In the twenty-second episode of the second season of Steven Universe, I am the answer. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Steven Universe.
Trigger Warning: For discussion of homophobia, death/grief, and a brief mention of abuse.
My dad never got to meet any of my partners. Ironically, I met the man who would be my first boyfriend on the eve of my father’s death. It was inevitable at that point; the cancer and Alzheimer’s had spread so fully that we were all just waiting for him to pass. I remember I went to the Arclight with my friend and co-worker Karen to watch Little Miss Sunshine, and the film hit me far harder than I expected it to because of… well, if you’ve seen it, you know why. After the film was over, I texted this guy I’d been chatting with online. I knew he lived a few minutes away, and I felt like I wanted company. We ended staying up until early in the morning, and I certainly had not planned on spending the night. But I did, and it felt right.
He was not the first man I had spent the night with, but I wasn’t necessarily in the right place. There’s a pervasive stereotype about gay men, that we’re unable to stay in relationships, that commitment doesn’t exist for us. I know it’s not true, but hidden within it, there is something that was true for me. I grew up without relationship experience. I had two “girlfriends” growing up. One was in seventh grade and lasted two weeks before she dumped me due to rumors about me being gay. (It was not communicated to me in kind terms, for the record.) Another lasted a bit longer, and she was incredibly nice about the whole thing. I lost contact with her many, many years ago, but I would be interested in seeing what she’s up to these days. That one I ended because it just felt wrong. I was conscious of the fact that I was not straight and that I was pretending, but I didn’t tell her that. I just said it wasn’t working out and that we should separate.
I wish I could have been honest with myself and others, but I was simply too afraid. Through a number of reviews over the years, I think I’ve done a decent job describing the sort of environment I grew up in, where any perceived difference got me beat up, ostracized, forgotten. After I got outed and moved on to Long Beach, where I could be openly gay, it took me years to realize why dating was so awful, why it was so hard for me to keep men around, why I sabotaged relationships once they felt like they were going somewhere.
I had no teenage experience with relationships. Most of my peers had dealt with things that seemed alien to me. How do you cope with two people living far apart from one another? How do you deal with arguments and disagreements? What if someone you’re falling for says something terrible or disappoints you? What if you don’t believe you’re worthy of love because no one has ever told you that you are? I realized around my mid-twenties that I had started truly coping with romance and sex nearly ten years after everyone else. It was like life was a complex RPG, and I’d suddenly been dumped into lvl 10, and everyone around me was lvl 146.
Now, there were other factors that led to this, but my parents never met my first boyfriend. My dad passed the next afternoon, and I remember the shock and grief washing over me, pushing out the exhaustion I felt because I’d been up until nearly three in the morning. By the time Eddie and I became boyfriends – he was my first relationship, I was his sixth or seventh – I was deep in an infatuation with someone that I was privately embarrassed by. I knew he was abusive. That’s the wildest part to me! I can think back on it now and I absolutely knew he was treating me terribly. But no one I had ever asked to be my boyfriend had ever said yes. Isn’t this how it was supposed to go? Weren’t all relationships like this? We were just in a rough patch.
(You probably shouldn’t be in a rough patch two months into the relationship. Just some FREE ADVICE for y’all.)
My second partner spent a couple Christmas days and Thanskgiving celebrations at my mother’s house. My previous partner and Baize have each met her just once, and they were so disturbed by her that they both expressed that they’d rather not see her again. (Which I was perfectly fine with.) I have never had a conversation with her about my relationships; never have I been asked how I am doing romantically; never have I gotten a chance to get the sort of affirmation and validation that Rose Quartz offers Garnet here. It’s like a circle to me. As a kid, I desperately needed something just like “The Answer.” I needed something I could latch on to so that I could have known that being a young queer kid was a perfectly fine thing to be, that all the people who were telling me that I was disgusting and gross and unnatural were wrong.
But there’s something else I’ve taken out of “The Answer.” There is a value in validation. Obviously, queer folks and those under the LGBT banner shouldn’t have to be validated by anyone. That shouldn’t be the default of our society. Until we reach a point where institutional discrimination and violence doesn’t exist, then validation becomes a powerful act. When Rose Quartz accepts Garnet as she is, when she tells her that she shouldn’t question her love, when she says that Garnet is the answer, I thought about all the times I fell in love. I thought about how challenging it was to fall in love with a man, to maintain that love, to fear the loss of it, to suffer grief when it ended. As I’ve gotten older and surrounded myself with loving friends and family, I’ve realized that these people acted as Rose Quartz did here. Through their actions and their words, they supported me in a way most people did not when I was a kid. This is why representation can work in such positive, meaningful ways. When there’s a void in the world for certain people, then works of art like this can fill that void. They can bridge gaps. They can offer hope to young people in ways that their families or friends cannot.
I want a world where we don’t need that, but we’re not there yet. I still continue to learn about myself and my community. That’s why “The Answer” hit me as hard as it did. Even as a 33-year-old queer dude, this kind of storytelling still matters a lot to me, and I imagine it means even more to people who have not had the fortune to find a loving support system. When love is the answer for most of the people in the world, and you’ve felt left out of that in a number of ways for most of your life, it’s refreshing to see a reminder like this. This story got me thinking about how love has manifested in my life and how hard it was for me to share that love with people I was supposed to. However, I now can’t imagine a more rewarding thing than sharing it with all of you. I am the answer, and that is a fantastic thing.
The video for “The Answer” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
Mark Links Stuff
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