We are in the midst of another contract on board a ship sailing from Hawaii back to Los Angeles. Last night we performed the first of our two shows to great elation. Tonight, we went to the production show to support the other singers and dancers that we’ve made friends with on board. We sat right in front (at this point, it’s become sort of a joke amongst the friends we have here—sit right in the front row to make them nervous, etc. Teenage behavior, but nonetheless, we digress). There were two couples behind us. One of the ladies pulled out her phone and said, “May I take a picture of you both—you have a perfect background behind you. Sorry for the paparazzi, but we’re not in front of ‘famous people too often.” The background was an LED screen of a British flag. We naturally obliged, as you would. The lady on the other side of her followed suit; “ooh, can I take a photo too?”. The second lady proceeded to ask many questions. How old are you guys? Where did you meet? How did you get together as a duo? James was engaged in another conversation on his right about Rugby vs. Australian rules football, so I was doing all the answering. We have standard answers for these by now, because most people are curious and we tend to get asked theses sorts of questions nearly everywhere we perform. The questions continued. Family? Relationship? Children? I answered, “Yes, I have family in Southern California. Children: no. Relationship: yes. Actually, James is my husband.” Immediately the woman retracted and cupped her right hand over her right cheek and leant into her husband to tell him the seemingly shocking revelation. The questions ended there. She didn’t say another word to me. The first lady awkwardly proceeded to finish the conversation until it came to a halt.
When the conversation was over, I was in a complete sweat. I was visibly sweating on my forehead and I could feel sweat running down my neck under my t-shirt and blazer. There was another five minutes before the show started. I found it hard to let that go. I started to think about what it means to be “unapologetically me.” I began to question the way I handled the situation. Would it have been better to lie to her and say, I have a beautiful wife and two lovely children? Should I have somehow tried to change the subject and duck the question. In that moment before I answered, I had an opportunity to give her a different answer. Instead I chose to tell her the truth. And now, for the next hour and a bit I’ve just felt awful about it. It made me wonder how she might react if I was a girl and we were a mixed race couple. Would she deliberately disengage when she found out we were married, albeit different colors?
Unapologetically me. What is that term anyhow? I’ve spent my whole life apologizing for being who I am for so many reasons. I know we all carry shame with us about certain things that are part of us. But for me, tonight, this struck a different chord. I am married under the law of The United States of America. My marriage is federally recognized, just like hers and yet when she inquired about my relationship, I started sweating like I was doing something wrong by answering her truthfully. This blog isn’t meant to be a pity party. I really hope that one day I can feel free from the shame and guilt of telling someone about my beautiful, healthy marriage. I am aware that some of it will come from me, but the rest of it must come from others. I don’t know if this is a story that all can relate to, but I was left in the situation feeling like a less than worthy person. More recently, someone very close to me asked, “Are you sure the world is ready for that, Branden?”
I would like for you, the reader to close your eyes for one minute. Think of a time you’ve proudly answered a personal question that someone asked about your life. Now replace that pride with shame. That’s how I feel and members of other marginalized groups are made to feel. I can’t imagine what it must be like to be a person of color, transgendered or someone of deep faith who wears a burka, or feels compelled to share the gospel. Thing is, this woman, before she retracted after my reveal told me “how blessed” I was and she “felt as if I were glorifying God with my gifts”. And then, suddenly everything she respected about me musically was null and void as soon as I decided to be honest. Am I meant to hide how I was born in order to keep from offending people? That seems unhealthy to me. James and I were discussing how at least one third of the world is still vehemently against homosexuality. In some countries, the punishment still is death. So I suppose I should be grateful for what we have when I take a moment to compare it to other places. But at the same time, aren’t we a free and tolerant society? I wish we would continue to strive toward practicing what we were founded upon so so you can be you and I can be just me–not unapologetically me.