I have written before about how Rick and I have gotten married quite a few times, the first time being on June 24, 2000. What I haven’t written about were the family members who conscientiously objected to our wedding. Bigotry and ignorance, given the sheen of legitimacy by calling them religion, prevented my mother’s first cousin’s wife from sharing in our joy that day. She felt that she could not witness our union – that she could not celebrate with us. Her husband, my mother’s first cousin, stood with his wife. They did not attend our wedding. They did not RSVP the invitation. They sent us neither a gift nor even a note of congratulations. Nothing.
Knowing that she had misgivings, I called her before the big day. My goal was to start a dialogue and maybe, hopefully, find a resolution. And by a resolution, I meant my resolution – a resolution filled with love and the ability to celebrate our joys with one another. In some sort of cosmic Venn diagram, I had hoped to make our circles overlap under the heading Shared Experience. You see, she’s Catholic and back when she was marrying my mother’s cousin some of the elders in my Jewish family weren’t so thrilled with her union (namely her own soon-to-be father-in-law who, remarkably, had to convert Judaism when he married my mother’s aunt), but they came around.
My mission failed. She kept repeating that we all have free will, and I kept repeating that gay is an is, not a will, and she kept repeating that she understood that but that we all have free will, and we chased our tails like this for I have no idea how long until it became clear that we were never going to get anywhere. I couldn’t make our circles overlap, or even touch. As my father says, “You can’t reason someone out of something they weren’t reasoned into.” He meant that some perspectives are emotional and not logical, therefore logic doesn’t work. He was right.
Then, as the conversation appeared to be winding down, she said something that quite literally knocked the wind out of me. “If you were in a hospital dying of AIDS, I’d be there to pray for you.” WHAT??????? I think she was attempting to show me how much she loved me and how much she wasn’t judging me. To say that it didn’t work would be an understatement. She rendered me speechless, utterly speechless, which, if you know me, is quite the feat. I was talking about a wedding, a happy, joyful, moment. And she was talking about death and disease? They weren’t even on the radar – at least not mine! Yet in the thesaurus of her mind, muddled and corrupted by religion, gay and AIDS were synonymous. Interchangeable. I remember trying to recover from what felt like a sucker punch to the gut. I remember my silence as I tried to catch my breath, regain my footing. Frankly, I’m still slack-jawed by her unwitting admission: her conscience would allow her to be present for my death, but not my life.
To this day, that phone call is the only acknowledgement I have from either one of them that my wedding even took place.
We have, throughout the years, seen each other at family events. Bar Mitzvahs. Funerals. Weddings. It’s always cordial. She loves to dance at the festive occasions, and as her sons got older it became harder and harder to get them on the dance floor. And surely her husband, my mother’s first cousin, wouldn’t be caught dead busting a move. But there’s always me. If the music’s good and I’ve had a cocktail, you can bet I’ll be out there tearing it up. She loves to dance with me. So we dance. But there’s always a distinctly bitter aftertaste. I always feel like a pet or a party favor. A trained seal. Those gays are so much fun at a party! Too bad they’re so sinful and dirty. I think it’s completely lost on her that she loves celebrating family events with me, just not for me.
I have never said any of this to her. I wouldn’t ruin another family member’s celebration with my own stuff. And no, I’ve never written her a letter or called her. We said what needed to be said fourteen years ago. And really, I never think about it. At least I hadn’t – until the other day.
Rick and I received an invitation in the mail. It was for their oldest son’s wedding. To be fair, it was addressed to both of us. (A step in the right direction?) As I stared at the invitation, I was flooded with emotion – an animal with a million heads tried to escape right through my sternum. Bile rose in the back of my throat, and the only words that came to mind were Go fuck yourself. I simultaneously thought that I should be the bigger person. After all, her son did nothing wrong. I thought there’s no way I could kiss her and mazel tov her and celebrate her joy. I thought of my mother whose family is small and who has only two people in the world who can see her childhood in their rear view mirror – who can recall her grandparents and great-grandparents, their apartments, their accents. Only two people who can remember wall paper on walls that probably don’t even exist anymore, smells of dinners long since eaten, and laughter and pain now long buried. Only two – her first cousins. Do I want to rob her of the little family she has left by keeping alive a family rift? What exactly is my responsibility here? I was infuriated that I was essentially being asked to put my family, especially my mother, in the awful position of making them choose. Yet, for all my struggling, I couldn’t escape paraphrasing a Billy Joel song in my head: I didn’t start the fire.
But what if I suck it up and go – for my mom? Or go with the intention of burying a fourteen year old hatchet I’m not even sure they know exists? What then? As these questions pile up around me, I can’t help but imagine the tangible, physical reality of being there, and I stumble upon this scenario: In between going table to table, or maybe after meeting her obligations as the mother of the groom, she’s going to want to dance. With me. She’s going to call on me to celebrate her son’s happiness. And if I go, I’ll have to dance with her. If I go, I should dance with her. But it will be too much for me. I am not a show pony. I am not here to applaud and dance and entertain others while my joys remain unimportant, distasteful, discarded, objectionable.
I am a man. I am a man who met, fell in love with and married another man. There is no immorality in that. Zero. Quite the opposite, actually. There is only beauty. And if she does see immorality or any other word that makes my marriage and life somehow less than, then it is she who is broken. It is she who lacks the mental capacity to look past that barbaric, mindless teaching to see the person right in front of her. She calls it faith, but it is her thoughtless, unexamined faith that is the true immorality. This time around, it is I who must conscientiously object.
I think all weddings are wonderful. In a cynical world, they are the most ridiculously optimistic occasion we have. A wonderful celebration of love and hope and companionship – a light in the darkness of what is frequently a difficult, difficult life. I believe all weddings are to be celebrated. I am sad, and frankly still incredibly pissed off, that she and her husband do not feel the same way.
Even with all that, I’m still not entirely opposed to attending. A few words can put an end to this unnecessary complication, can lighten a wedding invitation, heavy from the burden of so much familial conflict, and restore it to its original state of perfect simplicity. “We’re sorry. We were wrong.” That is the only way I will be able to dance with her at her son’s wedding. Even then, it will not be easy. But easy and possible are different. She started the fire, she can put it out. As long as it burns, however, I won’t be going anywhere near it.