When people would ask Bill or me how we managed to keep our relationship going for so long, often I would say that part of the secret was that we built our lives as two people who didn’t need one another to be complete. Instead, we chose to be together, so everything we gave to one another was a gift, not a demand or payment. That seems right. We both were pretty self-contained, and Bill was convinced that, even after he was gone, I would find my way.
Although his death is still too recent to draw many hard and fast conclusions, I am increasingly convinced that we were wrong. Oh, I think it was true at the start, and it was a good thing we didn’t get together out of a sense of desperation or even great need. We were young, newly out of college, and our love really was a gift that we could give or withhold.
I’ve always hated when people refer to their spouse as their “other half” because I feel that two incomplete people don’t make a complete one. When Bill and I got together 37 years ago, lesbian and gay people mostly called their spouses their “lovers.” That felt a bit too salacious for a pastor, so we opted for the term “partner.”
Today, because gay and lesbian people can be legally married, young people tend to call one another “husband” or “wife.” That always felt odd to us because we worked so hard for so long not to create an imitation of a “straight” marriage. We believed that the freedom that came with being gay men was a gift to be explored, celebrated, and experienced. We didn’t want to assimilate or be assimilated. Of course, that was a long time ago and during what was called “the gay liberation movement.” A guiding principle of that time, which has been abandoned somewhat, was that we needed to identify and celebrate what was queer about us, NOT suppress or seek to eradicate it.
In the end, one of the keys to that was our disavowal of much of traditional relationships in which women literally were “given away” to the man they would marry. Creating new roles, covenants, and ways of being in relationship was a freedom same-gender loving people had, especially back then when we first were inventing our relationships.
Bill and I freely choose one another as partners in life. It was only after he died that I discovered that, having been together for so long, Bill truly had become my “other half.”
Rev. Michael Piazza