Friday, April 4, 2014

I received the best birthday gift of my life last week: Gary and I were married.

As with most things in our lives, it happened with the shocking suddenness of a thunder bolt. And, as with most huge moments in my life, it happened while I was on a treadmill.

"We're getting married on Friday," Gary said when I picked up the phone, my legs churning beneath me. 

"Who is this?" I asked.

"Screw Michigan!" he said. "I'm not waiting another second for anyone to decide when it's right for us to marry."

In the previous days, a judge had overturned Michigan's ban on gay marriage. Dear friends of ours had rushed out on a Saturday to marry. By Monday, the attorney general had challenged the ruling, and a stay had been put on marriage. 

Our hearts were crushed. We had planned to marry on our anniversary date of July 27. We wanted to wed amidst Gary's beautiful gardens in front of our beautiful friends. Gary had already begun the planning. 

But our dream had been taken away.


"We're here now, in California," Gary said, knocking me back into the present. "I called the courthouse. They have a little chapel attached. They have an opening Friday ..."

He stopped. I could hear him softly crying.

I hit "stop" on the treadmill.

"Let's do it!" I said. "You're right. It's time."

Gary arranged for good friends (who married the week after us) to serve as witnesses, and another friend volunteered to photograph it. Gary made boutonnieres for us, color-coordinated them with our shirts and ties, and on the morning of March 28, we walked into a county clerk's office, signed a sheath of papers, attested we were who we were, paid our fees and waited to be married, along with a gaggle of other, very young, couples. 

I couldn't help but think: This wasn't anything like the dream wedding we'd dreamed of.

But then, magic began to unfold.

A beautiful woman, whose cousin had just gotten married before us, ran over when she saw us waiting. 

"Are you getting married?" she screamed.

We nodded.

She dissolved into tears. "I'm so happy for you," she said, bawling, pulling us into her arms and holding us tightly. "How long have you been together?"

"18 years," we replied at the same time.

Her face melted, and she heaved with sobs. "My brother and his partner have been together nine years," she said, nodding over at a handsome couple. "I want him to marry next."

She stopped. 

"It's love and commitment like yours, and his, that are my shining examples. I strive to have a relationship as beautiful as yours."

And now it was us who began to tear up. 

What she gets that most people don't seem to realize, I thought as she walked away waving, was that the gay couples "rushing" to marry have been together five years, 10 years, 25 years, 50 years. We have already committed our lives to one another.

We were ushered into the "chapel," a sort of holding room filled with the type of furniture you might have seen on "Three's Company." A wooden, lattice-y altar filled a wall, some plastic ivy strewn through it, fake flowers sprinkled around the room. An empty Kleenex box sat atop a vent. 

Gary winced. "Why don't they paint this white?" he asked, touching the altar. "And get some real plants? And ..."

He stopped. "It's perfect," I said. "It doesn't matter."

The woman who was to marry us bolted into the room and introduced herself. "How long have you been together?" she asked.

"18 years," we replied again at the same time. 

She began to cry. 

"When California approved gay marriage," she whispered, her voice heavy with emotion, "I sprinted here to volunteer. I wanted to be part of moments like this. Each is so historic. Each is so beautiful. I wanted to be part of a love that will forever change our world, for the better."

And then she took our hands, and then placed them in each others', and she began the ceremony.

It was then I knew this was a dream wedding, because  I never dreamed this would ever be possible for me. I never dreamed I could marry, hear these vows, repeat these vows, have my relationship acknowledged by the government as the same as every other. 

As the ceremony unfolded, I couldn't help but think of my life and relationship with Gary, similar in so many ways. Gary and I grew up in small towns in Middle America. Haunted by our sexuality, we relinquished our youth, unable to date, unable to share our true selves with our families and friends. Gary drank and I ate, until we finally found one another.

At the risk of sounding overly dramatic, we not only fought like hell to find one another – the perfect love – we fought like hell to survive until we did. Our love likely saved each other's lives.

Suddenly, my emotions overtook me: This wasn't only a dream, it was historic.

"Do you have vows you would like to read?" the judge asked.

"Yes," I said, pulling a sheet of paper from my pocket, shocking Gary.

