WARNING! Banned Books! Three words painted on the papered-up window of a bookshop in Portland, Oregon. Large and red, a deliberate exaggeration. In the center of the covered window was an opening. I had to look. I had to. Maybe it was my fascination with literature that was once considered immoral, illegal, or obscene. Or maybe it was the rebel in me. I walked up to that window and I peered in. I looked to the left and I looked to the right. Two-tiered shelves of familiar titles: The Catcher in the Rye, To Kill A Mockingbird, Beloved. Books that shaped this country. Books that shaped my life.
I remember seeking out those edgy books as an adolescent. At times I would pull one out and read in public, wanting to be seen. Mostly I would read in my bedroom, seeking solitude and privacy for those intimate moments where I was drawn into the storyline or drawn to the characters or when I saw reflections of myself drawn on the pages. The author’s candor spurred self-awareness. I found comfort, support, and understanding. I found pleasure. Formerly banned books not only helped me to discover myself, but also allowed me to realize new and exciting ways of being.
I see marriage as a collection of essays, ours newly printed. Her stories, my stories. Stitched together with string and glue, love and tradition. Single and flimsy at the beginning, but over time our collection grows stronger, thicker, and more enmeshed. Harder to tear apart. Harder to ignore. And like banned books, there is a realness to our story. There is a rawness. I find myself experiencing a new awakening, a new way of being, a story that is all mine but somehow more. Ours. Marriage has brought me companionship and intimacy. It is safe space to be vulnerable. It is the sharing of my dreams. It is seeing myself reflected in her—not because we are the same, but because she brings out the real me.
If marriages were books, I would have seen mine that day in Oregon, situated somewhere among the rows of those prohibited texts. Published in Vermont in 2012, my partner and I were bound together in one of the few states willing to recognize our story—to see its value, to appreciate its merit. I looked into the window’s opening once again and I imagined my marriage there, spine to spine with Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness, at once illustrating both how far we have come and how much further we have to go.
Fear and misplaced morality created a culture where artistic works were censored or forbidden, where marriages like mine were illegal. There are still some who denounce same-sex marriage, wanting to censor our existence, seeking to quash our story. They push back against the recognition of love as love. Of love as justice. Of love as equality. They are reluctant to acknowledge the unpublished volumes that have existed for centuries—the truth and the beauty that has moved out of the shadows and into the libraries. Once-banned books now accessible. Once-forbidden marriages now possible in all fifty states.
In reading banned books, my world expanded in ways I never thought possible. Marriage has been a similar experience. I am growing and learning. In finding someone else, I have also found myself. We write our story together, page by page, chapter by chapter. She and I. Her and me. Once banned, now bound.
And I could read her every day.