We Do!: Felicia Luna Lemus: Once Upon a Time . . .
To celebrate the release of We Do!: American Leaders Who Believe in Marriage Equality and the Supreme Court’s recent ruling against the Defense of Marriage Act, we’ve invited Akashic authors to share their thoughts on marriage. In addition, on October 15th, we will be celebrating marriage equality and We Do! on Twitter, and want to see your wedding photos! Tweet them at us with “#WeDo!”
Today, Like Son author Felicia Luna Lemus talks about meeting her spouse (and fellow Akashic author) Nina Revoyr and their path toward having their marriage recognized in their home state of California.
Nina and I were living on opposite ends of the country; I was in the East Village, she was in our hometown of Los Angeles. We met at a reading. Sparks flew as we blushed and pretended to talk books. Although we didn’t know it yet, we were perfect for each other. We both wrote novels; we tended toward nerdy humor; we were both bicultural with blue-collar roots; we liked dogs; we drank an abundance of coffee; and we were Angels fans—the things that matter. Plus, we were different in ways that made things sizzle. She is: tall, intense, clean-cut old-school smooth, a mountain-climbing stud, a powerful 9-to-5 suited-up Boss Man. I am: petite, prone to giggles and sass, girly with old-school Americana tattoos, more likely to do Mountain Pose than to trek a major trail, and cooking and homemaking obsessed—“Punk Rock Betty Crocker,” as one friend dubbed me. Bonus: Nina was that mythical beast one hears about but rarely meets: a Good One. Kind, generous, honest, rock solid. A true to life unicorn! But timing is everything and, seeing as we were in other commitments—and would be for some time still—it wasn’t time . . . yet.
Over the years, we kept tabs on each other, bumped into each other at events here and there. And then, merci beaucoup, Fates! the planets shifted. For the first time in all that time, we were both single. She emailed to say hello. As she likes to say, I made her wait forever for a response. Ha! Seven minutes later, I emailed back.
And for months, that’s what we did. We wrote each other. Every day. There were no phone calls; we didn’t text or Skype. That’s how we liked it. Ours was an old-fashioned epistolary courtship. We confessed, we revealed, we flirted, we seduced. I started to understand the hotness of Victorian buttoned-up exteriors. A lot went on in those exchanges.
The first time she called, I had such butterflies that I accidentally dropped my cell phone and hung up on her before we even said hello. She called back immediately, and when I heard her voice, I’ll totally admit it, I giggled with sheer delight.
Let’s just put it this way: I suddenly craved LA’s crayon-hued smoggy sunsets. And hummingbirds, succulents, sun-warmed citrus, roadside murals, sprawling downtown factories and bass-thumping low-riders. Heck, I even missed strip malls and endless freeways.
On June 9, 2009, I moved back to Los Angeles. But Nina and I didn’t shack up. This was going to be different than anything we’d ever done before. We were going to wait until we were married to live together. We had our reasons. And when she proposed on a mountaintop (the most romantic proposal ever!), oh hell yeah, I said Yes!
Our friends and families offered the warmest of congratulations . . . until, that is, one friend in particular saw my engagement ring and bluntly declared that I was now officially “on that slippery path to Stepford.” Soon after that, another friend told me point-blank, “No one will ever make a wife out of me.” Pretty quickly, I realized these comments weren’t going to be isolated occurrences. I was struck with how often friendly conversations transformed into yet another person’s rant against the institution of marriage in general and marriage equality in particular. And, more often than not, these “critiques” came from purported progressives, individuals who regularly advocated for the rights of various oppressed and marginalized communities.
The more this happened, the more I thought about why it was happening.
The best I can figure is that it must be easy sport to dismiss or critique marriage, same-sex or otherwise, if one is generally accustomed to taking one’s rights for granted. Maybe it’s comfortable to announce with ferocity whether one likes a specific right—for one’s own self and for other people—if certain privileges have always been assured.
This was not the case for Nina and me. We came from people whose economic, racial, and social standing made things such as access to jobs, voting, and citizenship uncertain, and sometimes even illegal. We also came from legacies in which people were not permitted to sanctify and declare their commitment to one another in the manner they wished to. For us, getting married was fundamentally radical stuff.
See, when Nina’s parents—Japanese and Anglo-American—were married, their marriage was illegal in eleven states. And even though my parents—Mexican-American and Anglo-American—married a few years after the Supreme Court declared miscegenation laws unconstitutional, they faced plenty of remaining de facto prejudice, too. Add to that the fact that both our families started out without much by way of financial means: My maternal family worked as day laborers building the railroads in Chicago and as field hands picking fruit in Southern California orange groves when they first came over from Mexico; my father’s family was scraping-to-get-by working class through and through. Our engagement, the beautiful engagement ring Nina gave me, the commitment of formalized marriage, for us to have this and everything it symbolized, was deeply meaningful. To us. To our families. It was important.
We were in love! And we were engaged to be married!
One pesky problem remained:
Prop 8. If we’d had a chance to get married in that window of opportunity when it was legal for us to do so in California, we would have. But we hadn’t been a couple then. We could have gotten married in one of a handful of states that allowed it, but we wanted to be married on the West Coast, our coast. We wanted to exchange our vows under witness of purple mountain majesties. Since doing this in our own country wasn’t an option at the time, we went to British Columbia, Canada.
On June 9, 2010, one year after I moved back to Los Angeles, Nina and I were married under a Victorian gazebo at Vancouver’s first bookbinder’s home. It was everything lovely I could have ever hoped for. And it was legal! Well, maybe not in California, but in four other states and DC, plus Canada, Mexico, and a handful of other countries. We moved in together and lived happily ever after.
And when, on June 26 of this year, the United States Supreme Court recognized same-sex marriage—just a few weeks after our third wedding anniversary—I cried. Happy, proud tears. Naysayers claim what they will, that was one of our nation’s finest moments. It was about equality—a word that has been bandied about so frequently as of late that I think perhaps some people have forgotten how monumentally powerful and important the principles attached to the word actually are. It was about acknowledgment. It was about respect. It was about fundamental human and civil rights.
And it was about freaking time.
FELICIA LUNA LEMUS is the author of the novels Like Son and Trace Elements of Random Tea Parties. Her writing has also appeared in publications including BOMB, The Believer, Latina, and ZYZZYVA, and has been anthologized in collections such as Lengua Fresca: Latinos Writing on the Edge; Fifteen Candles: 15 Tales of Taffeta, Hairspray, Drunk Uncles, and other Quinceañera Stories; It’s So You: 35 Women Write About Personal Expression Through Fashion and Style; and A Fictional History of the United States with Huge Chunks Missing. She is an Assistant Professor in the Creative Writing Program at California State University, San Bernardino. Lemus lives in Los Angeles.
Posted: Oct 1, 2013
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