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Two Sides of Fear’s Coin

Donald Trump's election has put rights at stake, but also given a greenlight to harassment. | LYNAS

Donald Trump’s election has put rights at stake, but also given a greenlight to harassment. | LYNAS

BY SAM OGLESBY | On November 10, over breakfast, I was surprised and delighted when my partner of 34 years looked up from his cereal and said, “Let’s get married !”

We were happy when same-sex marriage became legal nationally last year, but like many couples, gay and straight, we had mixed feelings about the institution of marriage. My partner was of the “so what, it’s just a piece of paper” frame of mind. I didn’t push it even though I thought getting married and showing our love was much more than a document.

Like so many things in life that involve big decisions, but lack urgency, we put marriage in the “pending” category and as time went by, we thought about it less and less. 

IN TRUMP’S WAKE

Until the recent presidential election when Donald Trump was declared the winner. After his “proposal” that morning, I asked my partner what had changed his mind about getting hitched and he replied that we had better do it now while we could, because the political landscape could get pretty scary and with a Trump-rigged Supreme Court it was not inconceivable that gay people could be deprived of their basic civil right of matrimony.

So on a recent Thursday morning, we did the needful thing and took the 6 train to City Hall for a marriage license. Exiting the subway at Foley Square, I walked up to a very tall New York City policeman and said, “I want to get married! Where do I go?” Pointing in the direction of a large building on Worth Street, he replied, “It’s over there, but don’t do it! Don’t do it!” We laughed and thanked the humorous cop for his advice. Our journey toward marriage had started out on a merry, comic note. I felt we were sitcom characters out of “I Love Lucy.”

The next two hours in the City Clerk’s Office, queuing, passing through security, mostly just waiting for our number, A370, to appear on the screen went by in an unreal, dreamlike flash. There, we were with hundreds of other couples waiting to get married. A pair of women sitting next to us, one Asian-American, the other black, had flown in from Arizona because they wanted to tie the knot in New York City.

A lone Pakistani man, whose number followed ours, said he was there to document that he was not married. “No plans for marriage?,” I asked. His answer was an eye roll and that South Asian head nod that can mean almost anything.

A loner my whole life who had never felt part of any group, somehow I began to feel for the first time that I belonged to the human race, that all of us there, waiting with numbered tickets, were playing in the same band.

Our marriage license in hand, we settled into an impromptu wedding breakfast that was the most delicious food I’d ever had even though it was from a street vendor’s cart. We both sat on nearby fire hydrants and basked in the sun, sipping our coffee, talking about a trip to Tiffany’s to buy rings. The license was good for 60 days and had to be validated with a civil marriage ceremony performed by a licensed officiant. So we had plenty of time. 

Meanwhile we talked about plans that all about-to-be marrieds discuss –– what friends to tell, what kind of party we wanted to have, and whom to invite. But for me, it was mostly about the ring. I had never worn any kind of ring on my finger during the 77 years of my life and the prospect of having some sort of band on my hand filled me with delight and trepidation. Delight for all of the obvious reasons and trepidation triggered by the fear of “coming out” to everybody I knew. Even those straight Republican friends who were not very keen on the whole gay thing. The moral dilemma of lying about my sexuality was not so great a challenge when I was a single person. “What people didn’t know wouldn’t hurt them” was my philosophy in cases of people dear to me who did not understand homosexuality. But now with that band of gold on my finger, there was no more dodging the truth.

Our first attempt to buy rings was foiled when we couldn’t get into Tiffany’s because of blockades “protecting” Trump Tower from demonstrators on Fifth Avenue. We found a cozier, more friendly branch of the store in Soho and bought our rings there. Now it only remained for us to set the date for the civil marriage ceremony and we would be husbands!

In the days that followed, news reports told of ugly fallout from the Trump victory, describing attacks on minorities, including gay people, by those emboldened by the election upset.

But that wasn’t something my partner and I simply read about from afar. Several people in his office made derogatory remarks about “faggots” and “queers” and one colleague told him the following “joke”: Who gets married on Friday and fired on Monday? Answer: A queer.

When he got home from work that day, I could tell he was dejected and I asked him what was wrong. There was a long silence before he told me that he didn’t want to go through with our marriage, at least not right now. There was no discussion or argument between us. Being together for 34 years, we had gotten beyond bickering and debates. “Should I take back the rings?,” I asked him. Without speaking he nodded, “yes”.

Not wanting to go back to the Soho Tiffany’s branch –– somehow, I felt it a terrible loss of face–– I went to the flagship store on Fifth Avenue which was now open, the demonstrators having left Trump Tower. I was treated well and able to return the rings without having to answer the embarrassing question of why. I think Tiffany’s, in its wisdom, knows better than to ask such questions. And I did have my “Breakfast At Tiffany’s” when the kind salesperson asked me if I would like to have a cappuccino, which was impeccably served to me in a bone china cup.

We may not have gotten married, but even an “almost marriage” has its moments –– the excitement at the City Clerk’s Office when we got that piece of paper that said Marriage License and the special feeling we had selecting our rings at Tiffany’s as the salesperson offered us a flute of champagne and other customers cast approving glances our way. Sometimes in life you just have to be happy with less than 100 percent. Maybe one day my partner will change his mind. Then we’ll buy back the rings and, as they used to say, he’ll make an honest man of me!


Sam Oglesby is a New York City-based writer who has published four memoirs and is the recipient of the 2014 New York Press Association Award for Best Feature article.

One Response to Two Sides of Fear’s Coin

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