always just very aware, and I think I hold myself very well," Chris says. "I've seen too many Milla Jovovitch movies." He added that James is a black belt and former body builder, so really "we look like people who can defend ourselves."
More than that, though, Chris thinks the world is opening up. "This changing of the guard is happening," he says, "with legalization of gay marriage, legalization of pot, there's a lot of change from old to new. A lot of people are resistant, but I think people are seeing that it's a good thing. They're seeing that we're all human and we have to take care of each other."
In his lifetime, Chris has seen a dramatic shift in the culture's attitude toward homosexuality, and I am grateful for his perspective. So often from where we stand, it looks like things will never get better, or if they do, someone will try to take that victory from us again. But Chris reminds me that we just have to keep living and loving.
"I don't live in their reality," he said of bigots and homophobes. "I won't tolerate intolerance."
We are certainly not the only gay people in the city. There are a lot of us, and I am thrilled to continually meet more. People often ask why we choose to live here. When I could pack up my partner and move to San Francisco or Portland or Canada (which admittedly is looking more and more appealing as the election draws near), why stick around a conservative city?
Besides the fact that Caity and I love Colorado and specifically spent our honeymoon traveling around the state, we also just love Colorado Springs. This is where we grew up, and where we learned to live together as a couple. It's full of kind-hearted people and brilliant artists, and I'm not ready to leave it behind just yet.
Because the Springs has only received national media attention when something terrible happens (such as last November's horrific Planned Parenthood shooting), its reputation isn't progressive or even tolerant. While I can't speak for anyone but myself, I can say that the city I know personally is very different from the way it's painted in the media.
High school was a mixed bag when I officially came out in 2006. Caity faced some terrible homophobia from a few girls in her classes, while I suffered no more than sporadic snide comments in the hallways. But the school itself was responsive and understanding. It supported my push for a Gay-Straight Alliance, which wasn't well-attended but wasn't treated with hostility either.
As grown gay women, we have stuck to open-minded circles and found love and support in them. According to Caity, there's a big difference between a place like Colorado Springs and a place like Madison, Georgia. "The difference here is that it's a bigger city. It's cosmopolitan. Yes it's hit-or-miss, but at least there's more chance of a hit."
And as long as you know where to find the right people, it can be full of "hits," though far too many members of my LGBTQ family are familiar with what happens when you miss. The good news is that there are amazing people and organizations in our city that offer support.
Colorado Springs Queer Collective addresses homelessness and gives voice to trans/non-binary people and people of color, which not enough organizations do. Mountain Fold Books hosts a monthly Queer Open Mic Night and carries the work of independent queer writers and artists. Inside/Out Youth Services provides much-needed resources for LGBTQ youths. Springs Equality helps connect local allied businesses with the LGBTQ community while promoting awareness and offering mentorship to those who need it. And there are even more organizations doing amazing work furthering the cause, right here in our own backyard.
To have one LGBTQ organization is a blessing — to have as many as we do is truly a testament to the people who run them and to the culture of the city that sustains them.
Though the heartbreaking and shocking attack on Pulse in Orlando proved to me that I, as a gay woman, am not truly safe anywhere, I don't feel more unsafe in Colorado Springs than I would anywhere else. At least here, I know that there is a loving LGBTQ family that takes the fight for equality beyond the Pride Parade and into the arts, into the streets and into the wider community.
I am not saying the Springs doesn't have its troubles. It absolutely does, but it will never change without us — a vocal, active, visible LGBTQ and allied presence. The same concept applies to the whole country.
Marriage equality was a major victory, not just in terms of politics, but in terms of how the fight for it changed our culture's mindset. Between 1996 and 2016, Gallup polls show a 34 percent increase in support for same-sex marriage. The visibility that the cause gave us was invaluable. And we had a great platform to campaign on: love! What was simpler than that?
But love was the easiest agenda to push, and now we're left with uglier topics: confronting systemic oppression, classism, sexism, racism, ableism and the entire concept of the gender binary. These fights are often invisible, because personally and culturally we have trouble confronting our faults, but the important part is that individuals are challenging destructive institutions on a daily basis.
Even with marriage equality, no one can claim with any truth that the world sees LGBTQ people as entirely equal. We need housing for displaced LGBTQ youths and health insurance for folks who need to transition. We need better and inclusive sexual education, and positive representation in the media. We need people to stop killing us.
We have come so far, and so quickly. The fact that I am wearing the ring of a woman I can call my wife is astounding to me. But there is still so much to work toward — and the credits aren't rolling yet.
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