June 26, 2015, is a landmark date in American LGBTQ history. On that day, the US Supreme Court extended marriage equality to all fifty states and struck down state bans on same-sex unions. That court decision has transformed life — for the better — for LGBTQ people across the country.
I first realized I was bi when I was about 6. At that age, I already knew quite a lot about sex from the kids at school. That said, although I knew a lot about the acts, I thought it was all just for recreation, closeness, and fun. I didn’t understand how it was connected to reproduction. I personally saw no material difference between same-sex and different-sex intimacy beyond whether our genitals were the same or different. I remember looking forward to turning 12 because as a 6-year-old, I thought that was when one became an adult, and I had always heard that sex is only for two grownups. But even at 6, I knew there was a big difference between what society would accept between me and a girl and what it would accept between me and another boy. I knew that any feelings I had for another boy were something that could get me in a lot of trouble with school, with other kids, with my parents — with everyone. It was something I had to hide really, really deep inside so nobody would ever find out.
I faced the dilemma that so many bi people face: one aspect of me was encouraged and even celebrated by society, another was burdened with tremendous stigma and shame. Because of that, I tried to pass as straight. I told myself that my desire for emotional and physical closeness with other boys was just something I imagined, unimportant, and would be a decadent indulgence at best. After all, the message all around me was that the purpose of growing up was to build a good career, marry a nice woman, and raise a family with her. Meanwhile, the sex education I received in relatively progressive California (and from TV) encouraged us to remain virgins until marriage. We were warned that when we had sex with someone, we were also having sex with everyone else that person had had sex with — ever. If even one of them had an STD (as they were then called), we risked getting infected too. And this was during the height of the AIDS pandemic. I was terrified of sex because I'd internalized the message that sex is dangerous and can even cause death.
At the time, every image of queer men in the media showed us as unhinged and sex-crazed. We certainly didn’t get any representation of same-sex couples settling down and building a life together. And so, since a bright future could apparently only be found by eventually settling down and marrying a woman, I decided to forget about my desire for closeness with other boys and pass as straight.
But there was a problem — I don’t pass very well. I smile “too much,” I am “too open” about emotions other than anger, I sometimes even — gasp! — cross my legs. Fortunately, I was bigger and stronger than most of my classmates and even played varsity sports, but still, I was bullied. There were constant rumors and jokes behind my back. During our senior class trip, a bunch of kids warned Fernando, the Honduran exchange student who was sharing a tent with me, that he’d better be careful or otherwise I’d sodomize him in the middle of the night. On the bus trip home, we had class T-shirts that everyone passed around the bus to get signatures and stuff — kind of like a yearbook. Mine came back defaced with phrases like “Butt Pirate” and “Pillow Biter.” Mind you, I was a virgin.
During college, I only dated women. One day during sophomore year, a man tried to cruise me in the locker room. He was absolutely gorgeous in the most conventional of ways: tall, lean, rippling muscles, beautifully expressive eyes, and a devious smile. He was well-endowed and, well... was showing me what he was working with from the showers as I was changing. With so much of my sexuality repressed and hidden, I felt like he could see through me and was mocking me for thinking I could hide my desires. I felt tremendous shame that part of me was titillated by my first sight of another man’s erect penis. Panicking, I ran out of the room.
The University of California San Diego now has a huge LGBT student center and support network, but back then, it only had one tiny LGBT student club that met rarely. Soon after that incident, I mustered up the courage to try to attend a meeting. I was a few minutes early, and another guy was waiting there too. He started asking me invasive questions about myself and my sex life. The meeting time came and went, and nobody else showed up. The guy became even more forward and wanted to go home with me. I managed to get home — alone — and decided I wanted nothing more to do with these strange, flaky people who were apparently obsessed with sex.
Not long after that, in my quest to find myself, I “reverted” to Islam (Muslims believe everyone is born into Islam since it’s the one true faith, so there is no “conversion”) and decided to find a wife and lead a respectable life that would be supported and celebrated by my community. I attended MSA (Muslim Student Association) meetings regularly and tried really, really hard to make it work even as I winced silently at the rampant homophobia I witnessed. I remember one woman looking out the window disgusted by Coming Out Day celebrations. On a different occasion, another woman complained at the immorality of her fellow (mostly straight) students for dancing. That’s when I knew that religious life wasn’t for me. [Not one to give up easily, I later joined an LGBT Muslim group for a time, but that’s another story.]
Senior year, I attended a party with a bunch of friends from my freshman dorm. There I met a Japanese-American surfer dude with beautiful long hair. For some reason, he and I just hit it off. I felt I could truly see this man for who he was. And I felt seen. All we did was talk, but to my annoyance and embarrassment, my (straight) buddies later teased me by asking if he was my new boyfriend. I never saw him again, but I remember that encounter clearly as the moment when I finally understood that my unrealized hunger for a relationship with another man was about authenticity, openness, closeness, and emotional intimacy. Sex was just another way to experience all that. In other words, the type of relationship I wanted with a man was the same type of relationship I wanted with a woman. But in a society that didn’t legally recognize the equal worth of same-sex relationships and seemingly took every opportunity to defame LGBTQ people, it had taken me a long time to learn what now seems obvious.
Back in my hometown of Los Angeles, Jose and I started dating in 2007. At the time, I was a year into a long-distance relationship with a woman. The long-distance relationship was not flourishing, but I found myself thinking that a relationship with her had much more of a future than anything I could build with Jose. As a result, my courtship with Jose was slow and focused on building a friendship. We didn’t become a couple until months into the relationship when I made a conscious decision that the sex of my partner didn’t matter — what truly mattered was the quality of the spiritual and emotional connection.
In 2008, 52% of California voters passed Prop 8, amending our state constitution to ban same-sex marriage. It hurt. It felt to me like society would never respect or recognize the basic dignity of same-sex couples.
With marriage equality now the law of the land, young people today get to grow up in a world where they can see same-sex couples marrying and building lives together openly and proudly. It means that legally, same-sex or different-sex relationships have equal value and potential. One is not a pale shadow of the other. We now have peers and role models all around us. For people like me, for whom a person's gender is unimportant when it comes to love, it means that we can pursue our hearts rather than try to force ourselves into the "right" kind of relationship.
To celebrate 10 years together, Jose and I married in 2017.