Editors' Note: Guest blogger Abbie Kopf is a communications specialist for a creative learning nonprofit in Dallas,Texas.
As gay marriage begins to become an ever more visible reality in the United States, images and stories have emerged that, if you're anything like me, leave you weeping in your cubicle while coworkers uncomfortably put on their headphones. In fact, I've found that stories of love within the LGBT community are generally far more poignant for me than the average heterosexual love story.
Some might say that this can be explained by the fact that gay relationships reflect my experiences and naturally resonate with me more deeply. But I believe that there's a much more complex answer that has nothing to do with identity, but a more expansive love narrative and what it means to society as a whole. Gay marriage has the potential to revitalize and even transform the classic love story, bringing us schmucks greater reason to believe in the ceaseless, breathtaking bonds that give us reason to live.
Most people have seen the now iconic photo of Phyllis Siegel and Connie Kopelov, two of the first women to marry when gay marriage became legal in New York. As they leave the marriage bureau in Manhattan, one is seated in her wheelchair as the other raises her arms triumphantly in the air.
As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words, and this picture could definitely inspire that and more. Was their love underground? If so, how did they broach the forbidden? How have they changed as they've grown older and what do they appreciate about each other now? The image is wrought with a story that we, gay and straight, insatiably want to know... because we've never heard it before.
Not to say that we aren't told love stories, because everyone from our parents to media and popular entertainment has inundated us with them. We know about (hetero) star-crossed lovers and (hetero) young kids recklessly giving it all up for each other, of enduring (hetero) love that outlasts war or disease and catastrophic (hetero) love that strangles the participants with its power.
But these stories have unfortunately become somewhat tedious, like a corny joke that everyone knows the punch line to. The burgeoning gay love story invites us all to experience love anew, with players whose challenges and innovations are entirely foreign to most people. In fact, the LGBT love story is an unfamiliar one, even to us sometimes.
You see, while our peers have been listening and learning to advice all of their lives about courting the opposite sex, we were left in the dark. Little girls are taught how to dress and act to please a man. Little boys are taught how to honor and appreciate a woman. Sure, these lessons are usually bound by arcane gender stereotypes that can cause more harm than good, but the point is that they're given.
Little straights are given instructions about how to have a successful relationship, and more or less know what is expected of them. Little gays must journey into love as a clueless babe, navigating the sometimes labyrinthian, tacit understandings about romance in the gay world.
Someday this will change. But for now, LGBTs are writing their own rules and creating an entirely novel love story. And with that comes incredible latitude to disrupt and destroy gender roles, to eradicate the understanding of what makes a marriage work or how to go about courting. We don't have to abide by all of those things that society says romantic commitment must be.
So a gay woman wants to have a child with a gay man and raise them in the same household with their respective lovers. Sure. Why not? So two brides are both talented at wearing the pants in the family, and being barefoot and pregnant. Superb. So a transgender woman falls in love with a transgender man and the live happily ever after. Exquisite.
While some in society might not accept us yet, the fact remains that we're breaking barriers for them regardless of whether they like it or not. LGBTs are making the love story about the only thing that matters: choosing another human being (or beings!) to connect with on the most intimate, life-affirming level. And that is a beautiful gift that the world is inheriting, and an awesome freedom we wield in finding love, in any damn way we please.
But in that larger framework of "love power" lies a far more intimate factor. Take Macklemore and Ryan Lewis' make-you-cry-like-an-idiot video for "Same Love." It follows a gay man, from birth until death, highlighting some memorable moments in his life. He feels dread and embarrassment while playing spin-the-bottle with his teenage friends. He picks out records with his boyfriend. He's gay-bashed on the street. He's married. He's loved. This video is beautiful for many reasons, but first and foremost because it inspires empathy (unless you happen to be a hate troll, then in the place of a heart you have a bag of dog shit) about the joys, defeats, sorrows and serenity of the average gay experience.
Empathy is an emotion that elicits growth. When I used to be a dog-shit-for-heart evangelical, I had a small view of love. It wasn't until someone very close to me came out that I began to consider what love must be like for him and contemplate how he moves through the world. And when I did, I found a new capacity for a profound, soul-cultivating, infinite love that is bigger than what my mind could previously conceive.
When I believed in a one-man-one-woman view of love, I was living in a world darkened by a reductive view of the nature of commitment and sex. I was kept hidden from the hopeful fact that love cannot be contained or channeled, that it cannot be defined, denied or restricted. Gay romance doesn't just spawn more love for the participants, but can do the same for countless onlookers, family and friends as well.
I hope that at some point in your life, you get to see a gay-rights foe become a gay-rights supporter. Because what you'll find is a person not only who votes differently or acts appropriately at Thanksgiving, but is renewed by the transcendent grace of true love. This Valentine's day, don't take for granted how very special your relationship is not only for you but for the greater good of this world.
(Photo credit: Associated Press)