“After all the struggles we’ve had with the family—on both sides—we finally went back and changed the will to read ‘no Republican shall inherit.’ Those people aren’t getting a dime, do you understand? ‘No Republican shall inherit.’ It’s gotten to that point. Tulsa’s a great place but it’s a great place because we’ve made it a great place—they’ve fought us the whole fucking way.” Once same-sex marriage was made legal in Oklahoma, the Tulsa County Courthouse stopped performing marriages: “They ask you when you go in, ‘Do you have someone to do your marriage?’ You have ten days to do it. We got married at the Equality Center.”
The fear of death—the scourge of prostate cancer—forced their hand. That, and the phone calls of relatives who thought they might have (hopefully?) seen Jared in his white pickup truck married to a telephone pole: phone calls where concern might easily be something else. Twenty-three years of love the family would not name; twelve years of one grown-ass man adopting another; two men waking up thirty-five years later on a four-poster bed, legally married. What’s different? Jared points to a painting the couple commissioned, his hands resting at bottom left: “Well, it’s a story. We had five or six Lincolns—seven or eight, I don’t know. We just started making money like crazy. But this is the story of our lives: Here’s the highway. It’s a ‘no passing’ zone—nobody could get past us. And of course it was in Tulsa. Tulsa was always hard to live in, hence the stormy clouds. Now this is our sister-wife, Jamie, who lives in a contemporary house with a turquoise door. We built it for her. Her house is hot—it’s sexy. So that’s our sister-wife, and this is Max of Apple Computer, who made us wealthy because we bought a lot of stock along the way. That’s the Marlboro Man: our fathers. And that’s the my-how-time-flies racing greyhound symbolizing our years together.” Jared points at the man in drag: “Now when I put on a dress it’s the butchest goddamn thing you’ve ever seen. There is no convincing anyone that this is not a big truck driver in a dress, okay? And so I just ham it up.”
Dinner was steak, roasted potatoes, Cleora’s fried corn, two dirty martinis, and, finally, wine. Bruce: “My eighty-eight-year-old dad, all his life he drove a milk truck. Well, he drove out here from Indiana—600 miles—drove out here in his big ol’ Republican Buick. He first went to Branson and saw three variety shows and then drove here, and when he left here he drove straight back home so he could get to choir practice on time. Got the pictures Jared took developed on the way so he could show off at practice.”
Jared: “Now let me tell you: The man never had a drink in his life, never smoked, wouldn’t tolerate anybody ever cussing. You could stand in Bruce’s childhood kitchen window and see the church that his father and mother had been in since they were fifteen years old. He got here—he was setting in that chair right there—and we invite people over to meet him. Well, we opened a bottle of wine, and he got up and left the room.”
The story passed back and forth between Jared and Bruce as one solitary thread; Oscar Pusstorious, one of two male cats, climbed into my lap at the table (obviously there was high drama at the higher elevation). Jared went on: “He walked out! Well, I’d never had a confrontation with my father-in-law in my life, but I followed him into the next room and sat beside his chair and leaned in and said, ‘Now, bud, you come a long ways, and you came to see us, and we have called up people to share in celebrating Bruce’s father. We want you to meet them and know them.’ I said, ‘You get your ass up out of that chair and you get to the kitchen. They’re gonna be drinking wine, and they’re gonna be saying dirty words, and none of it affects you. They are here to honor you. Now you get in the kitchen, and we’re going to go on with our evening.’ Well, he had the best time of his life.”
Jared: “Now this was the midseventies. I was on an airbase in Florida. We had to keep the fighter planes loaded because, you see, this was only twelve years after the missile crisis. We had to be ready. Who knew what the Russians were up to? We were geared up. We were ready to fight.”
A metaphor, maybe. A photo on their Tumblr page with a caption in yellow prose. Bruce: “We always knew—for thirty-five years—we always knew whatever we did, or whoever we were with, we knew where we’d end up. That’s my best friend. There is nothing on this planet I love more, and if someone jumps in the middle of us, we’ll cut their fucking throats, do you understand? We have guns. We’re Trannie Oakley, okay? We will shoot them.”
In October 2016, with Hillary Clinton poised to win the presidency, Bruce and Jared asked—may it please the court—for their adoption to be vacated. They’d seen it happen all their lives. A friend would die—HIV, old age, cancer—and the family would annul the will: “They’d say, ‘They were never family, they ain’t no kin.’ And they’d take the house, they’d take everything. Highway robbery.”
When Jared got cancer in 2005, Bruce adopted him, and for eleven years each carried a card in his wallet: Case Number FA-2005-137: “Family recitation: grantors have established a legal, lineal relationship in Tulsa County.” It meant their will would be honored. It meant Bruce could visit Jared in the hospital. They’d seen friends turned out by hospitals refusing to honor decades of love.
