We sat looking at each other across one lonely candle that night in 1991 when you first told me you were gay. In my memory you were a few days into your visit to my village in Zaire, and we finally had a night to ourselves to talk. The mud hut where we sat wasn’t exactly spacious or inviting, but it was a sanctuary from the perplexing challenges of negotiating village life in another culture and language. Every morning we could cook coffee and pancakes over the charcoal grill.
(As momentous as the occasion was, it wasn’t the only memorable one from your visit. There was the trip to the isolated river where we body-surfed through rapids; the dugout canoe we took up another river in search of hippos; the rooster you decapitated; and, the bike ride across the charred savannah that so dehydrated you we had to take refuge with a missionary nurse.)
People ask me now whether I knew you were gay, or even had an inkling. I really didn’t. But I think that’s mostly because I was so wrapped up in my own thing during high school and college, I wasn’t paying close attention. Your bedroom door was closed quite often, but it never clicked that something important was going on.
What exactly you said, or how you phrased it, I don’t recall. What I remember now is how wrong I was then, a pattern that sadly repeated itself. What I think I said was that being gay would make your life so hard. I thought of holidays and family meals back in Buffalo, and imagined that all of that would be outside your reach. It didn’t seem like a family with children was possible. Having a family that would be a part our larger Buffalo clan was inconceivable.
Later I would counsel you not to tell our grandparents that you were gay. Keep the secret and spare them the difficulty of grappling with it.
Instead, you chose a path that required much greater courage and determination. You had the chutzpah to talk through the very difficult issues of sexuality not just with your parents, but with your grandparents and other family members. I think we could guess with great certainty that Mom and Dad would support you no matter what, but the farther the circle went out, the less sure the response would be. You never disguised anything, and that was both brave and the absolute right decision.
Later, at your third wedding (hey, but they were all to the same man!), you talked about watching brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles “falling in love, facing our doubt, and then making a commitment.”
“We could not wait until we grew up and it happened to us. We couldn’t wait, and yet we did, never imagining this day, this celebration of marriage equality would happen in our lifetime.”
I love that line, but I think it understates things more than a little. You weren’t waiting. With each simple declaration, be it to your grandfather or to one of your classes at school, you were tweaking the universe just a bit. Chris, your decisions to celebrate your love, made us all learn and grow (and realize our wrongheadedness). The universe is bending toward justice because you did it.