How we met: ‘I watched him putting a condom on a banana – and that was it’

The first thing Tom noticed about the man who is now his husband was his impressive presence in front of a crowd. They met at an event organised by a local Aids activism group in 1989, where Chris, now 56, was working as an outreach coordinator. “I owned a feminist bookshop in Fresno, California, where we were both living,” says Tom. “I was volunteering at the organisation and went to an orientation session. Chris was doing a presentation. I watched him putting a condom on a banana as part of safe sex awareness and that was it for me.”

They hit it off as friends, but when Tom asked Chris out he declined. “I was his supervisor and I’d made the decision not to date volunteers,” he says. Over the next few years, their friendship continued to grow through their activism, as they fought for LGBT rights and support for people with Aids. Through groups such as Act Up Fresno, which influenced public policy on HIV issues, and Queer Nation, which fought homophobia, they attended more than 30 direct action protests together. “I was once arrested in Sacramento in 1992, after the governor of California, Republican Pete Wilson, vetoed a LGBT rights legislation. Thousands went to protest,” says Tom.

Although Chris admits he began to develop feelings for Tom by the early 90s, it wasn’t until 1992 that they shared their first kiss. “It was the town’s first ever Pride parade and we’d been told the Ku Klux Klan would be there to protest against us,” says Tom. “We arranged this stunt where someone in a hot pink KKK outfit stripped off to reveal a drag queen outfit, and then we all kissed each other. Chris turned around and kissed me.”

After that moment, their relationship shifted. “I was about to go away for two years for a job with the Peace Corps,” says Chris. “So I think I was less cautious about what it could do to the friendship.” He moved to Samoa that summer, but the pair stayed in contact via letters. In 1993 they wrote to each other at the same time, suggesting they try a long-distance relationship. “The letters arrived on the same day,” says Tom. “We realised how much we missed each other.” That year he went to visit Chris in Samoa and they continued to write constantly. When Chris returned in 1994, they moved to Santa Cruz together before buying a home in Sacramento six years later. Chris trained as an oncology nurse in 2003, while Tom worked for the state government.

In 2008 they were able to legally marry in California but there was resistance from protesters, and same-sex marriage was banned again soon afterwards. “There was a period where it wasn’t legally recognised,” says Chris. “We came back from our honeymoon in Vancouver and when we tried to go through customs together they sent Tom to the back of the line to make a point. It was humiliating and I had to wait an hour for him.” By 2013 the ban was no longer enforceable; the couple are grateful that “times have finally changed”.

As well as facing prejudice, they have supported each other through bereavements, including the death of Tom’s son, Dennis, whom he had adopted before the couple met. “I fostered him and adopted him as an older child but he sadly died from a heart condition eight years ago,” says Tom. “Chris was really there for me.” The couple are grandparents to Dennis’s two children, to whom they remain close.

“I think we get on so well because we think about things in the same way,” says Chris. “We agree on most topics. I also admire Tom’s passion, and the fact he’s so loving and caring. He’ll always bring me my coffee in the morning. We’re both dog lovers, too.”

Tom loves the fact that his husband is so compassionate and ethical. “Christopher once said that the most important thing in a relationship is companionship. I thought it seemed unromantic at first, but now I can’t imagine anyone else I could have spent 30 years with. Having someone you can trust is everything.”

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