If the timeline of equal marriage was, itself, an actual wedding, it hasn't currently even sent out its "Save The Date" cards. To be fair, it has not even proposed. It's still hoping that cute guy on the train commute will one day look up and notice it. But aside from the greetings card industry and their three "You're Gay Wed" card designs hidden away on the racks with the "Congratulations on Your New Hip" aisle, the world is taking just that bit longer to catch the gay wedding bouquet.
My proposal over the phone 4,500 miles away somewhat pre-empted the ring-buying moment, so Elliot and I desperately needed to mark our new engagement with those rings. But we are still men. We do not have a clue about wedding etiquette (and I have been a Best Man twice). There seems to be no precedents in getting gay wed.
Of course, ideally, we wanted to spend weeks sourcing the one ring to rule them all, forged in the flames of Shirley Bassey's vocal chords and hand carved by Cupid himself. It should have seen a high-crane camerashot descending to our huddled faces visible through a centuries-old jeweler's window as we both mouth "that's the one." But no: Our budget and, more importantly, our man boredom thresholds meant one trip, one afternoon, two rings.
With diminishing luck we trawled various local shop windows like the token gays in a Richard Curtis romcom. As we soon realized, men have not traditionally worn engagement rings and mainstream jewelers are not catering for the equal marriage markets just yet. Our high-crane camera day soon became less Breakfast at Tiffanys, more Brunch at Costco's. But eventually we had to bite the bullet. I wanted a ring. I wanted that statement. And with nerves akin to one's first moment buying condoms over the counter, we picked the jewelers with less gaudy Disney porcelain in the window, pushed the door open and, oddly, became very self-conscious. I now know how straight men must feel when they're utterly out of their depth sourcing lingerie for their wives last thing on Christmas Eve.
So, bless our jeweler lady, Christine. Yes she had that little moment of mental re-pointing many a hotelier and Valentine's night waiter do when a gay couple wanders in. She soon bounced into her much-rehearsed "new couple" spiel with great reassurance: "What timescale are we looking at?" "Are you both having a ring?" It was at that very moment -- with a cardboard John Travolta pouting down at us from a nearby watch endorsement with a slight "You don't know, do you ?" scorn -- that Elliot and I both realized we had no clue about wedding etiquette--neither the procedures, nor the actual grammar of being engaged. I thought updating your relationship status on Facebook and getting one of those virtual rings was enough, no?
Very rapidly, my nerves turned to tongue-biting giggles. The comedy smut fairies quickly came and sprinkled their smut dust over every utterance involving the word "ring." I know, not very befitting of a husband-to-be or Home Counties gay marriage ambassador. Have you seen a ring you like? Are you wanting the same ring? Will you panic if the ring is too tight? Eventually, Elliot had to throw me one of his teacher stares--the ones that beg for a halt to such schoolboy tomfoolery but actually have the opposite effect.
Realizing we would soon have to get two men's wedding rings as our engagement ones, we each settled on the simple and matching titanium band. It was then I learned something about myself I never knew before. I have bizarrely small hands. The hands of a child it seems. I could make a fortune being a juvenile hand in peanut butter commercials. Even Christine and two of her colleagues made a quip. Yes, it seems I do panic if a ring is too tight.
After some travel advice for Christine's imminent trip to Barcelona (let's see how gay-friendly she is when she piles into that bar recommendation we gave her), we left a braver and prouder when it came to our union than we had an hour before. For about a fortnight we brandished our rings for all to see, like a 1970s Liz Taylor passing through Heathrow Airport. Friends, family, and total strangers unfortunate enough to be in the crossfire of our overt pride all got to see our rings at least twice (stop it!). As I learned the bitter truth about the size of my hands, I also realized the ability of the gay community (or at least some of its more public voices) to turn round and fire on their own.
We do not want to be those wedding-bore queers, anointing the world with Tom Ford confetti while swinging a rainbow-hued wedding cake at folk like issue-baiting incense. In the week we got our rings, however, there seemed to be the beginning of a noticeable pink resistance to those choosing nuptials. It is a panic of assimilation--as if the gays getting wed will iron out all our edges and differences.
I understand the caution: LGBT communities the world over have had, and continue to have, so many fights and wrangles to overcome. They shape and propel us more than we care to admit. But they can end up defining us too. I very much doubt that straight men facing marriage are made to worry about being a cliche to other straight men. Yet just as we got those rings and the subsequent pride some LGBT commentators and their baying supporters made us feel like bland sheep.
Not everyone had to get on the bus after Rosa Parks. The point was the choice. And the best thing about not quite having any equal marriage etiquette to follow is that Elliot and I are making our own. It is not about fashion. It is not about band-wagoning. It is about us two, the couple.
Next up in TALES FROM THE THRESHOLD: How losing one's engagement ring can turn you into an obsessed Gollum and how quickly the engagement bubble can be stamped on when fate and bad luck have other plans. Read the first column, "Infrequent Proposal."