Greg and Guillermo: A Romance, A Separation, A Wedding. And the Fight Against DOMA.
2011 – Where We Are Now.
By the time New York got around to legalizing same-sex marriage last summer, Guillermo and I already had something to celebrate. We’d just been reunited after nine months apart—a time spent scrambling to fix the unexpected complications of his visa. His return felt like a miracle, like all our prayers, our families’ prayers, had been heard. The passing of the Marriage Equality Act coincided with the start of Pride weekend, an occasion I hadn’t felt the need to celebrate until then. We stood together in our neighborhood bodega in Brooklyn that Saturday morning, and stared at the headline on the cover of the New York Daily News: “HISTORY!”
I thought about how many of those people staring back from the front page were now engaged, because now they really could be. I thought of friends who would now be asking when we were getting engaged, and how we’d go about proposing, because now we were allowed to. And I thought about how we would tell them we proposed to each other years ago and just never told them.
2010 – Validation and Separation.
A year before the first official gay wedding took place in New York, I was at a straight wedding in New Jersey. I never had a wedding date before. My father is the youngest of six, which had ensured me an adolescence spent watching all my older cousins get married, while I drank underage with my sister and slow-danced awkwardly with girls my age from whatever other family we were marrying into that day.But after my cousin James had announced his engagement to his girlfriend, I received my first wedding invitation that read “and Guest” next to my name—the Guest being Guillermo, who had been gradually introduced into this side of my family over the past two years. The ceremony was perfect, to befit a cousin who seemed to always do everything right. We sat between my parents and my brother and his girlfriend, while my sister cantered at the front of the church. At the reception, Guillermo and I found a placard with our names on it, which said we’d be at Table 5, with all the other coupled cousins. “We were wondering who the last couple would be!” one of them said, which made me feel validated in a way I really hadn’t yet.
I needed that kind of validation from my family, but soon after I needed it from my country even more. By the end of that summer, Guillermo and I had to say goodbye to each other in Sweden, where we’d gone for the last step in the process of getting his new visa. Guillermo is actually Colombian, but we were told the embassies in Western Europe would be easier to navigate than the one in Bogotá. We saved up for the trip, and made a vacation out of it. After arriving in Stockholm, we went straight to the U.S. Embassy for his interview. It didn’t go well. They toyed with him over the course of our trip, with sporadic emails and unnecessary interrogation, creating a dark cloud that hung over us wherever we went in this beautiful country we’d never been to before. On the last day, our dread was fully realized when Guillermo was denied the visa. I had to fly back home to New York without him. And for the next nine months, I’d wake up in our bed to realize I was still alone. It was like a daily reminder that someone had ripped my arm off, and I couldn’t stop the bleeding.
2008 – Japan and Long Distance.
Our relationship had survived long-distance before. We’d only been dating for a few months when I got a call from an ESL exchange program I applied to sometime during my senior year of college and forgot about. I had twenty-four hours to accept a teaching job in Japan on a one-year contract. Having just graduated, I wasn’t about to turn any job down or pass up such an opportunity. Guillermo wouldn’t let me pass it up. And so began the first of many airport goodbyes to come. Being a gay binational couple almost guarantees you will be crying in airports. A lot. You also learn to find the right spot to kiss in private, or learn not to care who sees you.
Guillermo came to Japan to visit me two days before Christmas. It was the first time we would spend Christmas without our families, but also the first we would spend as a new family all our own. After the New Year came, and January neared its end, so did Guillermo’s visit. There was just one last stop to make before we said goodbye again, but getting to Mount Fuji was no easy feat. We missed our overnight bus to Tokyo, having misread the time printed on our tickets, and had to take an early morning train to Kyoto for another bus. It was early evening by the time we reached Tokyo, so we looked for a place to eat and a hotel to spend the night. The only cheap accommodation in Tokyo’s Shinjuku neighborhood are “love hotels,” where couples rent a room by the hour, and overnight rates are offered after ten o’clock. The first love hotel we entered looked more or less unassuming, but upon walking up to the front desk we found a light board with depictions of various sexual scenarios on hand—the way you might see chicken rings and sliders lit up at White Castle. We stood there with our mouths agape, unaware we were actually being asked to leave. The man behind the window pointed to me, pointed to Guillermo, and made an X with his forearms. There was a shocking assortment of perversity on hand here, but two men in love was simply crossing the line. It was a similar story at the next two hotels. In one lobby, we could only see the hands of the person behind the counter. That didn’t stop whoever it was from waving their finger in our faces. Much later, we finally found a hotel that would take us. The man at the counter chuckled to himself, but passed a key into our weary hands anyway.
The crows shrieking outside our window woke us up early, giving us plenty of time to check out and make our way through the empty streets to catch our bus to Mount Fuji. We had many false alarms during the bus ride, but one thing I now know about the great Fuji-san is that there is no mistaking it when you do finally see it for the first time. We were the only ones dropped off in a tiny resort town at the fifth station of the mountain, which is the furthest you can go while the mountain is closed to visitors through winter. We stood alone in the mouth of a great forest, at the foot of the mountain. And we proposed to each other there. I knew I had found someone I never wanted to let go of, and would fight to make sure I never had to. Looking into each other’s eyes, we agreed that when it could happen, when history would be made, we would be ready for it. And our own history we’d get to write ourselves.
Guillermo and Gregory were married on November 7, 2011.
The Other Half of the Orange is a multimedia project platform created and self-published by Guillermo Riveros and Gregory Wazowicz, a bi-national gay couple based in New York, dealing with the personal and professional ramifications of immigration in the age of DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act), which prevents the federal government from recognizing the validity of same-sex marriages. The title is a literal translation of a Spanish idiom (media naranja), meaning one’s “half-orange,” one’s sweetheart, one’s beautifully perfect other half. This platform is meant to chronicle the challenges—and triumphs—of holding onto that other half once it’s been found, as well as curate the many creative pursuits to come out of this struggle to stay and work together. See more about this project at The Other Half of the Orange.