"What are you doing?" he mouthed.

"Marrying you," I whispered.

And then I began to read:

"Gary, it's not that my life hadn't begun before I met you; it's as if it had never started. You brought my life to Wizard of Oz technicolor. You not only taught me how to love another unconditionally, you taught me how to love myself unconditionally. 

You are my compass and my bridge, my shadow and mirror, gardener of flowers and my soul. I would not be here, literally and figuratively, without you. 

I love you more than anything in this world, and I am so honored to take you as my husband. 


As she began to recite the vows, our voices went from quivery, to shaky, to unstable. Tears flowed.

And when we said, "I do," my life and my future flashed before my eyes.

I was married. To the man I loved.

As the judge pronounced us husband and husband, we kissed.

Gary slipped me the tongue, which was totally inappropriate.

And then he whispered, "You cannot go and get this annulled, either."

That evening, we gathered with friends for an unforgettable dinner. They even surprised us with a wedding cake ... topped with lots of buttercream frosting.

As we crawled into bed for the first night as a married couple, it felt like it always had.

But different, too.






After 18 years, we were married. It was no longer a dream, no longer a fantasy, no longer illegal.

Our wedding, like our friends' weddings in Michigan and California, aren't just weddings, they are the fulfillment of lifelong dreams. They acknowledge the power of love.

They aren't just weddings, I realized, they are exclamation points to our lives and our love, to all of our lives and love.

Happy Birthday (to Me!): The Icing on the Cake

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

As an adult, I used to watch the MTV show, "My Super Sweet 16," with an equal mix of horror and envy.  
Lavish birthdays were not a part of my childhood growing up in the 1970s Ozarks. My family wasn't poor by any stretch of the imagination, but we lived more than modestly and any desire for extravagance – be it a pair of Calvin Klein jeans, a pink Izod, a Linda Ronstadt album – was frowned upon.
From one of my Depression-era grandmothers, I always received a dollar for every year I turned on my March birthday. What was exciting at the age of 10, however, was totally lame at the age of 15.
My other grandmother tended to buy me necessary items, like socks or Husky jeans.
But both would bake for me: They would spend hours in the kitchen, creating themed birthday cakes or a tower of iced cupcakes.
As I grew older, I began to realize that what they were baking me was more meaningful than anything they could ever buy and richer than any amount of cash: They were giving me their hearts, their time, their love, themselves.

As I near 50, I don't really recall the games, or clothes they gave me, but I vividly remember the buttercream frosting, the red velvet, the Speed Racer themed birthday cake, the lemon custard-filled cupcakes.
After my grandmothers passed, my birthdays were well celebrated but always had a void. No purchased bakery birthday cake or restaurant cupcake, even topped with burning candles, could fill it.
My first birthday with Gary was filled with presents. Gary loves gifts. If Santa or Cupid ever fell ill, Gary could step in and the world wouldn't even notice.
Gary also loves a bit of extravagance: My favorite (expensive) cologne? Check. That Kenneth Cole jacket? Check.
"It's too much," I said.
"Birthdays are the one day we get to celebrate someone," Gary said, "simply for the miracle of being born and being in our lives."
"I don't know what to say," I replied.
"Wait here," Gary said, getting up from a candlelit table filled with a dinner he had prepared.
A few seconds later, I saw a glow in the kitchen. Gary emerged into the dining room holding a towering cake, its fluffy white icing dotted with candles.

"Where did you get this?" I asked. "It's beautiful."
"I made it," he said. "You know how much I love to bake."
I couldn't help myself: I slid my finger along the side of the cake, scooping a hunk of icing and shoving it into my mouth.
"Buttercream," I sighed.
"Make a wish!" Gary said.
I closed my eyes and then blew out the candles.
"Hope it comes true!" Gary said, slicing the cake and setting a huge slice on my plate.
I took a big bite and closed my eyes again.
It already had.

(Note: I turn 49 on March 30. This will be my last stay in the 40s. I am fine with that. Sort of. Let's just say I am fine with that, as long as I have a birthday cake with icing. LOTS and lots of icing! This was an essay I recently wrote for Chick Lit Central to celebrate my birthday month.)

