We are gathered here today

| October 17, 2011 | 2 Comments

And, though it may have been my imagination, I think gay or sgl men (whichever term you prefer), here in New York, began to look at each other with new eyes.  The once casual idea that someone is “husband material,” one I have often heard tossed about, took on a new resonance and reverence.  I know I won’t hear that phrase, especially if directed at me, the same way again.  For instance, for some time now, I have been exchanging a series of flirty text messages with a particularly handsome fellow I used to see while I lived in Chicago:  “If you’d stayed here…we’d be married,” read one of his recent texts.  To which I responded: “Don’t play. We do marriage for real in New York.”  He acknowledged that, and then there was a graceful, but obvious, change of subject.  Although, to his credit, before he signed off, he did suggest it might be time he packed up and moved east. Hmmmm…

But, back to the matter of my toast.  What would I say as I was still digesting all this unknown difference?  Maybe, “In case any of you were wondering, this is what a new day looks like.  This is what it’s like to witness a sea change.”  Okay, okay, not bad – a little stodgy but, playful, too, in underscoring how quickly the extraordinary becomes ordinary.  I thought I could work with it, maybe.  So, I filed it away in my head.

Then I began to think of all of our dear friends, loved ones and colleagues lost to AIDS over the years.  The people who would not share in this moment (except in our hearts), who would surely have been there, laughing and joking, enjoying the wine and the fellowship, had they survived.  Still, that unchangeable reality was not one in which these guests, in particular, needed reminding; not on that joyous day or any other.  The losses I was remembering would not be unknown to them.  Still, some part of that very real past stayed with me.  Some part of the journey to that day took hold of my thoughts.

In the poem, For My Own Protection, author and activist Essex Hemphill (1957-1995) wrote, “I want to start an organization to save my life…” And, in one of his powerful essays, author and activist Joseph Beam (1954-1988) had written “Black men loving Black men is the revolutionary act of the 1980s…”   More than messages whose time had come, their words literally jumped from the page as just such organizations began to appear nationwide.  In New York, Other Countries: Black Gay Men Writing was launched.  More than an organization to me, it was a kind of family to which I devoted myself.  And there came Gay Men of African Descent (GMAD) and its work to support and empower black gay men.  Each fought against the deafening silence that threatened our lives.  These were the Reagan/Bush years.  HIV/AIDS was devastating communities throughout the country and around the world.  It hit New York City particularly hard.  Treatments at the time were few and an HIV diagnosis was considered a death sentence.  It was a painful time to live through, a time of incalculable loss, friends disappearing and too many memorial services, but it was also a time of urgency.  It was a time to act, to be seen and to be heard.  “Your silence will not protect you,” wrote author, activist and New York State Poet Laureate Audre Lorde (1934-1992).  We heard that.  Somewhere, during that crazy time, I met Steve.  Sometime, at who-knows-where, I met Joey.  I do not remember the specific circumstances of our meeting, but I do remember we were all a part of GMAD in those days.  Those Friday night gatherings helped so many of us make sense of our lives.  Joey went on to become one of GMAD’s Executive Directors.  And, it is where Joey and Steve first met.

Pressing my shirt that morning, it occurred to me that the wedding I would be attending that evening was born out of revolution.  The “revolutionary act” the late Joseph Beam imagined and typed onto a page on some forgotten day over two decades ago.  Maybe that was something I should say.  So, I filed that thought away, too; and, began to pack my bag.

“The best laid plans…,” as they say.  I had arranged to stay with a friend in mid-town Manhattan, change into my wedding clothes at his place, and the both of us would head uptown to the festivities.  It did not work out that way.  There were, of course, a number of unanticipated delays on the train from Middletown (there is no train from Liberty) into the city.  Running late, I decided to change clothes in the Men’s Room at the Secaucus, New Jersey train station, where I would connect with the train to New York’s Penn Station.  Fortunately, the handicapped stall was free, giving me plenty of space to maneuver.  As I dressed, I chuckled at the circumstances, knowing my making such a spectacle of myself would be great cocktail party conversation somewhere down the road.  As I re-packed my bag, a new opening for my suppositious toast came to me:  “Ladies and Gentleman, because my train into the city ran late this evening, I was forced to change clothes in the Men’s Room of the Secaucus train station.  Now, now, don’t worry, it was fine.  No cause for alarm.  It’s just that, in the spirit of this wonderful occasion, I simply want to announce that I’m now engaged to the man who was in the next stall.  He said he couldn’t resist my wide stance.”  A little “tea room” humor at the expense of conservative Republicans at the same-sex wedding? – maybe, maybe not.

Despite our grooms brief panic over the driver, hired to pick-up Mayor Dinkins, losing the Mayor’s address, it was a wonderfully festive occasion.  The food, the flowers, the friendship, the very generous flow of wine, the frequent flash of cameras all around us, the sight of big, burly Joey’s flaring dimples and his flood of tears and Steve’s fist pumping the air, as they held each other firm in a room filled with the cheers that soared with the words: “…in accordance of the laws of the State of New York…,” and the flurry of rose petals that fell upon them fed a contagious joy and a — freedom, I believe, few could resist – or would have wanted to.

A beautiful two-layer cake, with ivory frosting and dark chocolate filigree was wheeled out to a chorus of “Ooooos…” and “Ahhhhs…”  And, just like that corny (chided the single man with no prospects) shot seen in millions of photo albums, the grooms cut the cake and fed each other the first piece, to a rousing round of applause.  There was much more wine, the music was cranked up, restaurant staff jumped into action and the delicious red velvet cake was sliced and served in record time, there was much happiness, lots more hugging, photos with the Mayor, photos with the grooms, photos of the guests, photos of the photographers, the grooms first dance, more pictures, more dancing, more wine, and as the evening wore on, any thought that I might be called upon to say something, in the least bit memorable, simply faded away.  And, having not decided on what I might possibly say, anyway, I was fine with that.   So, why not have another glass of wine?

I suspect, however, that one of the better organized, more traditionally-minded “Best Persons,” who actually thought to write out something to say, gave the wedding’s organizer a little nudge.  A microphone appeared, the guests were called to re-focus their attention, we “Best Persons” were introduced and the microphone was promptly handed to me:  New day, sea change, revolutions, GMAD, delayed trains, men’s room stalls, wonderful occasion…  Well, never let it be said that I ain’t a trooper.  “Is this thing on?”




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Category: FAMILY & RELATIONSHIPS, Lifestyle, Partnering

Allen Luther Wright

About the Author ()

Born on the Westside, raised on the Southside, lived on the Northside, only side left was East, but that was the lake. Allen Luther Wright left Chicago for New York when he fell in love with a man from Harlem. His work has appeared in several publications and he co-wrote Kevin’s Room Part 2: Trust and Kevin’s Room Part 3: Together, the provocative and educational television productions of Chicago’s Department of Public Health, also featured at numerous film festivals. Allen now lives in the Catskills town of Liberty, New York.

Comments (2)

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  1. Pavan Carter says:

    I enjoyed the article Allen and was honored to be apart and capture apart of History!

  2. Fabian Thomas says:

    Allen, ‘thank you’ only scatches the surface of my appreciation for your verbal gift in providing me with a window into Joey & Steve’s momentous day….maybe when my heart is less full and my head less giddy (from the sweet wine of your words, I’ll be able to find a more fullsome response…. :-)

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