Brian McNaught: A Journey without Meaning?
By the look on his face, Ray appeared troubled. I knew that he was lost in thoughts of financial uncertainty, so I swam over and gave him a long, tender kiss.
Had I written that sentence 39 years ago, I would have been fired from my job. Actually I was.
After kissing him, and holding eye contact for a length of time that would make most straight men squirm, I asked Ray, “Are you here with me, or someplace else?”
“I’m here with you now,” he grinned.
“Do you know what I think sometimes when I kiss you?” I asked. “I think of the young guy, delightfully goofy and innocent, who I met 37 years ago. I think about painting the living room of our Boston apartment forest green, of stripping three layers of wallpaper off the walls of our home in Gloucester, of the avocado green refrigerator in the place we bought in Atlanta, and the view we created of the magnolia tree when we put the French doors in the kitchen in San Francisco.”
“You think about all of that when you kiss me?” Ray asked.
“I bet the worst part of having Alzheimer’s is not appreciating the significance of any moment. If I had no memory of the past, I’d be sitting here with you in the hot tub, thinking you were handsome, and that the yard is beautiful, but having no context for any of it. I wouldn’t remember our history together, or how we’ve worked to create this garden.”
Ray smiled appreciatively, as he knows my mind is constantly working to understand the significance of a moment, for me and for others. He likes talking with me about these observations, and I like taking his mind off of things he can’t do anything about, like the sale of our home in Provincetown.
Ray and I have made a journey together. I love the word journey and the image it creates. My parents, and his parents, probably never used the word “journey” to describe their lives. My father would probably grumble, “It’s a life. You live it.”
“Journey” is a Baby Boomer euphemism that creates the notion we are all on our way from one place to another. We are experiencing people, places, and things which impact the direction we take in our lives. Ray and I joined hands as young men in our 20s at a time when it was illegal in Massachusetts for us to have sex. And, there were other young men like us who were being experimented upon with electric shock in mental hospitals, like the infamous Atascadero in California. That’s the context of our life journey. In the early days of our relationship, we needed to be careful about where and when we kissed.
Gay twenty-year-olds today are joining hands and kissing in the historic, cultural context of a lesbian being elected to the United States Senate, the President and Vice-President vocally supportive of marriage equality, and intercourse between people of the same sex legal in every state. These people, places, and things impact the direction of their journeys.
Not being aware of your historic and cultural context makes you like a person who has no long-term memory. You look around and see things that are nice, but you don’t know what it has to do with you. And without knowing what it has to do with you, you are robbed of the depth of meaning when you kiss your beloved, apply for a job, walk past a Marine recruiting center, or read the marriage announcements in the Styles section of the Sunday New York Times.
That’s why I like the word “journey” to describe my life. I have been traveling a path from unawareness to awareness, from the fog of youthful goofiness to the clarity of adult goofiness. If Ray dies before me, and I enter a relationship with another person, he won’t have any feelings for the forest green paint of my living room wall when I was 28, nor will he be able to laugh about the avocado-colored refrigerator we got rid of in Atlanta. We would create new memories, but when we kissed, we wouldn’t remember how we did so illegally in our youth.
It’s important to know why Tammy Baldwin’s victory in Wisconsin is not just wonderful, but significant. Winning all four state contests on marriage equality will impact the paths of hundreds of thousands of people, who should know that it happened in the lifetime of gay people who watched Anita Bryant and John Briggs lead campaigns to take away all gay civil rights, including the right to teach school.
It’s not just Ray and I who are on a journey from unawareness to awareness. So, too, is the LGBT community, and our allies, families, and friends. When we kiss, hug, or high five in celebration of our new “normalcy” in our country, we need to remember the context of this victory, or there will be no meaning to the moment.
I’m very grateful for my ability to remember the steps it has taken me to get to where I am today as a gay man living in America in a committed, loving relationship with another man. My memory gives my life a context for understanding why kissing Ray in the hot tub is so full of meaning.