(Avoid alliteration always!)
I will stipulate that we might not be a strictly “conventional” couple, what with both of us being men, and one of us being a pink-coiffed drag queen who’s about six-foot-eight in heels, but for the most part my husband and I just sort of go about our gay business. We neither seek input nor require guidance from our families, any church, or the government on how best to conduct our Big Gay Relationship. We don’t spend a lot of time, at least not intentionally, tearing at the Very Fabric of Society, although we do watch a lot of Golden Girls and order in kind of a lot of Indian food. We do each have a tattoo of a naked man — I guess if society really is going to crumble, you wanna get a few good chips in, kinda the way people eventually flung themselves at the Berlin Wall once it became clear that puppy was comin’ down. I say all this to say: I don’t give a shit what you think about me, just stand aside and think it over there so I can get at the garlic naan.
And you know what? No exaggeration, that’s 99.9% true. I don’t care what other people think of me. At least not enough to let it be a factor in my decision-making. It doesn’t affect what I write or how I write it, how I choose my friends or how I relate to them, what color I paint my toenails. Nobody who cares about you judges you, and nobody judging you on criteria like your sexuality has a stake in your success or your happiness.
Which is why the way my husband’s grandfather reacts to me at family functions like the wedding we went to over the weekend pisses me off. I don’t care what he thinks of me, and I for sure don’t care that he uses his “religion” as an excuse for his own rigidity, but I do care that he hides behind a set of values that he chooses to let external forces impose on him when he disrespects Jared.
Full disclosure: Jared had something of an unconventional upbringing, impacted to varying degrees by fanatical religious dogma, rampant drug abuse, and at least one downright crazy person, and when, as a young adult, he had no other safe alternative and he turned to his grandfather for help, he got it. I am grateful for this, even though it makes him harder to write off as a right-wing cliche. And it’s not like he makes a great hue and self-righteous cry over dissing me. He merely looks through me as if I’m 250 pounds of invisible, and when he is invited by others to acknowledge me by his grandson’s side, he politely but firmly refuses. It’s all very tidy and quiet, if made a tiny bit awkward by the fact that I am big and right in front of him and the only member of the extended family that he and his wife pretend to be unable to see or hear.
But I can admit to wondering, as I sat behind him on Sunday at the wedding of another of his grandsons, where exactly he thinks he gets off. What goes on in the head of a man who foisted upon his family a religion that he got from a door-to-door salesman that makes him think he looks down on me from some moral high road? I’ve stood by a member of his family’s side for nine years. I’ve helped him recover from surgery; I’ve run around France and Disneyland and weird backstreets of San Francisco with him; I’ve laughed with him, cried with him, yelled at him and rubbed his feet. We’ve been beside each other in International First Class, in a moving van, at my first book signing and at his first drag show. I helped encourage him to go back to school, I was there when he graduated, and I’ve seen him take control of his life since, both as a confident and skilled professional and as a flawless, false-eyelashed up-and-coming amateur. My friends go to his shows, his friends read my writing. My sister’s kids have known him for their entire lives; they love him and call him Uncle. His grandfather sees none of this. He knows nothing of Jared’s life — of his successes, of his ambitions, as little about his dreams as about his disappointments. He has excised Jared from his life because his religion dictates that he shall; he can barely be civil to him when required, and cannot dig deep enough in a heart that claims to bathe in the light of god’s love to acknowledge with so much as a nod that the great love of Jared’s life (not to cram words into Jared’s mouth…) is standing before him, and yet somehow I am the lesser man.
That’s bullshit, of course, and I don’t take it on as anything more. His problem is his problem, and is recognized as such by the rest of the family. Certainly by Jared, whose life sails on. We are both Out and Proud gay men who make the effort, individually and together as a family, to live life on our terms; we take steps to create good and to overcome bad. I come from a long line of Swedish Lutherans and Irish alcoholics — it’s hard for me to admit that I have feelings, much less to cop to having them hurt. But for all the love and the life that Jared and I have shared, I resent being seen by such a small man as this as an opportunity to express his prim and purse-lipped disapproval. I don’t care what he thinks about me, but I care a lot that he thinks that he can use what he thinks about me as an excuse to slight Jared and try to make him feel like Less. This man’s god knows that my husband has his (few and adorable) shortcomings, but being gay is not one of them — a fine husband he’d be to me if it was. His grandfather is missing Jared’s life, and it’s a fun one. And, because she’s made choices that he can’t sanction, he’s missing vast swaths of Jared’s mom’s life, too. I’m not a big believer in regret, and I’m not (that I know of) on my own death bed, but I do wonder if, at the end of this Big Production, “I let a stranger who rang my doorbell convince me to forsake the members of my family who didn’t go in for his pitch.” is ultimately that satisfying of an epitaph.
I am grateful for the fact that the only homophobia I ever see in my life is in news articles and Facebook posts that critique incidents and attitudes from which I am far-removed. But when it does rear its head in instances like this (and, to be fair, this is a man we’ve been forced to endure as a couple on maybe four occasions), it is always to shout one loud, clear message in my ear: prejudice and bigotry do exist, and it is the prejudiced and the bigoted who lose. Who, because of the narrowness of their vision, miss the most of what life has to offer. Who bypass opportunities to witness, to love, to laugh and to dance to the craziest, richest, and most passionate music that the world can make. I hear the music, and I kicked off my shoes a long time ago. If judging me from a sticky and wobbly table in a dark corner is your scene, have a blast. While you’re doing that, we’re gonna be out on the floor, getting on with the dancing.