Category: Santa Ana, California

Joseph Cook-Giles

Santa Ana, Californa

Joe in 20s“Looking Back…

Looking back at the span of 45 years, I find it amazing to be where I am today, happily married to the love of my life, sharing an unusual life of fun, adventure, travel, and new experiences.

Growing up in Florida, my final destination after years of my family being migrating snowbirds, my youngest recollections were those of a very nervous, ever-doubtful, and rarely comfortable bookish geek.  Throughout college, my goals were simple – to study, to learn, and to eventually get that diploma.  Truth be told, college was a huge struggle for me.  I didn’t enjoy my classes.  I didn’t particularly like where I was living.  And looking back – I don’t think I particularly cared much for myself.  As much as I deluded myself into believing that I was on-track with life and that I should be happy – something was missing.  Maybe at the time I knew that something was missing – but I had no idea what it was.

bourbon street

I had hoped that receiving that diploma would give me the key to my future – and all of the ends to my self-doubts.  Au contraire.  As I found myself working in my field, I found myself even more miserable – pushing paper that meant nothing to me, working in a field that really did not interest me, all to receive that paycheck.  Something was still missing.  So now that I had more time on my hands, I began dating.  Dating led to going steady.  And that led to engagement and eventually marriage.  My wife and I embarked upon life together, which at first seemed happy.  I had my role, and as we moved into a house purchased through my 9-5 efforts, things began to come together – or at least that’s what I thought.  After all, what young man doesn’t aspire to eventually live the American dream of owning a home with a white picket fence, a wife, and 2.3 kids?  But alas, all things must come to an end.  And such was the case with my marriage.

Legal (Still) CAlifornia marriage

Try though I did, my marriage foundered onto the rocks, and was not bound for recovery.  Asking for a divorce was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do.  But I just couldn’t live like that anymore.  And I didn’t want to.  Yet, I had to face a very painful fact – the “American Dream” as I had envisioned it lay shattered around me.  NOW what?  After a couple of days of dire depression, I looked around at the metaphorical shattered bits and thought to myself about putting some of them back together.  Heck, maybe I would find another woman to date…

…THAT was the moment!  At that time, over thirty years of suppression came racing forward in a subconscious-to-conscious roar of “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!”  I realized the problem.  The problem wasn’t that “the dream” was shattered.  The problem was that I was trying to live someone else’s dream.  My dream was different – and it did not involve a woman.

Alcatraz tourMy entire life, I had known gay men.  I had no issues with gay men.  Several of my friends were gay men.  Yet, I had never quite understood my own thoughts or heart.  When I saw a handsome man on the big screen, for instance, what I now recognize as “wow, that guy is hot!” came across as, “that man is inspiring.  I would like to be like him.”

Fate works in mysterious ways.  And it wasn’t long after I hit rock bottom and realized that I was gay that my life took a very unexpected twist.  As a very active member of a renaissance reenactment society, I had plans to attend one of the largest gatherings several states away.  At this point in my life, I really needed a distraction from everything going wrong in my life!  And shortly after I arrived, I had a very unexpected reunion.

In the SCAA few years earlier, at a symposium on renaissance dance, I met a man named Paul.  I really can’t say that we hit it off well in the beginning – probably because we both had teacher egos and thought “MY way is the ONLY way”.  But by the end of the symposium, we at least found ourselves in a place of mutual respect.  While we stayed in touch on a limited basis in the years since that meeting, I had no idea I would ever see him again.  But much to my surprise, there he was – looking taller and more handsome that I remembered.  And at that point, I really needed a gay friend to talk to.  And as far as I was concerned, that was as far as anything was ever going to go.  But… fate had another plan in store.

New Years kiss

As the days went on, we became inseparable – simply unable to be away from the other for more than a few minutes.  And in my head and in my heart, I began to feel things I had never felt before.  I was in my early thirties, but if felt like some unpredictable pubescent roller-coaster!  And sure enough, when the event was over, and I found myself on the roadtrip back to Florida while he returned to California, it wasn’t long before I found myself more down and depressed than I had ever been before.  This wasn’t just an infatuation.  This wasn’t just a crush.  This was love.  I didn’t have anything to compare it to, as I had never felt like this before.  I thought I had – but it was nothing like what I was experiencing.  And as the days slogged on, I knew I had to do something.  Email and phone calls only did so much.  I needed to take a chance – a chance on life – a chance on love.  Months later, I finally made the single most fool-hardy decision I’ve ever made in my life.  I decided to quit my job of 10+ years at the same company, sell my car, sell my house, get rid of as much stuff as possible, and Go West!  I had no idea what I would be doing…. I had no idea if things would work…. I had absolutely no guarantees, no Plan B, and no idea what the future would hold.  Was it wise?  Absolutely NOT!  But looking back, it was the best decision I ever made in my life!

As the years have progressed, we have grown together.  We joined over 4,000 other couples to defy the prejudiced laws of this land by saying “I do!” on the steps of the rotunda in San Francisco City Hall when same-gender marriages were first becoming a very real pursuit in this country.  We also found ourselves legally (and permanently!) married in the State of California before the blight that was Prop 8 temporarily (YEAH!) suppressed the freedom to marry for all.  We have worked on our 100+ year old house together, restoring it to a glimpse of the glory that was the gilded age.  We have continued in our renaissance reenactments and now have the distinct honor of being the first and only same-gender pair of “landed nobles” that our organization has ever known.  We travel.  We study.  We research.  We laugh.  We occasionally bicker.  We kiss and make up.  We brunch.  We hold dinners with friends.  We visit museums together.  We talk about the events of the day.  And we continue to grow older together.


Joseph Cook-Giles