On the morning marriage equality became the law of the land, I felt a familiar adrenaline surge, knowing we had a big story to cover.

As a journalist, I couldn’t wait to take my front-row seat to what would soon unfold in Austin: impromptu weddings on a most historic day.

But as a gay man, this wasn’t just another story. It undoubtedly would have lifelong ramifications for our nation — and for me.

The Travis County Clerk’s Office on Airport Boulevard was my first stop. Under a bright summer sun, a line had begun streaming down a blistering sidewalk with dozens of couples awaiting a marriage license. I smile remembering how fellow Austin residents bought what seemed like every supermarket sheet cake in town and dropped them off, certain no wedding day is complete without that tradition.

From there, I went to the Travis County Courthouse. Judges I’ve known and covered for years suspended mundane pretrial hearings and perfunctory court settings to perform nuptials. I saw old friends and casual acquaintances getting hitched as I simultaneously delivered congratulatory hugs and gathered comments for stories.

Surrounded by excitement, I can now openly admit I had to push down other emotions: a looming fear, trepidation and even self-hatred. I knew in my heart I wanted to, but would I ever have the guts to marry someone of the same sex? Could I really cast away years of upbringing in a deeply socially conservative place, embrace a sense of equality and believe for myself that love truly is love? Did I really deserve to get married, or was it a right only for gays and lesbians I interviewed that day, June 26, 2015?

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As a child of the ‘80s and teen of the ‘90s in Mississippi, the message was clear. Yes, there were some gay people in my town, but being gay was certainly not something openly discussed. While I’m sure there were some pockets of acceptance, to say, or even hint, that someone was gay was tantamount to an insult, at least to most of the people around me. At best, everyone quietly coexisted with no direct conversation about same-sex love or relationships. At worst, people snickered, gossiped or even openly ridiculed the flamboyant gay man or the tomboy lesbian.

I certainly inferred that “gay” was a brand no one should ever want. Instead of being out loud and proud, there was safety in silence. Gays, I learned, should live quietly off the radar.

I had plenty of reason to never challenge that norm. I was a particularly expressive child who watched episodes of — and sometimes pretended to be — "Wonder Woman" in a world where only a love of hunting and fishing defined “real boys.” There was a constant, almost daily brutal barrage of taunts. At times, I felt like I was called “sissy” or “fag” more often than my real name.

On the rare occasion I tried to assert myself, the world I was in summarily slapped me down. In the fifth grade, I proudly wore a new matching shorts and shirt outfit — one of the first things I can ever remember picking out on my own from a trendy-esque store in a neighboring town. One pant leg had pink-on-white strips. The other had a funky lime-green printed design. I boldly walked into class, but after a long day of harassment, and a teacher who did nothing to intervene, I never wore that outfit again. If I weren’t afraid of fire, I may have burned it. Years on the therapy couch haven’t erased that injection of shame.

As a teen, things begin to ease somewhat, and I got a hint of an “it gets better” moment. I got a job working simultaneously at the local weekly newspaper and country music radio station, places that may have very well been life-saving shelters and allowed any attention on me to be shifted away from my obvious gayness to my burgeoning career.

A quarter-century later, I’m sharing my experience — my own pain — on Austin Pride weekend. I know, unfortunately, I’m not the only gay person ever teased, and plenty of heterosexual friends have horrific stories of being bullied.

But over the years, like many of us, I’ve gradually become more open about who I am — and everything that happened. Not only do I believe it is important we rid our society of a mindset that traumatizes gay youths and young adults, but I also think this is an important step in my healing. And I believe that as gay people, raising our hands and fully disclosing who we are could potentially help shift the mindsets of those who still need introduction to the notion that gay lives don’t threaten straight lives.

I’ve also decided to share my experience a couple of months before my own wedding.

A year or so after the Supreme Court decision legalizing marriage equality, I met my fiance, Wroe Jackson. Within a few months, it became clear that we wanted to get married, but it took me another couple of years to finally convince myself that marriage is not only a legal right, but one I could actually exercise.

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After we made the decision and got a photographer to take engagement photos, we did what everyone does now: We announced our good news on social media with a family picture that included our rescue dog, Cal.

My fingers trembled as I pressed “post” to Facebook and Instagram. In many ways, I felt like I was finally standing up to years of destructive messaging about what it means to be gay and, for me, what it means to love. It still makes me sad that in 2019, I worried about being made fun of, losing friends or getting shunned.

The response has been stunning. My friends and loved ones in considerably more progressive Austin poured out their support — but so did hundreds of people from my hometown, whose simple like of a social media photo helped heal old wounds. It gives me renewed hope that our culture and society is shifting on the topic of marriage equality, reaching as far as the Bible Belt.

But even now, it’s hard for me to not feel hurt about the people I haven’t heard from — and still would like to — or the four people who unfriended me on Facebook. I’ve gradually come to accept that they were probably never really my friends to begin with. But the idea that someone would take that step after our joyous wedding announcement can still churn up a sense that I went too far — that I should retreat to the nearest available closet.

But I won’t, not now, and hopefully never again.

As we close in on wedding preparations, my mind often wanders back to June 2015, to those couples who had waited years, decades, their whole lives to finally legalize their love.

I know that when I finally say “I do,” I’ll have and feel their support, and hopefully, that same sense of freedom they did on their special day.