We didn’t queer the institution of marriage. It straightened us.

First published on The Guardian, June 28, 2014. Read the original here.

Wisconsin. Indiana. Utah. Hardly a week goes by that the courts don't rule same-sex marriage street legal in another state in America (the last twenty-two consecutive cases have all come down on the side of marriage equality), making what once seemed impossible now seems unstoppable. Wedding white is the new black – and all the gays are wearing it.

So on this anniversary weekend of the Stonewall Riots, let me be the shrill voice in the back of the church, speaking now instead of forever holding my peace. I think we're losing something. I have no desire to turn back the clock on marriage equality: it provides both real and symbolic benefits to queer communities, families and our country as a whole. But I cannot ignore the coercive (and corrosive) power that marriage holds. In this country, it is not just an option: it is the optionIt is the relationship against which all others are defined, both an institution and an expectation – and you cannot have one without the other.

Before marriage was an option of first resort, queer people had been making our own ceremonies and families for (at least) a century. This will never stop, but the new expectations of marriage will curtail this kind of life-building (just ask any single straight woman over thirty how people treat her relationship choices). We will have to justify our reasons for not marrying, and any relationship that survives past a certain sell-by date will be looked at as pre-marriage.

For better or worse, gay kids today will think of their lives and their relationships in terms of marriage – as will their straight families and peers. Same-sex marriage is not going to harm opposite-sex marriages, as opponents so often claim, but its gravitational pull is likely to warp all other kinds of queer relationships. Our community’s pluripotent, mutable ways of loving one another are fast becoming something we need to defend all the more to the straight world – and, now, perhaps to our married gay peers as well.

Stonewall is often cited as the foundational moment of the modern gay rights movement. In the wake of that hot summer night’s anti-cop riot, the group that immediately came together in New York was the Gay Liberation Front, whose statement of purpose read:

We are a revolutionary group of men and women formed with the realization that complete sexual liberation for all people cannot come about unless existing social institutions are abolished.

That bears little relationship to the modern movement for marriage equality, which has effectively become the bulk of what remains of the gay rights movement. Where once we used our place as outsiders to critique the very structures that created "inside" and "outside" in the first place, now we are simply banging on the door, asking to be let in.

(If the revolutionary spirit of Stonewall lingers anywhere today, it is in the growing transgender movement, where activists still embrace a transformative concept of justice that questions social institutions before – or instead of – asking to be included in them.)

I’ll come clean here: I never dreamed about marriage – and not just because, as a gay man, I didn't think I would be allowed. Marriage never meant much to me, though love and family did – and as I now have two long-term partners, it's unlikely to be a part of my future. So I can't pretend that the movement for marriage equality won’t affect me (and my community) in ways I’m unhappy about in addition to all the ones I'm in favor of.

Somewhere along the line, the gay rights movement – and maybe the gay community writ large – separated its short-term goals and some people's immediate needs from the larger ideals of justice and societal change that initially stirred our community to action. This diminution happened by degrees, making it almost impossible to locate the moment when we could have turned around. But I suspect we will one day look back on the contentious 2000 Millennium March on Washington as the point of no return.

Maybe the same-sex marriage wave will begin a broader reconsideration of why our government is in the business of giving benefits to sexual relationships at all – gay or straight. Perhaps we will some day expand these privileges, for which we have fought so hard, to any group of people in a long-lasting relationship of care that keeps them safe, happy, and less dependent on government services – the way France tried (and largely failed) to do with their pacte civil de solidarité. Maybe we canqueer the institution.

But for now, it's straightened us. We have gone from dismantling an inherently flawed system that privileged some people based on their sexual relationships to demanding some of that privilege for ourselves – or, at least for some of us. On some days, I’d call this compromise and, on others, capitulation. Perhaps the only real difference lies in whether this is a first step, or a final one.

Marriage is here, it’s not queer, and we’ve already gotten used to it. I just hope the remaining states pass it quickly, so we can move on to something else.

If you knew you could only read 2,000 more books, where would you begin?

First published in The Guardian, June 1, 2014. Read the original here.

Eight years ago on Christmas morning, my older brother John casually ruined my life.

"Let me ask you something," he said, gesturing with his coffee mug at the piles of books we'd gotten as presents. "How many books would you say you read a week?"

