I've decided that rather than write a normal post, I'll explain a little about why yesterday occasioned a party such that I couldn't post on time. As I said, we had a party after we got the news that the Supreme Court had legalized gay marriage throughout the United States. Obviously, we would be psyched about this, given that I've made clear that our community is very pro-gay-rights--but a lot of people are psyched and still managed to show up for work yesterday, which I, more or less, did not.
So, let me explain.
Our community has always been counter-cultural; the secrecy that we use to protect the entrance exam has also allowed us to essentially ignore laws we did not like. Charlie's hunting without a license springs to mind as an example, as does Allen's support of Ebony's use of cannabis to learn to see. It's not that the community is lawless, as I've tried to describe, it's that we have our own laws and ways of doing things and where these depart from the social and legal conventions of the larger society, we simply keep what we do secret.
I've had mixed feelings about this at times--I think we all have. The tradition of Absence, where a person has to go away for a while before becoming a candidate to be a leader of the community, was our attempt to prevent becoming entirely insular and self-referential. We don't want to become a cult. Plus, being a counterculture has at times been lonely--it makes our relationships with friends and family on the outside difficult, even strained.
We don't want to be a counterculture, basically, only the freedom to treat each other well in ways that might be difficult or impossible otherwise. We're a haven we wish we didn't need.
The contents of this haven, what we actually do inside our counter-cultural bubble, has varied over the years. For example, I understand that in the very beginning there was a lot of recreational drug use, usually but not always as an attempted form of spiritual exploration. By the time I arrived, that standard had long since changed and there was actually a strict rule against any illegal drugs on campus at all. But one of the constants throughout the years we have existed has always been gay rights--including recognition of gay marriage.
When I was a student I knew that everybody spoke of Security Joe and Cuppa Joe as married, even though their legal union had evaporated when Security Joe transitioned. I knew that was very important to them, but it wasn't anything we talked about much--we were never self-congratulatory about all the ways we were different than the surrounding society. Being a straight, cis-gendered white male, I had never before thought much about how the world might look to people who weren't and so I didn't fully appreciate how different the campus culture was until much later. I didn't realize that the community was actually sticking up for something.
I also only gradually came to realize how basic, how original, to our community culture that acceptance was.
The thing is, two of the original Six were a committed gay couple. They died in a car accident years before I arrived, but masters I first knew were friends and students of theirs. I learned their names and part of their story when I found a pair of trees on campus planted in memorial to them and asked questions. Later, I learned more about them, in bits and pieces, as one does as people reminisce about those they knew.
Their names were Shrimp (a nickname, of course--he was very tall) and Jim. Shrimp was an artist and a clown and Jim was a medical doctor. It was Jim who arranged for Charlie to go to rehab. They did not refer to themselves as married--they never imagined they might be allowed to wed--but theirs was obviously a life-long commitment. Part of the reason that the Six has always been a family was that Shrimp and Jim were, and they shared their sense of family with their friends and students--and ultimately with me.
In 1990, when they were both in their 40's, Shrimp and Jim were on their way home from a concert when they were hit by a drunk driver and both killed. Both of them came from homophobic families that essentially denied the existence of their relationship. They had been together for twenty years, but that didn't matter to anyone with any legal claim to their bodies. So, people with an illegal claim intervened.
Both families lived far away, so the masters kindly offered to take care of arranging to have the bodies cremated. Then, during the brief window that they had physical custody of their friends' remains, the masters mixed Shrimp and Jim's ashes. Each of them now has a headstone that makes no mention of the other--yet they are buried together and can never be separated again. Their memorial trees on campus grow intertwined, naturally grafted together by root and stem, and a single mixed sap flows through their tissues.
The Supreme Court decision announced yesterday hinged on a court case brought by a man whose husband had died--he wanted to have their marriage recognized on his husband's death certificate. Yesterday, he got something that Shrimp and Jim never did.
It's kind of difficult to live in a counterculture, especially one that no longer has any physical territory. It's like being an exile in the country of one's birth. The reason we had a party was that yesterday the United States of America suddenly seemed a little more like home.