America's evolution on gay rights is astonishing. And for so many of us, it's personal.

I never thought I would see this day

Gay rights celebrants in California.
(Image credit: David McNew/Stringer/Getty Images)

When I was a boy, but more so when I was a teenager, I suffered in silence.

Suffering is not a word I choose easily. But the depth of self-rejection, the unyielding pessimism about ever experiencing romantic love and finding social acceptance, the shame of isolation, the threat of exile — all that was very real.

When I was 18, I never expected to marry. I never expected even to see gay marriage legalized. I certainly never expected to see our country embrace gay marriage.

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I am 36 now.

More than the legal recognition, more than almost anything else, what gratifies me is that many of the people I grew up with — the popular sports jocks, teachers, figures of authority, everyone I was afraid to tell I was gay — are reposting and liking and expressing personal support for something I could not fathom ever talking about in public when I graduated high school.

This progress is personal.

When the news broke, I texted my thanks to a mentor and hero of mine, Andrew Sullivan, whose contributions need no recounting. Later that day, Andrew broke his well-deserved respite from writing to weigh in, and once sentence struck me in particular.

I think of the gay kids in the future who, when they figure out they are different, will never know the deep psychic wound my generation — and every one before mine — lived through: the pain of knowing they could never be fully part of their own family, never be fully a citizen of their own country. [The Dish]

This is not the Stone Age. No kid should ever feel like this if we can do anything at all to prevent it.

When I posed a short paragraph on my personal Facebook page, a friend, Sergio, replied: "I am not cynical about shit like this, but you wrote something I needed to read."

Sergio is one of the least cynical people I know. But the reason why he can't fully celebrate today is because, as he put it later, he can't help but feeling that he hasn't made it.

He's an undocumented immigrant whose mother brought him to the United States when he was very young. When I first met him, Sergio, one of the most natural writers I know, a better writer than I ever will be, could not get a job in Los Angeles, of all places, because of his status. So shameful that someone so expressive had to live in the shadows.

Then came President Obama's DREAM proposal — and a measure of recognition. Sergio is an officially sanctioned alien minor now.

He has to bear the burden of not knowing whether the only country that he's ever known will accept him back. The weight of the future is on his shoulders. This is why it's hard for me to be neutral on immigration reform.

I am not a cynic, but I am not especially bullish about the inevitability of progress. History has no pre-determined direction, and sentiments can swing back violently. The benevolent hegemons in Washington, D.C., may have recognized gay marriage, and me, but they can also incarcerate people en masse, and they can poison our politics to such a degree that people suffer simply because others wish to make a point or stay in power.

So: To those who extended their circle of sympathy to gay people, thank you.

But it's incumbent upon those of us who are now empowered and vindicated to make sure that our celebration does not distract us from the hard work of seeing others as human and worthy.

Steven Pinker calls the broadening of our human community to include others who are unlike us the "escalator of reason." It is more like a ladder we must climb, requiring real effort and focus, always making sure that our feet aren't stepping on the hands of those who start out on a lower rung than we do.

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