On Hate, And Love: How I Stay Strong in the Face of Discrimination

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

A decade ago in 2004, I was alive for the first time in my life.

It wasn't only that I had come out and fallen in love a few years earlier, it was that I had finally come into my own.

I was writing what would become my first memoir, America's Boy. I was running marathons. I was blissfully, beautifully happy, in a Rouse Renaissance if you will, a new age of enlightenment.

And then came the dark.

I was living in St. Louis, and Missouri became the first state to enact a constitutional prohibition on gay weddings after the Massachusetts high court permitted gay marriage there. The measure was approved by 70 percent of the state's voters.

It was during that time I began to not only feel ostracized from my country but also from my faith. I felt I didn't belong, be it church, or work, or restaurants.

I entered a dark place. Gary and I made rash decisions, including ones to quit our jobs and move to Michigan.

Fast forward a decade: In spite of all the progress in our country, I found myself revisiting that nasty place recently, in light of the anti-gay legislation in Arizona and Kansas. I felt like I had growing up gay in the Ozarks: Dirty. An outcast. Unwanted.

Yes, I could rant. I could rage. I could simply laugh off the fact that it's so ridiculous that people feel it's OK to discriminate based on their religious beliefs – to hate – but it gets harder and harder.

(And, by the way, can atheists choose not to serve customers with crosses around their necks? Or pregnant women with no rings on their fingers? Can Catholics refuse Jews?)

But instead I only hear the words of my mother and grandmothers:

"People will always need someone to hate. It's all they have."

They told me this because they, at one point in their lives, experienced discrimination.

My Grandma Shipman was a Native American who married a white man.

My mother was a driven academic overachiever who, as a nurse, often challenged a doctor's orders or thinking.

My Grandma Rouse fought to allow and welcome the less fortunate, the "unworthy" and "unwanted" into her church, despite what people thought and said. At various points in their lives, each of these women was either spit on, refused service, fired, asked to leave a public place, yelled at, hated.

And they forged ahead, survived, inspired, because they always needed someone to love. It's all they had. It's all they knew. 

"You are 'different,'" they would tell me. "You need to hear our stories."

I am thankful I listened to these women – around pink Formica dining tables, red gliders overlooking a creek, in innertubes and lawn chairs and the backs of pickup trucks – because their voices now keep me sane, balanced, hopeful, inspired and enveloped in love. 

Because of them, I know the hardest battles come before the biggest victories and that it is a miracle when you are blessed enough to come from a place of such love and acceptance that it not only changes you but that, one ripple, one person, one day at a time, it also changes the world. 

"Love, Wade": A Valentine's Essay

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

            It was an art project tradition in my 1970s Ozarks grade school for children to make their own Valentine's Day mailboxes and then walk around the classroom personally delivering cards to each classmate like a kiddie postman.
            I took this business seriously, as it was one of the few truly creative outlets I had in the Ozarks. That's why my Valentine's creations were always a childish blend of Charles Eames and Edith Head (not an envied mix, mind you, in my rural classroom).

My mailbox was MUCH more elaborate!

