by: Justin Huang
I am a piece of meat.
No, I am not the processed flesh slapped upon a hot grill during a sweltering summer day; nor am I one of those unfortunate carcasses flattened on the side of your street. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids – and I might even be said to possess a soul. I am a piece of meat, understand, simply because that is how I am perceived. Like the slabs of meat you see sometimes in the windows of butcher shops, it is as though I have been surrounded by panes of dirty, reflective glass. When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination – indeed, everything and anything except me.
On June 12th, 2011, I was sexually molested during L.A. Pride by another gay man. It’s not worth it to get into details, suffice to say this wasn’t your run-of-the-mill dancefloor groping. I was in a dark unfamiliar room, alone, powerless, terrified. As I walked home that night, I turned to look back at West Hollywood, and I wanted to burn it to the ground.
I’ve been called a faggot more times than I can recount, I’ve been alienated by people I love, I’ve been told I’m ugly and worthless, but this… this was dehumanizing. I was a piece of meat. And it happened during a celebration of LGBTQ identity, and it was done to me by a gay man. Pride? Proud of what, exactly? The question haunted me for weeks. I couldn’t sleep.
On June 24th, 2011, New York State Senate passed the Marriage Equality Act, effectively legalizing gay marriage in one of the most populous states in America. New York City is arguably the capitol of the New World; this is quite possibly the most significant domino piece to be toppled thus far, and the legalization of human love is now more than a pipe dream.
I was sitting at the LAX Airport when I heard the news, waiting to board my flight to San Francisco. My phone buzzed and a text popped up from a friend: “Wanna get married in NYC?” At the time, it was bittersweet for me, personally. Later on the plane, as I watched California sprawl beneath me, I wondered if gay men deserved to marry. Is it too late for us?
The first time I ever heard talk of gay marriage, I was probably around 10, and I was listening to my aunts and uncles spout about politics at a family reunion. It was becoming a hot-button issue at the time, and while I still didn’t quite yet grasp exactly what gay people were, I was one of those kids who liked to pretend that he could keep up with adult speak. “Why do gay people want to get married?” I asked my uncle.
My uncle laughed. “Crazy, isn’t it? Listen, I know gay people personally. And believe me,none of them want to get married. Why would they? They just screw each other until they drop dead of AIDS.” His wife shushed him and told me to go play with my cousins.
This conversation has had a lasting, profound effect on me my entire life; it pops up from the dark recesses of my mind occasionally. Sometimes it’ll be when I’m observing the crowd at a gay club, where sweaty drunken men paw at each other like animals. Or when I wake up, hungover and guilt-ridden after a particularly gnarly one-night stand, feeling like a used cum rag. And I distinctly remember flashing back to it that night at L.A. Pride as I wondered if this man forcing himself on me had any STDs.
As I walked around S.F. Pride (because that was why I flew up there this past weekend: mostly to reunite with friends, as opposed to being proud of anything in particular), this conversation popped back into my head. I watched as people held signs proclaiming “Marriage Equality” and “Love Is Equal,” and I wanted to join them, but I couldn’t.
I don’t think people quite comprehend the profound effect it has upon a group of people when they are told that their love is not valid. My generation of gays has grown up with the notion that we aren’t equal, that our feelings are weak shadows of straight love.
Of course I know this isn’t true. I have wept and agonized over the few men I’ve loved, I’ve made enormous sacrifices just to hear the words that they loved me back, and I know that my tears and my joy have been legitimate. At the same time, we are told in constant media and cultural reiterations that our love is invalid. Is it any wonder why we have such reputations of promiscuity, drug use, and abuse? These seem to be the main accusations that anti-gay marriage activists dole out. What a vicious cycle. Gays can’t marry because we’re all sluts… and we are sluts because we can’t marry.
I found a quiet place under a tree at Dolores Park, where the S.F. Pride festivities were taking place. I took in the sheer volume of the crowd, every color, age, gender, size possible, a gathering of people who had in common the fact that they were different. People smiled at me and I smiled back. It was beautiful, and there was a great hope that permeated throughout the crowd. For the first time in a very long time, I cried. Not because of what happened, but because, despite it, this great hope overwhelmed me.
I realized how momentous this was. How someday I’ll be telling my grandkids about how I was at S.F. Pride the weekend after New York legalized gay marriage. And it has nothing to do with how one piece of meat treated another piece of meat one drunken night a few weeks ago. This is a battle, one of the few in my life in which I am not just an army of one, but rather part of a greater movement that is fighting not just for gays, but for humanity.
I think sometimes I get too caught up in the sexual force of being gay. I revel in it and I blog about it. Sure, it’s fun to promote a facet of myself that is cavalier about boys and is unapologetically sexual, and I’m not about to stop it anytime soon. The fact that many gay men are open about their sexuality and don’t place it on a silly pedestal is something that all people can learn from. Life is too short to become neurotic about romance.
But then I forget that I essentially want what anyone has. And it shouldn’t matter that I like to get take off my shirt and dance on a table to Ke$ha, or that I theoretically have more sexual partners than my straight counterparts (which probably isn’t true in most cases).
What is marriage? It’s more than a few signatures on a piece of paper, and it’s more than us needing recognition. Marriage is a shining hope that we can aspire to. It gives our love a reason and a meaning. It narrows our search to one person. It makes the idea of a soulmate seem less like a stupid romantic comedy for straight people.
Sure, none of this may exist, and monogamy and marriage may just be outdated institutions. But don’t we deserve the opportunity to give it a go as much as the next person?
One day, I will marry. I’ll have a wedding ceremony, maybe on an idyllic beach, and I’ll invite everyone I know. When it’s time to cut the cake, I’ll smear it on my husband’s face and let him lick it off my fingers. We’ll have a honeymoon, somewhere where I’ve never been, like South America or Australia, and I’ll forget to pack my cell phone.
Fast forward a few years, and I’ll be sitting in the living room, watching our kid play as we unwind our day. I’ll be the typical Asian parent. (“Educational toys only! No TV on weekdays! Finish your rice!”) But I’ll also teach our kid about how lucky we are to be a family, and how my friends and I fought and yelled, side by side, obliterating these limitations on love. People have suffered and persevered so I could have you, I’ll say, and I will never take you for granted.
I’ll remember, easily so, the scary place in which I grew up. I’ll never forget this long moment in my life, this subhuman era. Yes, but someday I will be a husband and a father, working at my job and worrying about mundane things like my mortgage and college funds. I’ll argue with my husband over many things, because when I love someone I become a micromanaging control freak. (Theoretically, he has the patience of a saint… and the body of a sex god.)
Don’t worry. Sometime soon, today will all just be a memory of a confused time when good people believed they were nothing more than pieces of meat. And our kids will read about it in history books, turn to each other and say, “Crazy, isn’t it?”
Justin Huang is 25, Asian, male, gay, overly cocky, popular, insecure, shy, gassy, loudmouthed, promiscuous, guilt-ridden, nonjudgmental, hardworking, goofy and dead serious. Huang is a film editor and a personal fitness trainer in Los Angeles, both of which mean I sit in coffeeshops and gyms a lot trying to look cute. Follow me @justinhuang.