"One?" I shrugged. I was too old, at 28, for original-recipe Facebook. Tweeting was still something I thought only birds did. And iPhones hadn't yet been invented. So, despite having a more-than-full-time job, I had a lot of time to kill.

"Let's be generous and say you have 40 years left at that pace," offered John. "One book a week for 40 years, rounded down a little for weeks where work is crazy or you spontaneously go blind, that equals ... 2000."

My brother leaned back in his chair, savoring the moment.

"That's it," he said. He shook his head, as though contemplating some distant tragedy. "Two thousand books in your lifetime. That's what you get. So every time you pick up a new book, you gotta ask yourself: is this worth it? Is this really one of the 2000 best books ever written?"

He paused for a moment, letting this sink in.

"At the bottom of your list, coming in at number 2000, we have…" He nudged the first book in my pile with his toe: Barbara Kingsolver's Small Wonder. I breathed a sigh of relief. "And at one-thousand-nine-hundred-and-ninety-nine…"

John nudged again, and Kingsolver toppled to the ground, revealing a copy of Jean Craighead George's young-adult classic,My Side of the Mountain.

"I'm re-reading that," I hastened to clarify.

"Re-reading?" John said, eyes-wide like I'd suggested some arcane and dangerous pastime. "Suit yourself…" he added, and left the room.

I just sat there. It's one thing to know theoretically that you can only do so much in your life: see so many places, meet so many people, read so many books. It's another to put an exact number on it. Where once I had been vaguely counting up – every book another brick in the foundation of my… something-or-other – now I was going the other way, and every book was just the physical manifestation of a hundred missed opportunities.

Suddenly the entire pile of books in front of me lost its luster. I eyed them like they were the last guys in a bar at closing time – were any of them worth it, or would I just feel a thick sense of shame in the morning when I rolled over?

What I didn't know then was that 50 books a year would turn out to be a high watermark for me. Aside from a beautifully aberrant period in grad school when I read books like a motherfucker, the graph of my year-to-year reading resembles the path of a boulder flying downhill, gaining speed as it goes.

Despite my best intentions, every year I read fewer and fewer books. More magazines, blogs, podcasts, TV recaps, comics, tumblrs, epic Facebook posts and endless Twitter battles? Yes. Books? No.

For a while, this meant that I was picky about the books I actually did read. They had to be of high quality, possessing some nebulous-but-easily-conveyed cachet. They had to mean something, damn it. Give me Austen, Baldwin, hell even Malcolm Gladwell would do. Only books that you might hear somnambulantly summarized on NPR, that was my rule.

The more I stressed about reading, the harder it became to do. Books went from being an infrequent pleasure to an angst-ridden duty. Somehow, strangely, this didn't make me read more. Compounding the stress, I felt that if I didn't read enough, it meant that civilization was decaying and the internet had won.

(Won what? I wonder now. Fear so often looks irrational in hindsight.)

Worrying all the time was exhausting, and no fun whatsoever. I missed reading – not thinking about reading, or worrying about reading, or planning to read, but just opening a book because I wanted to.

So I decided to embrace my fate. If every book I read from now on would be entered on my Best Books of All Time list, then I would treat them that way. If I was motivated to pick up a book – those solid, stolid objects that never ring or send us push notifications – then something about it was awesome, and I needed to recognize that. I needed to stop caring about what other people thought of my book choices, even if the book in question was intended for 14-year-old girls obsessed with money, fashion and private schools. (That's right, Private, I love you.)

I realized that the "quality" that mattered wasn't that of the book itself so much as the quality of the experience I had reading it. Reading, for me, was primarily an act of love – and love and shame have no place together. (Thank you, 1970's gay liberationists, for that wisdom.)

I no longer try to predict the number of books left in my life. I've lost enough friends unexpectedly to realize that kind of thinking is pointless. (Plus, like everyone else I know, I'm now too busy stressing out about keeping up with my DVR.) My reading or not reading is not a sign of the End of Books, and will not lead directly to some future wherein everyone is illiterate and we only communicate in emoticons. Nor is it an indicator of my worthiness as a person. Reading is simply an intensely pleasurable and very personal thing that I frequently happen to do on the subway – though never frequently enough.