            My great undoing came when I created a Barbie-themed mailbox, using shocking pink gauze and Barbie's body parts as my foundational décor. I had always wanted a Barbie but never received one, so I "borrowed" one from a girl in school – along with her root beer Lip Smackers – and ended up murdering her doll. I dressed Barbie's torso a la Cupid with little pink wings and a little pink quiver filled with little pink bows.
            But the piece de resistance was the mailbox flag I crafted from Barbie's missing legs, positioning them sideways, like a gymnastic whore, so that one long, glam gam could be lifted into vertical position to show when I had received a card, or lowered to show when my box had been emptied.
            My masterpiece was greeted with great fanfare by the girl from whom I had borrowed Barbie. When she saw her beloved doll dismembered and hanging from my mailbox, she screamed a scream that still reverberates in my head.
            That prompted our class bully, a kid who simply and scarily used an empty cigarette carton to gather his Valentine's booty, to open my mailbox and announce, "What have we here?"
            What he discovered was a series of cards that had been given to me by a male classmate, who had a love for Garanimals, books and, apparently, me. They were lovely, vintage cards – not childish Valentine's – of two cupids kissing, our names stenciled above each cupid's head.
            The class bully tortured us all winter, calling us names, tripping us when we would go for milk, and interlocking the arms of our coats on the rack in the back of the classroom, a silhouette that, from a distance, made it look as if me and my sweetheart were about to embark on a long, romantic walk together through a snowy wood.
            To spare myself in future years, I stuck to Speed Racer themes, and buried my burgeoning sexuality even deeper into the coat closets of my rural classrooms.
            Eventually, I ran from my Ozarks hometown, to college, graduate school, bigger jobs and even bigger cities.
            But the funny thing about trying to outrun your past? It always catches up to you.
            And so it did one day not long ago when I checked my mailbox to discover an invitation to a high school reunion.
            My first reaction: No way.
            I wadded up the invite and tossed it in the trash, thinking of how far I'd run to escape those years, and of how genuinely happy I was in my life with Gary.
            But, over the course of the next few months, I had a second reaction: I wonder what happened to those people from my past that I'd spent so many years alongside?
            I started with some investigative Facebook research, and, when I went to visit my father who still lived in the small town in which I'd grown up, I morphed into Angela Lansbury, snooping around for clues on those I'd lost touch with, especially the childhood "sweetheart" and bully from Valentine's past. More than anything, I think I wanted to know if they had found love and were happy.
            I was told the cigarette box bully who had taunted me even into high school had run into many troubles and endured a very hard life.
            I learned that my childhood sweetheart, the smart, quiet kid with loads of talent, had moved, married, and was happy and successful.
            That Valentine's Day, on a whim, I went out and bought two cute cards featuring kissing cupids and inscribed a personal message, intent on sending them to my long-ago bully and sweetheart.

I'm the one in the skirt and bow.

            I considered our lives – all our lives – and finally realized how transformative Valentine's Day can be, if we are just brave enough to embrace its never-changing intent.
            Which is why I ended my notes with the simple words, "Love, Wade."  

Pillow Talk: Adopting Our New Rescue, Doris

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

We have been a single-dog family for two years now, since the passing of our beloved mutt, Marge. That changed last week when we adopted Doris, a rescue from a local shelter.

We had been looking at adopting for a while ... and by "we", I mean Gary.

I cherish routine so much -- writing, running, reading, lattes, hair products -- that once I fall into one that works for me, it's hard to break out of it.

"Mabel is six now," Gary said this summer. "She needs a sister. And so do I."

Gary is a weeper. He gets teary-eyed over Folger's commercials and flannel sheets with happy moose on them. And yet I often forget that when I'm working so much, he's alone. And sometimes lonely.

Gary has a heart as big as a Buick LeSabre. And he cares deeply about animals, especially dogs and cats that have been abused, abandoned, or dumped at a shelter. He volunteers his time and works hard to find the right home for abandoned animals.

And then one evening a shelter sent a picture of Doris (fyi ... not her given name in the beginning).

Gary held his cell in front of my face: What could I say?

The dog had been abandoned as a puppy. It had been been adopted and then returned twice by two different families. It had been dumped more in its life than, well, me.

And the strangest thing: It looked a lot like Doris Day. She was blonde, big-eyed, and sunny. In every picture, her fuzzy, white hair made a sort of halo around her face, like the movie publicity photos of Doris back in the day.

I adored Doris Day. Not only for her movies but also for her animal activism.

We fostered Doris for a few days (naming her Doris, of course), and she was a perfect fit: Mabel adored her new sister, playing so hard and so happily with her that she would just collapse in a heap, panting, a smile on her own furry face.

So, we adopted Doris.

Doris was a bit unsure in the beginning, though: She would get off the bed at night and go sleep alone, a big no-no in our house. She would stand back and watch our interactions, gauge us from a far. She put up a bit of a wall, as if she was waiting to be abandoned yet again.

And then one day we took her to the beach. She chased waves, dug in the sand, played with Mabel, and slept under an umbrella. On the drive home home, she napped in Gary's arms.

