Sunday, April 13, 2008

(this continues the posting of chapters from The Brides of March)

I Have Wedding Issues Too

One persistent television reporter from Seattle wanted to interview Jannine, and me, live. He set us up in front of the lights, asked us to hold up our license application, and waited for his cue. Jannine hadn’t slept all night. I was holding a squirming one year-old. When he got the signal that we were “go”, he introduced us, then asked, “Why is it so important to be here today, right now, on the first day of legal same-sex marriage?”

Jannine answered. “For years now, Beren has wanted to get married, to have a wedding, and I was reluctant,” she glanced at me, “But I told her if it ever became legal, I’d be one of the first in line.”

And it hit me. My God, that was why she’d hustled right down to the County Building, to put her money where her mouth was. To let me know she hadn’t just been whistling Dixie, or putting me off because, after all, hell would freeze over before she’d actually have to keep that promise. She meant it. We both had tears in our eyes.

Recently, marriage hadn’t been a high priority. We were thrilled that legal advancements were a possibility, but it wasn’t something I thought about with every waking breath.
There have been times though, when I couldn’t say the same.

It would be a gross exaggeration to describe me as the happy-go-lucky type, though typically I am not one to loll around in misery by choice. However, years ago I entered a mire of matrimonial emotion, caused not only by Jannine’s unwillingness to walk down the aisle, but by an assortment of unrelated circumstances: Duncan, who had dominated my landscape, entering first grade and spending half his waking hours with someone other than me; Anna spontaneously potty training herself in a day, starting preschool, and looking way too mature in her biking shorts and T-shirt; Jannine’s having spent the entire summer obeying her company’s unwritten rule that none of their employees should have a home life. We hardly saw her.

That September, I went away for a weekend by myself for the first time in seven years, and it had to be to a wedding.

I was happy that my cousin, Maddy, was getting married. She is an effervescent, generous soul who cannot help being drop-dead gorgeous, or that I feel like a piece of halibut in her presence. Her husband is swell, too. They’ve been fabulous to our kids, cheerleaders for us, and even managed to maintain their equilibrium when our Ford Escort station wagon was totaled in a four car pileup on the freeway, with them in it, one Thanksgiving afternoon. Despite any natural desire to avoid weddings in that kind of emotional condition, I wanted to go.

So did Jannine, but she stayed home with the kids because they were not at wedding compatible ages (they were yet to discover the joys of candle wax), and our budget was equally incompatible with four plane tickets plus hotel. Sadly, going solo robbed me of my identity, as well as my built-in conversation pieces: “This is Duncan, he’ll be seven in November,” “Anna just started preschool,” and “Yes, they do look a lot alike, we cloned them in our basement.” In close proximity to my family of origin, without Jannine and the kids as a buffer, I become not “Beren deMotier, partner, parent and pundit wanna-be”, I become “formerly-Laura, dysfunctional family member, and eternally inadequate younger sibling.” It’s not a pretty sight.

Despite that, it was a good time. Partly because my friend Laurie lent me a killer brick red cocktail dress (since then, I only wear Laurie’s clothes to weddings), partly because, despite being held in a vast, decaying, gothic castle plopped down in the middle of Los Angeles, the wedding party, and those attending, were not a prim and proper group; even the elderly relatives from Turkey were ready to party. It may be the first wedding where the hora was followed by YMCA on the dance floor. I think it was the sense of communal joy that spurred me to skip making inspired orations on gay and lesbian marriage to anyone who would listen, and to sink later to a depth of depression that had Jannine scooping me from the floor with a spatula.

Certainly being premenstrual at the time added to my poor, poor, pitiful me outlook, as well as the impending onset of a cold, but I can’t be the only lesbian who’s become unbalanced around weddings. At times, I’ve wished I were one of those lesbians who is comfortable with nonconformity, the kind who sports a nose ring, a crew cut, and facial hair, impervious to the pressures of society at large and living by her own rules (or the rules of her chosen subculture). But, alas, I’m embarrassingly mainstream. We’re born into a society that feeds us expectations, potentials, and judgments about everything, and whether I swallow them whole, throw up the whole mess, go hungry, or selectively binge on them at irregular intervals, they’re part of who I am.

For me, weddings did what a good therapist couldn’t do in twenty sessions: bring to the surface a whole lot of suppressed sorrow. Not about my lifestyle, which is just fine, thank you very much, has the usual ups and downs, and is about as unthreatening as a cup of organic yogurt, but in the way it is, or has been, treated by the ones I love.

And I’m one of the lucky ones; I haven’t been disowned, disavowed, or sent to shock therapy. Yet, was I wrong to mourn that Jannine and I could never have the kind of wedding I witnessed, one where both families were enthusiastic, willing to work through differences, and just happy that the couple had found each other? Without spending fifteen years getting used to the idea?
I know that for many gays, marriage seems as assimilation-ist and atavistic as becoming a Freemason or joining the PTA, but even for them, it must hurt to know that we are expected, by many in this country, to be happy our relationships are “tolerated,” as if that is all we should hope for. The dictionary defines tolerate as “to endure without repugnance; to put up with.” We deserve better than that.

I also know that, as a community, we have other fish to fry. We have adoption rights, health care issues, legal discrimination, and oh, our nation being bogged down in a military quagmire in Iraq. Marriage seems a luxury when gay people are dying from beatings and lack of adequate medical care. Most of us would be happy to get a date that turned out well, much less an engagement ring. But just call me a glutton, a Bruce Bawer “place at the table” kind of girl because I want the luxury of legal marriage, even if just for that piece of paper that proves our relationship is something more than tolerated.

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