Jared: “They cleared the courtroom until all that was left was a man in an orange jumpsuit shackled to a hook in the floor, and us. Now, we’re not used to hearing ‘no,’ so when the judge ruled that the adoption would not be vacated and we couldn’t be legally married, well…. But later we learned that he asked our lawyer, ‘Y’all gonna take this up?’ And that meant he wanted to establish a precedent: If he told us ‘no’ and then wrote the decision in such and such a way, and we could get a ‘yes’ from the Supreme Court of Oklahoma, then there’d be a precedent. And then Trump happened.”
“This is how we found our way: THE LITTLE BLACK BOOK OF GAY TRAVEL. Before the computer age. It’ll tell ya cruise spots, rest stops. This is how we found dick! Now, ‘AYOR’—that’s ‘At Your Own Risk.’ You could go to jail. You could be beat up. You could be bashed.” Last December, I called Jared and Bruce after a tip from a lawyer—“I’d like to write your story”—but, with a Trump presidency looming, they were worried: Would publicity hurt their case? I waited months, and finally they contacted me, in early February: Jared: “Well, the supreme court vacated our adoption and now we’re just two old married queens. Come on up. Let’s talk.” And they talked, their past informing the present.
Bruce: “The Fruit Loop was from 8th to 11th Streets, on Main, and you turned back right by the Holiday Inn. Across the street from the Holiday Inn was a gay bar called the Taj Mahal—all the gay bars used to be around there, where Tulsa Community College is. Tiffany’s Queen of Hearts Bar is where I came out. All the straight guys that wanted their dicks sucked would go around the Fruit Loop. The ones that wanted to do ’em would walk it, and the ones that were wantin’ to get done were driving. And let me tell you, I was once with Richard Roberts off the Fruit Loop, before I knew who Richard was. Well, the funny thing was, he and his wife, Lindsay, came in the store once looking for a bassinet for their new baby—our antique shop, Jared’s, opened in ’83—and Richard got out so fast your head would spin.”
Every old gay story in Tulsa—like it or not—at some point involves the local televangelist, Oral Roberts, and his gay son, Ronnie, and his other son, Richard, who, well, who knows? I will tell you: I do not like it. Ronnie and Richard are my uncles and I am their gay nephew and I would rather play at “unbiased narrator,” at “journalist,” “historian,” and so on. Well, I cannot. My bias and my fate are tied to Jared and Bruce’s: How did they push through? If they can make it in Tulsa, maybe I can too.
Jared: “So my first visit back to Indiana, we’re at his brother’s house, and this little boy says, ‘Uncle Bruce! Let me show you my toy downstairs in the basement!’ Bruce gets up and says, ‘Sure!’ And he’s going to take him down to look at his toys, and I see his sister-in-law nudge his niece and say, ‘Follow him, Follow him!’ I’ve never gotten over it. The thing is, I often do the family genealogy, and I do Jared’s family, too. And I go so far back I find a picture, at the church: It looks like all the little Episcopals—with the red door and the steeple—and there’s the mourners and the horse-drawn out front and the KKK are in sheets going in the back.” Bruce: “At this church those KKK were marching lockstep, like five across and thirty deep. It was amazing.”
Cocktail hour is passed; the wine is drunk and the meal eaten. Later, Jared and Bruce will take me out to their steam room to laugh and smoke: funny smoke, and bitter smoke, too. Bruce fidgets, grows quiet, looks at Jared for a moment, then at me. “We’ve had to compromise our whole life,” he says. “What’s frustrating is neither of us are very demonstrative. Public display of affection is not our way. We’re old school, and that’s not right. It’s altered our lives. We haven’t been able to show affection for thirty-five years in a way that’s normal.” Once the adoption was vacated and they could legally marry—“it took so long, we literally started looking at which states had the lowest penalty for incest”—they waited a week to tell Bruce’s ninety-five-year-old father. “I called him after we got married. I called him and I said, ‘Dad, I just want to tell you something, ’cause I want you to hear it from me directly. You know Jared and I have been together for a long time and we’ve finally had an opportunity, once we got some legal issues out of the way, to get married. And we did. And I want you to know that from me.’ And he said, ‘Well, you know how I feel about you’—he’s very religious—and he said, ‘You know, your mom and I always felt like if you had a way out of whatever you’re in, you would’ve found it. So we know that you are where you need to be. You made my day by telling me this.’”
These dispatches are from #VQRTrueStory, our social-media experiment in nonfiction, which you can follow by visiting us on Instagram: @vqreview.