This morning I received copy edits from ravenous romance for the next book in the Bad Boy Billionaire series, The Actor Learning to Love. In this book I don’t actually get into anything too detailed about gay “marriage,” but I do mention it often because the main character is a gay man who has been “married” more than once. His last relationship, one in which he considered himself “engaged,” has just ended and he’s moving into a new apartment with his 10 year old son. And after so many failed “marriages” the only thing he’s looking forward to is jump-starting his career and making sure his kid gets into good schools.
If you notice, I’m putting the word “marriage” and “engaged” and anything related to this in quotes for a reason. So stick with me.
Whenever I get copy edits back from any publisher I usually tread with care. Most of the time it’s basic because I always try to submit manuscripts that are neat, clean, and don’t require much copy editing. Most of the time I’m lucky. But every so often I get one back with a few notes on the side and that can take up a lot of time. Also, most of the time the copy editor is right and she/he has caught something that needs to be fixed. It’s a mixed feeling. On the one hand I’d rather not have to deal with them, and on the other I’m always thrilled that a good copy editor found an issue I need to address. So, I want everyone to know I’m not talking about copy editors here. I think copy editors are the most unrecognized group in publishing, and also the most important in the end.
Back in the early 1990’s when I first starting going out to gay clubs and meeting other gay people, everything was fairly new to me. I used to pull up to a gay club and wonder about them, in a general sense, when I saw them all going into the club in groups. How did they all get to know each other? When did they do this? Why don’t I know any so I don’t have to go in alone? At the time, it really did mystify my that there were gay people out there socializing and getting together everywhere, not just in gay night clubs and gay cruise spots.
In time, I met a few people and I became part of a circle of friends, too. I stopped wondering and started living. But I do remember certain things that used to come up in the beginning that would stun me. And one of those things was gays being “married.” For example, a friend would introduce me to someone and I would express interest. Then my friend would tell me that person was “married,” and I wasn’t sure exactly what he meant. Did he have a wife and kids? Wasn’t gay “marriage” illegal? I never actually asked because I didn’t want to look stupid, so I listened carefully and figured it all out on my own.
What I didn’t realize back then, and what so many straight people don’t realize now, is that when gay men (or women) refer to themselves as “married,” it’s often in an off-handed way that carries a certain amount of both truth and snark. Sometimes it can be sweet and endearing, and sometimes bittersweet. In other words, they are in committed relationships, and some have been in these relationship for years, but since they aren’t allowed to legally “marry” they use the word “married” anyway in an almost sarcastic…or campy…way. They refer to their partners as “husbands,” or “wives,” too, in the same way. Some even say they’re “engaged.” It took me a while to get the hang of that. I tend to be a very literal person. At first I thought they were really “married,” like with women and kids. But that wasn’t the case then and it’s still not the case now.
So when I looked at the copy edits this morning and I saw how confused the copy editor was each time I used the word “married,” or anything related to that, I knew I had to explain somewhere in the book that this is how a lot of gay people talk when they refer to their relationships or their partners, or their situations. The copy editor, and rightly so, was getting into when gay marriage had become legal in NY where the story takes place, and I had to explain that it doesn’t really matter when gay marriage became legal in NY because the character considered himself “married,” with or without it being legal in NY. The book is about gay relationships and love, not about politics or legal things that don’t matter in this case. I meant to be off-handed and it wasn’t a mistake.
I live in PA where gay marriage is not legal and I still refer to my relationship as a “marriage” and to Tony as my “husband” at certain times. I may not do this in public all the time with straight people I don’t know well, but I do it with good friends and that’s how I think of it. I literally think “married,” and I’m not the only one. I have been hearing gay couples talk this way for twenty years, and they talked that way twenty years prior to that. And it doesn’t end with “marriage.” Gay people who are not allowed to legally “marry” sometimes split up and they consider that a “divorce.” So I saw no need to rectify this in the manuscript. It is what it is.
You see, one of the things I don’t think about seriously is gay “marriage” on a state to state level. I know I probably should sometimes, but I live in PA, only about an hour from NY, and legalized gay “marriage” in NY or any other state means absolutely nothing whatsoever to me. The moment a gay couple from New York crosses the state line, they are no longer “married” legally. I have friends who joke about it when they fly across country. They take notes during the trip to see which states consider them legally “married.” So, once again, this legalizing gay “marriage” from state to state means nothing to me. And until gay “marriage” is legalized on a federal level, the same way interracial “marriages” were legalized at one time, I’m not going to take the exact dates and times gay marriage became legal in any other states seriously, especially not in one of my own books.
The irony in all this is that here we’ve been “married” all this time and no one ever knew it. And it had nothing to do with laws or religious groups protesting us, or votes and rallies. It has nothing to do with Presidents or legislators who promise the world and throw us a bone. That’s because we defined it ourselves a long time ago and no one can take that away from us. And if you see me talk about gay “marriage” in a book, or anywhere else, don’t get too hung up on the exact dates of when it was legalized in a particular state, because it means nothing to gay people who don’t live in that particular state. It has to be done across the board. And even when that happens, if I write about gay people who were “married” ten or twenty years ago, I’m still going to refer to them as “married.” And that’s because they thought they were, and that’s good enough for me.