My girlfriend Jenny and I were standing on a subway platform in Harlem. She had flown in from Chicago and had just gotten off a bus from LaGuardia – I was coming home from work in Times Square.
We waited for the train, facing each other, holding hands, talking, kissing occasionally.
A police officer approached us.
I felt a flash of anxiety. Was she going to tell us that we were disturbing other commuters? Was she going to say something that knifed our tender reunion?
“Ladies,” she said. “You better invite me to the wedding.” She pointed to her badge. “Dawn Matthews,” she said. “21st precinct.” She grinned.
This is what it’s like to be in love in 2009, in the year of Gay Marriage.
It’s very different from being in love in 1992, when – if I held the hand of my first girlfriend – it was a good bet that someone would shout “dykes” or worse as they passed us in the street.
Or in 2003, when my girlfriend and I were sometimes given dirty looks, and were once called “faggots” as we wandered the (very lesbian-friendly) streets of Andersonville in Chicago.
Then, all people could see was that we were two women and our love was wrong.
Now, people seem to only notice that we are in love, and it is right.
And we ARE in love – we are wildly, crazily, insanely in love, though it’s been more than nine months since we started dating.
Jenny and I move in together this week. We had thought that I might move to Chicago for a few months earlier in the spring, but those plans fell through. So we kept up our relationship through video chat and email and long talks on the phone at midnight and monthly visits.
And whenever we’ve visited each other, someone has publicly applauded us for being in love.
There was that police officer. There was the chic African-American woman on a train who, once we had gotten up to leave, shouted out after us, “You go, girls! You’re beautiful!” There were the gay men who applauded us when we walked into a Chicago bar because they had seen us kissing outside.
And there was the elderly white man at a Broadway theater who sat behind us with his wife and tapped me on the shoulder.
“Excuse me,” he said. “I don’t mean to disturb you. But I just wanted to say that you both have excellent taste in women.”
This week, Jenny and I are driving her things to New York, so that she can live with me and my dog. We hope to get married once New York gets its act together and makes it legal. But in the meantime, we joke, we’re going to lie on a blanket in Central Park and be in love.
And in 2009, that’s OK. No, gays and lesbians don’t have our full civil rights. No, we don’t have marriage recognition in most states, or our relationships recognized by the federal government. No, we can still be fired in some states for being gay. No, we are not safe from gay bashing, or bullying, or Department of Justice briefs that compare our marriages to incest.
But America is becoming an ever-more welcoming place to be gay, in small towns and big cities. People are focusing less on our gender and more on the strength of our relationships; they are seeing us less as stereotypes and more as human beings.
And that’s good news for a lesbian couple who can’t hide that we’re in love.