I knew I was gay, or at least different, when I was about eight. I hated myself for it. Every night I prayed that God would change me, would make be “normal.” Of course, there was no changing me.
By the time I was 12, I was desperate and depressed. I went to the local drugstore and slowly stocked up on sleeping pills. For years, I stashed them in a tiny space at the back of a bottom drawer in my bedroom. I wondered if I should take my own life to end my misery.
Over the past few weeks, all I’ve been thinking is: I wish my 12-year-old self could see the future I am living in today.
The smiling faces. The flashing cameras. The grooms – me and my husband-to-be, Noah – exchanging vows. The video of our wedding dance going viral, viewed by over 25 million people around the world on social media, TV news programs and websites. Yes, over 25 million!
The 15 minutes of fame. The nationwide acceptance. The worldwide love.
When I was growing up, there were signs everywhere telling me that being gay was wrong. Kids making hurtful jokes. Or beating up other kids who they thought were gay. Teachers turning a blind eye. My parents echoing their parents’ teachings that being gay was sick and sinful.
One friend’s dad telling me that he thought gay people should be rounded up and shot.
I hung on. I hid. I hid really well. I hoped I might change. I dated girls. I was the runner-up for my high school’s homecoming king. I finished in the top of my class. I got accepted to Tufts University.
I knew people were watching. I wanted to appear perfect. And to the untrained eye, I did.
When I went off to college, I felt as if it could all come crashing down at any minute. So I kept hiding my “flaw.” During graduation week, I found the courage to tell a few friends. My hope was simply that they would still manage to like me despite my “flaw” of being gay.
To my great relief, they responded with love. For the first time, I stopped feeling so alone. And for the first time, I started to dream.
But even then, I couldn’t have dreamed up all the good things that would happen.
I couldn’t image that, in my lifetime, the Supreme Court would make marriage equality the law of the land. That only a few years later I would walk down the aisle with the man of my dreams.
I couldn’t imagine that after my husband and I finished our first dance, a tough, straight, former Marine would come up to us with tears streaming down his face, saying: “This is exactly what the world needs more of right now.”
And I couldn’t imagine that I would have the guts to take his advice and share a video of the first dance with my husband online.
My 12-year-old self couldn’t have believed any of this could happen. But I get it now.
I now understand that as divisive as things can seem, most of us speak the same language. It’s a language of love.
It’s a language that led my politically conservative father to co-officiate my wedding. It’s a language that led a conservative friend to share our wedding dance video proudly on Facebook.
It’s a language that leads people across the country – in red states and blue states, in small towns and big cities – not just to tolerate but to celebrate love that’s different from their own.
As the saying goes, it does get better. It has gotten better. Because people – gay and straight –are making it better.
I know, maybe that sounds Pollyannaish. After all, there’s some really bad stuff that’s happening.
The FBI recently announced that hate crimes are up by 17 percent in the U.S., with sexual orientation and gender identity the motivating factor in nearly 1,250 cases. And in 73 countries, people like me are still considered criminals who can be sent to jail or receive a death sentence.
Still, I believe the forces of love are at work. I believe it because I’ve seen it.
Noah and I let the world see our love for each other. We danced, and millions of people watched, and way more of them loved it than hated it.
In a world that is so chaotic and complicated, this much is clear: The answer to hate is love. And sometimes, dance.