At my high school, there was one fully out gay kid. He called himself “the flagship gay,” and his name was Ray. Naturally, he became Gay Ray. It seemed like his coming out put a wedge in something so that others could come out. We lived in a very conservative town, and it wasn’t easy for anybody. A lot of us got involved in protests and the effort to start a Gay-Straight Alliance at our school, and we identified ourselves by sexuality first and in dramatic ways. Ray took on the obligations of being gay in a place where it’s hard to be gay, and he let us place all our assumptions, expectations and our own identity issues on him. He also bore the brunt of abuse. There is a lot of hate in small towns.
Leaving my little red dot in a big blue state helped me appreciate climate change — not the scary kind that threatens polar bears but the atmospheric shift that comes from living in an area where being gay isn’t that big of a deal. However, the politics of identity are always complicated. I’m not Gay Ray, but I definitely belong to the LGBTQIAA ever-expanding alphabet club. I don’t usually have to pick a letter because nobody asks me. I’m an invisible queer in a heterosexual pair bond, and I never had to come out. I dated girls in high school, and I have followed the news from the Supreme Court on the Defense of Marriage Act and Proposition 8 like my own marriage is at stake. I grew up in a place where this was all “Us” versus “Them,” and I have always been one of “Us.”
Many of the younger LGBTQIAA kids I meet aren’t concerned at all with coming out. Most of them aren’t interested in identity politics, and they don’t see the necessity of absolute labeling. They don’t think of themselves as gay first, not defined by this facet of identity but by other aspects of themselves. Although I enjoy this broadening of attitudes and am always glad to see the binary disappear, I can’t help but think of Gay Ray. He didn’t ask to be an ambassador. He never set up a booth with a sign that said, “PLEASE ASK ME ALL OF YOUR FRIGHTENINGLY SPECIFIC QUESTIONS ABOUT GAY SEX AND LOVE,” but through his visibility, that task fell to him. I want to share something about what I know with those of you who are coming out or hanging back without a label.
Most of us in the LGBTQIAA category aren’t Gay Ray. Many of us have the luxury of passing for straight. Because I married a man, people will assume I’m straight. I have taken almost every opportunity to disabuse them of that notion. I know my marriage will be viewed as valid and “normal.” I feel my privilege every day because I could just as easily have been without it. I admit it because my best friends have to file joint taxes on state and single on federal, with an attached legal form detailing the ongoing issues of Proposition 8. I admit it because what we have is precious and protected and should be offered to everyone.
In 2000, California had its first fight on the definition of marriage in Proposition 22. I was very young then, but that was when I joined the fight. I worked for Equality California, making phone calls and distributing leaflets until the vote. When Prop. 8 passed, I felt so betrayed by my open and liberal state. I hated my privilege, and I hated the climate of the whole state. The Supreme Court decision to strike down DOMA during this very Pride season helped to heal that betrayal. Some part of me has been sitting on that same corner, protesting, since 2000 and 2008. Some part of me is still impressed by Gay Ray, worried that he’s not safe and wishing I stood up before I did.
Those of us whose difference is invisible have to stand up. We have to own our privilege and become as visible as we safely can. Despite the victory over DOMA, this fight is not yet won. These are not issues to be solved in a single state, or with a single vote, and we are fighting for so much more than gay marriage. We are still fighting for the right to work, equality for trans* citizens, rights to adoption and so much more. Gay Ray and trans* folk and others are still on the front lines, bearing the brunt of damage and insult. During this Pride season, I am calling on the invisible queers. The tide is turning, and it is time to come out and stand up.