That night, Doris didn't leave the bed. In fact, her snoring woke me up. She was asleep between me and Gary, her head on my pillow.

Pillow Talk.

Just like Doris Day.

I fell asleep. Hard. The next morning, after my routine breakfast of Kashi and blueberries, Gary left to do yoga, I grabbed my coffee and went upstairs to my office to write.

Mabel was already waiting for me at the top of the stairs, accustomed to our routine. I turned on the lights, Mabel curled up on a pillow beside me, and I sat down in my chair. Doris rushed up the stairs, a blur of white, and then, suddenly, stopped in her tracks.

She was not used to this routine. I called her to me, told her it was OK, and kissed her blonde head.

And then the strangest thing happened: Without prompting, Doris disappeared into the nook underneath my writing desk and curled all 20 pounds of her blonde body on top of my feet.

I stared straight ahead, stunned. In front of me, on my desk, was a photo of my beloved Marge, who had passed away in 2011. Marge -- all 80-plus pounds of her -- had done the same thing with me for endless days over countless years: Curled up in this nook and slept on my feet while I wrote.

I finished five books with Marge touching me.

Gary may be a weeper, but I'm an ugly crier. And so I started bawling, as Doris snored on my feet.

I may not believe in ghosts, or spirits, like Gary does, but I guess I do believe, like Gary does, in second and third chances. We believe that the greatest happiness comes with the greatest risk, be it love, or career, or dogs.

And so, my old routine has a new wrinkle. Her name is Doris.

And she has already touched my soul ... and she is already helping me finish my next book.

Yeah, I'm A PEOPLE Person

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

I recently started a new writing chapter in my life: I am officially a writer for People.com.

People.com is the online component of PEOPLE magazine, and the #1 celebrity site on the web, with nearly one billion page views per month. PEOPLE magazine is, well, PEOPLE magazine.

Working for PEOPLE has long been one of those dream jobs to me, as I am celebrity-obsessed, trend-driven brand-boy and fashion-lover. My editor at Random House once joked (only partly) that my memoirs have a "gazillion" more cultural references (read: pages and pages) than all of her authors combined.

It has been a long journey to get to PEOPLE, and there are many to thank (As Gary says, we all need "mentors" at different points in our lives -- those who lead us to new things and deeper understandings -- and I have had many on my journey). The first few weeks of this new endeavor have been more stressful than I imagined: Writing for PEOPLE is a mix of creativity and coding, writing and editing, voice and reportage, deadlines and, well, more deadlines.

I have written about Hugh Jackman and the Royal Baby. I have covered country stars and pop icons. I have penned touching pieces on Talia Castellano, the teen YouTube makeup maven who died much too early of cancer but inspired many.

I consider my writing for PEOPLE to be sort of a 10K in the midst of my marathons. And, it is already making me a better writer. The editors at PEOPLE push for perfection: They want great writing, great editing and great search optimization. I see my longer work with a new eye: It is making my writing tighter and more refined. It is keeping me on top of trends and topics.

Ironically, I have received a great deal of criticism from some of my readers and book fans about this: Why? they ask (although some have screamed this). Are you selling out? Are you done writing books?

The answers to the last two are easy: NO! In fact, work on my first novel is going exceedingly well, and I hope to have a draft to my agent this fall.


Because it's been a dream of mine and because it continues to challenge me, keep me on my toes, connect me to great writers, editors and people. It also builds my platform, which is vital in today's publishing world. And, more than anything, it is writing I enjoy, writing that pushes my adrenaline button, writing that lends itself to my narrative work, writing that makes me a better writer.

Life is an ongoing journey ... One must set goals, I believe, but never put stakes in the ground, otherwise we will never alter our path, go off-road, take risks. I live for risks. Mostly, I live to write. And so my journey continues ... be it memoirs or Miley, novels or Neil Patrick Harris.

To follow my journey at PEOPLE, head to:


Or, my PEOPLE page is:


Now, back to writing ... right now, for PEOPLE, later, my novel.

My advice to you: Follow your dreams! And GO WRITE!

