Topher Payne: Seems like old times

But then you sit down with an old friend, find they’ve had the same experience, and discover that being a grownup is this total scam we set up to make young people feel more secure. You are now living in the future, and what happens next actually is up to you.

Kerstin is a very convincing adult. She’s a lawyer now, expediting the immigration process for foreign asylum seekers. Each day, she changes lives, providing safety and hope for a better life. And me? I make up stories and sometimes pretend I’m Dixie Carter. So, ya know, we’ve both been real busy.

I’m in our nation’s capital for the opening of one of my made-up stories, a comedy entitled “Perfect Arrangement.” The play, set in 1950, centers on a gay State Department official and his lesbian co-worker. They marry each other’s respective partners, move into a duplex, and craft a flawless public image. Spoiler alert: There are flaws. Someone discovers their secret.

At the time, “deviant” government employees were being hunted down and fired, the rationale being that the employees’ dirty secret lives made them vulnerable to blackmail. Plus, homosexuality was still classified as a mental illness, so obviously we needed to get those crazy fairies outta there before someone pried government secrets out of their limp-wristed, impeccably-manicured hands. The resulting witch hunt became known as “The Lavender Scare.”

But here’s the kicker: The big gay purge resulted in hundreds of well-educated homosexuals being rendered unemployable. In destroying their lives, our government created a force of headstrong people with nothing left to lose. For the first time in American history, our fight for visibility and respect went public.

Now I’m sitting in the same city, 63 years later, awaiting the Supreme Court ruling which could result in federal recognition of my marriage. My husband and I have held a Massachusetts marriage license for almost four years. In Georgia, it’s worthless, an assessment with which the federal government currently concurs. But we know better, and we’ve got proof. One day, that document will prove that we were wed in a time of great social upheaval, when our hearts and minds knew better than the law of the land.

There will always be people standing in the way of social progress: They simply have to do it, because their self-image is dependent upon believing they’re better than someone else. They’ll arbitrarily pick a trait — gender, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, class, favorite TV show — and decide that anyone who doesn’t fall into their own category is unworthy of equal footing.

The delightful thing is, they always, always, always lose. If history treats them kindly at all, it is by characterizing them as buffoons. More often, they’re exposed as the charismatic monsters they were.

When the Court announces its decision, we might make a great leap forward, or the rhetoric of people like Justice Scalia may attempt to block the path toward what is good, true and right. But Scalia is part of a species hurtling toward extinction. We’re the grownups now — the lawyers, the writers, the public servants.

What happens next will ultimately be up to us. History only repeats itself if we allow it.


Topher Payne is an Atlanta-based playwright, and the author of the book “Necessary Luxuries: Notes on a Semi-Fabulous Life.” Find out more at