Rites of Passage
Birth. Walking and talking. Pimples and pubic hair. Your first hangover to go with your first alcoholic drink. Driver’s education. Your first car. Graduation. Your first fuck (could come after your first drink). More matriculating. Marriage. Children (or perhaps Children then Marriage.). Divorce. Re-marriage, divorce, re-marr—oh, never mind, that cycle could spin ad infinitum. And last but not least, death.
These milestone events are observed through specific rituals and ceremonies (some celebratory, others maudlin) encountered in nearly every culture. Here in the United States, we like to call them rites of passage.
Growing up a Catholic male throughout the 1960s and ’70s, my rites of passage were mapped out for me from the get-go:
1. Receive Baptism, First Communion and Confirmation from the Catholic Church.
2. Do not masturbate.
3. Learn to shave with an electric razor.
4. Do not leave a Honcho magazine on your bed.
5. Graduate with honors from high school and college with a pretty girl on my arm.
6. Establish a stable career in law or medicine.
7. Marry well.
8. Father children.
9. Purchase a four-bedroom house in the suburbs.
10. Put the kids through college.
11. Retire with a healthy pension.
12. Bounce grandchildren on my arthritic knees before my quiet and well-timed entrance to the Pearly Gates.
Just like The Ten Commandments, only more.
As fate would have it, my journey towards these idealistic rites of passage veered off drastically from that well-trod path. Sure, I received the Holy Rites from the Catholic Church, yet never stepped foot inside those walls unless I was forced to for my Dad’s sake. I decided to shave with a Bic and not a Norelco, when I wasn’t growing out unruly facial hair. My mom found a gay magazine called Honcho completely forgotten on my bed when my horny, teenage self finally left my room for a spell. While graduating with honors from both high school and college with girl friends around, I also hid a few boyfriends on the side. Becoming a lawyer turned out to be the wrong decision for me, although that career path led me to encounter one rite of passage that I never quite anticipated as a reality, being that I still saw myself as a long-haired, knobby-kneed, effeminate boy who liked other boys. That rite of passage would be marriage; and not just one marriage, but two.
The label “gay divorcee” couldn’t be more appropriate.
On the surface, having two marriages appears common enough. Unlike my parents’ generation, most people in this day and age experience divorce and remarriage, even several times over (see first paragraph). What makes my case different and more unusual than the common man hovering around my age—which is soon to be, ahem, 50 years old—is that I’ve had the honor of marrying a woman in 1990 and the privilege of marrying a man 21 years later.
As a rite of passage, marriage is an important event, signaling a break from one’s biological family in order to attach to another person of the opposite sex in the hopes of creating an entirely new family. The propagation of the species, if you will. Not only does a boy become a man but he also has the opportunity to become a father, a provider, the head of a household. At least, that’s the fable I grew up with and tried to follow to the letter, like a good altar boy would. Alas, this sinner stumbled and fumbled his way through heterosexual relationships. And yet, as much as I struggled with my sexuality, I still loved women and yearned to be a father one day. Proving the adage that you can achieve whatever you set out to do, I met and married an intelligent, lovely, red-headed lady after I graduated from law school, passed the California Bar Exam, and set course for what was supposed to be the perfect passage into adulthood and lifelong fulfillment.
Boy, was I wrong.
Even though I vowed to love, honor and cherish this woman before God and 200 wedding guests at the chapel of Pepperdine University (a Christian college and my alma mater, no less), the nagging suspicion that I was gay wouldn’t go away, nor did I want it to. My physical attraction to men was visceral, animalistic, forbidden and, yes, natural. Like Eve in the Garden of Eden, I wanted to know Adam in the Biblical sense. The forbidden fruit was irresistible, one that I wanted to pluck from the Tree of Knowledge and nibble on for sustenance, for life. Knowing I couldn’t indulge in any more male-on-male trysts—due to the wedding band on my left hand glinting in the red neon light of a gay bar—only served to push me further away from my wife. After three years, I called the marriage off and entered into another rite of passage that I was astonished to face—divorce. After the pain of divorce, however, came the healing of discovery, coming out, and fully embracing who I truly was and what I wanted to be. I shaved my head, felt the sting of a tattoo needle across my body—several times—and carried out a few sordid love affairs. When I met and moved in with a serious boyfriend in Los Angeles, another rite of passage opened up to me like a blooming flower. Next thing I know, we’re packing up and moving across the country to New York. And why not? It felt like the next logical step. Marriage. Divorce. Lover. Cross-country move for a fabulous new job? Check.
Although that relationship crumbled, I persevered in New York and was lucky enough to find myself, yet again. This time I indulged in darker aspects of my personality that I had always craved, such as go-go dancing, fetish modeling, deejaying, and writing an erotic novel. In due time, I met the love of my life, a man named Michael. Six years to the day we met at our local gay bar, we were married.
My new gold wedding band still glints in red neon lights of gay bars, but now I’m with my honey, my soulmate, the man who will follow me side-by-side into the next rite of passage, whatever that may be.