Humor, Honesty & Heartbreak: Why I Write What I Write

Thursday, June 27, 2013

I had the pleasure to speak at the Herrick District Library in Holland, Michigan, for the first time this week. There seemed to be quiet concern (I was later told) about my presence there, it seems, because, well, I'm gay. 

Shocked? No, right? 

I didn't buy into the consternation, either, because I always find such events to be an opportunity rather than a risk: I can change minds, I can change lives, I can open hearts, simply by being me. I never alter who I am, what I read, how I act based on where I travel: I am me. And that simple fact always has a profound effect.

The response at the library was overwhelming: A SRO crowd that laughed until it cried. And, after the event, hundreds of people waited to tell me that I touched their hearts and changed their lives with my humor, honesty and heartbreaking "human-ness." I call this the "3 H's", and it's what I bring to my writing. 

Many people emailed and asked that I share my opening remarks: Here they are. Now, go be you.


Our libraries, like our schools, depend on diversity of thought. To be surrounded by homogeneous ideas is to live in an isolation tank: The best books and authors are like the best teachers: They are literary, lyrical keys that unlock not only our minds but also our hearts.

I love to speak at libraries because they were a saving grace to me growing up in rural America. My grandma volunteered at our little, local library, and that is where I learned it was OK to read, to write, to explore new ideas. It was OK to be smart and creative while my peers were outside fishing, hunting or nailing squirrel pelts to oak trees.  

It’s especially fitting I speak here tonight, as the overarching theme here this summer is Everyday Stories. Perfect, really, because that sums up exactly what I do: I write about everyday life. I celebrate the mundane and minute moments that make life so magical and memorable.

The grand moments are wonderful, but I believe those are just the frame to life’s picture. It’s the little details that make the portrait of us so memorable. I believe it’s our failures, foibles and fragilities – rather than that façade of perfection that we strive so hard to impress upon others – that make us so unique and beautiful.

My M.O. in telling my everyday stories differs from most authors: I utilize humor. It is that way I make sense of a world that has often been hard to understand. It is my way of connecting and of understanding.

I’ve told this story, and I will tell it again: I learned the beauty and importance from telling everyday stories with humor from my idol, Erma Bombeck, a much-overlooked writer in American literature. I know I would impress you more if I said Hemingway, Shakespeare, Faulkner, or Franzen, but I’d be lying.

What I learned from Erma Bombeck was to channel your own voice and to never give up. This is a woman, mind you, who in the 1960s was ignored because those in charge believed what she had to say wasn’t worth reading. And yet this was a woman who continued to lock herself away just so she could write because she believed that what she had to say was worth reading. I’ve faced similar obstacles in my writing career because many have believed the same thing about me.

But what’s happened is this: Readers have been drawn to me and the everyday stories in my memoirs because – no matter how different we may be from one another – it is our universalities that bond us all, that make us human. We’re a society that tends to focus on our differences, when we should be focusing on our similarities, because we’re not that different. Our experiences are largely the same, and that’s what I document: Most of us do not engage in heroic acts everyday, what we do is live and love, succeed and fail, pray and curse, laugh and cry, rejoice in minor triumphs and cling to one another in times of loss.

What I try to do is slip in a lesson while you’re laughing, teach you something while you’re smiling, show you – while you’re giggling – that the chasm between us is tiny. I believe the best books are like mirrors: We are forced to take a good, long hard look at ourselves when we hold one in front of our faces. Oftentimes, we don’t like what is reflected back, when we study that image: But, if we are willing, we change as a result, for the better.

All of my books are based on everyday stories from my life and those of my family’s life, because I believe that those stories – our stories – accumulated over a long period of time tell a profound tale of human existence.

My mom – who was a nurse and a Hospice nurse – passed away a few years ago, and she was not only a woman who heard more everyday stories than most people ever do but she also taught me more in her final months, more about how to live and die with grace, than most folks have taught me in decades. She told me that we all make everyday life so hard, but really it’s so simple. “Our everyday stories are pretty much the same … she told me a few weeks before she died. “The sun goes up, and the sun goes down. And we have just a few, precious hours in between to live without regret, to make a difference, and to love until our hearts ache. It’s up to us to write a new chapter every single day.”