Last week, our family celebrated our son’s fifth wedding anniversary. We remembered the beautiful fall day in 2009 at Lake Johnson Boathouse in Raleigh, NC, when Nykolas Danger married Mateo Parra. Surrounded by many family and friends, they spoke their vows before our family minister. Husband and husband, they joined hands, wrapped in a traditional cloth symbolizing the weaving together of their lives into one. Their wedding invitations, cake, guest book and vows contained the phrase ALL THE DAYS.
To observers in the park, including those in paddleboats mingling around the boathouse veranda, this appeared a typical wedding, albeit with two men. For our family though, it was far more than a traditional marriage ceremony. It was the beautifully amazing culmination of a long, painful, extraordinary journey.
Looking back, I marvel at Nyk and Mateo’s courage and commitment that day. At that time, marriage between two men wasn’t legal in NC, a Southern state with both liberal and conservative traditions (and later home of the 2012 fight over Amendment One banning marriage equality). But their lives thus far had prepared them with resolve and dedication. As transgender men, they’d developed the strength over many years to build authentic lives. After years of internal struggle, Nyk had begun his transition in 2003, meeting and forming a friendship of mutual support with Mateo, who also began transitioning soon after. Their relationship blossomed through a wealth of common interests, including love of family, animals, cooking, and popular culture. In addition to supporting many friends in their online community of transmen, Nyk volunteered with reptile rescue. Mateo was a writer and fabulous cook of Cuban food. Their shared life was on many levels ordinary and domestic.
Less visible were the enormous financial, emotional, medical, legal and practical difficulties of transitioning and living as transgender men. What sustained and centered them was their incredible bond with each other. In time, they decided their personal commitment, even if not recognized by the state, needed the public, formal recognition their 2009 wedding bestowed. They lived, devoted to one another and closely connected with our family for four more years.
In January, 2014, Nyk and Mateo died accidentally, bringing heartbreak to our family and their many friends. In a twist of fate, they were not alive to see marriage equality come to NC ten months later on October 10, 2014. In retrospect, as a parent, I see Nyk and Mateo's lives defined not by money or worldly success but by two huge accomplishments that many never achieve. First, they lived completely in the decision to be authentic to their true selves, never easy but always done with passion and immense courage. Their second success, elusive for so many, was their incredibly devoted and loving marriage. I've lost count of the times people said to me, "Nyk and Mateo are the happiest couple I know." Nyk and Mateo had a deep belief in the institution of marriage and were passionate about honoring their own relationship through marriage. For them, marriage was about a companion along life's path together through joy, beauty, pain, laughter and sorrow... all of which they had in abundance.
They were role models for my husband and me, for our family and for so many others. Their lives, and especially marriage, have given each of us strength and passion to live fully in our beliefs, wherever that may lead. They inspired our family’s longtime participation in PFLAG, our hours phone banking against Amendment One, a cousin’s fundraising for marriage equality, an aunt’s marriage equality conversation within her church, and my work for Marriage Equality USA. In that and so much else, Nyk and Mateo’s lives and memory will be with us for ALL THE DAYS.