Whenever I’m faced with the task of providing biographical information about my life, I have a bit of a language problem. Namely, while I want to say that I was ”born and raised in Kentucky,” that isn’t exactly true.
Technically, I was born in California — Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base, to be precise. It being the late 1960s, my father had been drafted into the service as part of the country’s ongoing fight in Vietnam. Luckily for him (and me), he was discharged shortly after my birth and the newest nuclear component of the Bugg family returned home to western Kentucky.
So, as you can see, it’s actually a lie for me to say that I was ”born and raised” in my home state. But to say that I was ”born in California” implies some value to that experience that simply doesn’t exist. My infant self was in the state for a matter of weeks, barely long enough for me to open my squinty little baby eyes. It’s fair to say that, barring some unknown molecular and chemical reactions with the sunny California weather, my ”experience” had no effect on me.
To make linguistic matters worse, to say ”born in California, raised in Kentucky” lessens the importance of my home state and family history — it sounds as if Kentucky were a place my parents up and moved to one day on a whim. Actually, the Bugg family has lived in that part of the country since at least the late 1800s. My grandfather was born there in 1911, when California was just the home of a gold rush and an earthquake. I may be the big gay sheep of the family who moved away to gayer pastures, but I still take some familial pride in our shared history.
So, to avoiding fibbing about my biography I have to spend 300 words or more qualifying and explaining the story, and likely boring the living hell out of the listener. Yeah, I can see you nodding off right now.
I face a similar problem these days when I talk about being married to my husband, Cavin. The conversations usually goes something like this:
”Cavin and I got married last year.”
”That’s nice. Where did you get married?”
”We had a simple ceremony at home in Virginia.”
”In Virginia? Does that count?”
”Well, it’s not a legal marriage with a marriage certificate and everything. But the state didn’t send in a SWAT team, so I think it turned out okay.”On a basic, day-to-day level, I consider myself married even though I’m not legally sanctioned by the Old Dominion. Both of our families and lots of our friends came together to help us celebrate a Buddhist ceremony that joined us as a couple. We lit the incense, we drank the tea, and as far as I’m concerned we’re married.
Of course, when I say that Cavin and I are ”married,” people generally assume that we eloped to Massachusetts or Canada to receive some sort of legal imprimatur. Since I’m not personally inclined to start a constitutional crisis by suing Virginia to recognize a California marriage, we haven’t planned an immediate return to the state of my birth to legalize ourselves this summer — although I think it’s likely we eventually will.
I’m a big believer that in order to change the culture we live in, we have to take the small daily steps that make change happen. Even if my marriage isn’t a fully legally recognized civil marriage, it is a marriage — in large part simply because we say it’s so. The more often any of us refers to our same-sex husbands or wives, the more often we talk about our marriages, then the more experienced and comfortable our straight friends and neighbors will become with the concept.
That’s the way change spreads. When Cavin and I had our ceremony and reception, I’m fairly sure we were the first at-home wedding party in our Falls Church neighborhood in years. I’m positive we were the first big gay wedding party ever. Some of our neighbors joined us, and I’m sure most others heard about it through regular neighborhood gossip.
Since then, armed with our wedding bands and joint savings account, we’ve had many more chances to help normalize the concept. My favorite was when Cavin was trying to use my Barnes & Noble discount card and the clerk balked because his name wasn’t on the card. ”He’s my husband,” Cavin told him, loudly, in front of the queue of customers waiting for the transaction to finish.
The clerk took the card.
Some change happens in big, spectacular bursts of publicity. But most change happens in the smallest things we do every day of our lives. It’s not always easy to be precise and honest in our language about ourselves and our relationships, but the effort will always be worth it.
Sean Bugg is very proud of his Kentucky heritage, but he doesn’t plan to move back anytime soon. He’s the co-publisher of Metro Weekly and writes semi-regularly at Buggblog.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.