For only the second time in thirteen years, I missed the pride parade. Missed the festival and dyke march. Missed the flag-waving and feeling of community amidst the sequined queens and glittery signs that have heralded the hot season since 1998, or, as I think of it, my summer of coming out. The first time I missed the festivities, five years ago, I was eight months pregnant and in no mood to battle throngs of jubilant, Molson-swilling revelers in the sweltering heat.
This year, my father-in-law is dying, languishing in home hospice. How and what is there to celebrate?
To clarify, I would be mistaken if I impart that my lover’s father and I enjoy a close, more than cordial, relationship. At best, ours is a tenuous, furtive acknowledgment at family parties and Christmas gatherings, nods borne of grudging acceptance on his part and unease on mine. And yet … realizing his mortality has stricken me like a fist to the gut. The fact that this once strong and affably gruff man – a stoic Cuban banker turned American mechanic, the man who (literally) made the woman I love into the person she is— the fact that he is straddling life but leaning toward death terrifies me, not to mention what it’s done to Jackie.
Of course, I know of his condition only secondhand. Unlike my brother-in-laws’ wives, I am not welcome in my partner’s childhood home. I cannot deliver casseroles for the living, console the soon-to-be widow, or pray the rosary at his bedside. Worse, I cannot hold Jackie’s hand as she holds her semi-conscious father’s, and the fact of my absence during the inevitable memorial service is moot. Ultimately, probably within a few days, my wife will be left to grieve alone, without the support the majority of her family views fundamental for themselves. And while she has rightly spent every waking moment at her parents’ house surrounded by a family of origin (including out-of-state cousins, nieces, nephews, aunts, even colleagues), her wife and daughter stay home. Cocooned. Separate. And definitely unequal.
So I rely upon Jackie’s tearful updates for details and the latest prognoses, unable to lend the kind of comfort that comes from witness, from simply being there. But I try. Picturing her father bedridden, refusing nourishment and stripped of basic bodily control, I can’t help but ache for him, for her, for the entire family that like it or not includes a de facto daughter-in-law. If Jackie and I were a straight couple, I would likely and unhesitatingly been invited to the farewell barbeque, automatically been afforded a seat in the final family portrait. And yet—her father is the only one out of our parents who has even remotely acknowledged our union. He is the one who visited our home to fix my truck’s battery even when my own father wouldn’t for fear he might come face to face with his daughter’s corrupter. So I also grieve even it is from afar. I have become (un)comfortably accustomed to being sidelined during many birthdays and holidays throughout our nine years together, but in this time of sobering sorrow, loss, life and death … I am stunned that in this, too, I am a bystander.
Much as I’ve often been an activist bystander, regardless of my pride participation. Sure, I’ve marched alongside PFLAGers, distributed condom kits, ridden shotgun in a parade motorcade flanked by dancing leather-clad bears. I’ve rallied against marriage laws and completed a brief stint at volunteer housekeeping for infirm lesbians. But I see now that this is painfully insufficient; demonstrations or not, the fact is that public protests mean little if their message fails to translate to its intended audience. Preaching to the choir, in other words, neither inflames or inspires.
Forget, for a minute, the too many of us in the LGBTQ community still do not enjoy even basic relationship recognition. Forget that many of us endure second-class status even within what should be our most sacred nucleus, the family. Shouldn’t disparate treatment, nee disparate status, merit even acknowledgment? Too often it’s not because it’s not seen as a problem to begin with. It’s not enough that our social, legal, and professional standings are repeatedly ignored if not downright trampled; all too often, our most personal connections are also tainted by homophobia ... and we shrug through the pain of rejection and deal with it through avoidance until distance becomes normal. Suddenly, years have elapsed, and although we march by the capitol and wave banners one day a year it’s not enough. Whether through personal or business interactions, too many of us sit idly, mutely by 364 days out of the year and then explode into a feathered frenzy for pride. Yes, there is inherent activism in quietly working our ordinary jobs and living our ordinary lives uncloseted, but so many of us complacently accept the fact that our chosen families are viewed inferior to our “natural” ones ... and by those in the latter category, no less. If they’re viewed at all. Celebrating pride one day a year—or one week, or one month— is hardly fodder for equal rights if the revelers don’t fight for them at home, where it matters most and, ultimately, has the most impact. And though we likely shouldn’t ram our lives down the throats of homophobes even if they share our blood, we should nonetheless refuse to accept prejudice cloaked by family ties. Respect and resolve for ourselves, yes. Concession and kowtowing, no. Even if not staying silent causes tension at the Thanksgiving table.
Since that summer of coming out, pride parades have provided the backdrop to my growth. Truly, they’ve gifted me with life snapshots that show a clear progression from wide-eyed single gal to comfortably settled mom. But even amidst changing personal styles and priorities, the constant goal of pride, at least in my mind, was a broader acceptance, an in-your-face call for federal recognition and legal rights. And while these goals remain true, I’ve shifted them inward, a little closer to home in light of recent events. This year, not attending pride somehow culminated in my strongest celebration to date. And I will not claim victory until my wife’s family deems us worthy enough as a couple to alternately grieve and celebrate.
**Author’s note: The day I finished this piece, I was notified that my father-in-law lost his battle. Rest in peace among the palm trees and white sand, Senor. Thank you for everything.
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