This isn’t and couldn’t possibly be the definitive account of mine and Claire’s commitment celebration two days ago; it’s just a scribbling of some moments and thoughts that I don’t want to slip away.
I had been feeling super no-big-deal about the celebration for many months leading up to it, up until maybe a month ago, when all my family and a bunch of other friends started buying plane tickets. That’s when I started to realize that this event–and this relationship–were bigger than us. We had been a presence in people’s lives for the past ten years, and they in ours. It started to become clear that this was actually a really big deal, a remember-for-the-rest-of-your-life, over 100 likes on Facebook kind of deal. It didn’t belong just to us, but to a whole family and community of friends, lovers and kin. It’s not often that one is fortunate enough to have so much advance notice for such a moment. Here’s an incomplete list of some things I’ll never forget.
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Claire and I had to come out as polyamorous to my mom’s extended family just four days before the ceremony, since my mom, for all her bravery in other respects, had avoided telling them for fear of their reaction. Despite the discomfort, they were all very sweet and supportive. My mother was later to redeem herself.
On Friday, my brother and his girlfriend Mallory hosted a roast of me and Claire. It was my idea, and I have to congratulate myself. I feel like the first person to think to combine sea salt and caramel: so simple and obvious in retrospect! At the end of the night, despite my flushed cheeks, I knew that these were the people who really knew me.
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On Sunday, we kept the program fairly short and sweet, but here’s what me and Claire had to say for ourselves:
Thank you all for being here with us today. As most of you know, we got together in our first year of college, and finally made the decision to get engaged on our ten-year anniversary last November. It took us longer than a lot of other couples to decide that having this commitment celebration was right for our relationship. We wanted to share a few thoughts about what this occasion means to us.
There are lots of reasons to be critical of marriage, from its patriarchal legacy to its current exclusion of many LGBT and queer folks. We are thankful to be a part of a radical community that looks closely at traditions which may have oppressive roots. We are also grateful that this same community has a proud history of reclaiming such labels, spaces and institutions, and transforming them into tools for liberation.
We recognize that we are specially privileged to be able to have a legally and socially recognized union. We are conscious of the injustice that many rights and privileges that often come with marriage are withheld from LBGTQ folks in most places, and indeed from many more people whose relationships and families deviate from a strict heteronormative patriarchal model. We would like to acknowledge that we are fortunate and reaffirm our commitment to fighting for these rights for everyone regardless of whom they love or what their families look like.
Traditional wedding vows often declare two peoples’ intent to commit to and cherish one another through good times and bad. Over the past decade we have weathered moving across the country, toiling long hours at rewarding but low-paying jobs, trips to the emergency room, and other trials that life has offered up. We have also shared the joys of making a home with one’s best friend; pursuing our dreams and aspirations together, Claire as an educator and Shareef as an artist; and standing side-by-side in the fight for social justice. No one who has known us over the past ten years needs proof of our commitment to each other. Today is as much a celebration of what we have already built as it is one of what we are going to build.
While we depend on each other for many things—help with chores, support and comfort with life’s daily stresses and long-term goals—we are ultimately individuals, each with our own distinct desires, ambitions, and personal journeys. Our ability to maintain and respect each other’s independence and individuality is one of the successes of our relationship. At the same time, it’s amazing to look at the people that we are today and know how much we each have been shaped by the other’s presence in our life over the past decade.
This is a chance for us to bring together the people who have been important in our lives and express our love and gratitude toward you, because just as we have shaped each other over the past ten years, so you have shaped us and our relationship.
To our families: You gave us loving homes that inspire us to make our own. You have supported us in pursuing our education and our dreams. You raised us to be honest, kind, curious, and unafraid to be ourselves and choose our own paths in life.
To our friends and lovers: You have enriched our lives beyond measure and the bounds of imagination. You tell us hard truths when we need to hear them. You celebrate our successes. You accept us as the imperfect human beings we are and give comfort and reassurance as we navigate our path. You have expanded our definitions of love, companionship, and family.
We wish to remember and hold in our hearts people whom we wish were with us today: Beatrice Levine, Julius Glaser, Taimoor Ali Elfiki.
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We had family and friends read a few poems we selected, including these oldies-but-goodies by e.e. cummings (which was beautifully read by my dearest friend Lisa):
i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
i fear no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you
here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)
Even after all this time,
The sun never says to the earth,
“You owe me.”
Look what happens with a love like that.
It lights the whole sky.
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And then we exchanged vows.
I pledge to always accompany you down your path of becoming and evolving, while at the same time accepting and cherishing who you are at the present moment.
I pledge to support you as much as I am able in your other loving relationships, celebrating the joyful moments and offering comfort and guidance in tough times.
I pledge to be your partner and comrade in this lifelong struggle against injustice and oppression.
I pledge to build a home with you, a warm, safe space for rest, nurturing creativity and inspiration, gathering our community, and creating a family.
I pledge to continue growing into the most excellent, ethical, valuable person I can be, for you and for the world.
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Then there was music. Everyone who played was fantastic–I picked them myself–but I think the moment that I’ll live again over and over was Erma singing “Unchained Melody” with Erika and Maia backing her up. Faces young and old lit up as they recognized the tune, and the floor slowly filled with dancing pairs, including Claire’s parents, who were married for some twenty years–but have been divorced for as many.
But as much as we contrived to create a magical, memorable day, the best moments were the ones we couldn’t plan, but only set the conditions for. That is, the toasts, each more beautiful and humbling than the last. My biggest regret is that none of these kind words were recorded, and already so many of the words can’t be recalled, only the feelings they drew out of me.
A few I do remember, though. My brother telling an unflattering childhood story, then following it with, “I don’t know when it changed that I started looking up to my younger brother. But it has.”
And my mother, with the sucker-punch tearjerker of the evening, reading this passage from The Velveteen Rabbit:
“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”
“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”
“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.
“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”
“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”
“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
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Today I napped for four-and-a-half hours, and sleep is calling me again. There is no way I could thank everyone by name, but I love you. And I can’t wait to become the person that I promised to Claire, and to you, that I would be.