Saturday, September 30, 2006
A Gay Wedding
Last weekend, gf and I flew to Massachusetts for a gay wedding. I remember getting the first draft of the ceremony on email a week or two before. "Oh no," I told gf, as I gazed in horror at the clauses of a Pablo Neruda poem, something codependent about your hand being my hand and my hand being your hand. "It's so . . . sentimental!"
I also freaked out about the date. A whole weekend spent travelling in the middle of the semester. Flights with two legs each way so we could afford them. A day of missed classes on Friday, and Monday morning missed as well. And what--with my year of overweight unemployment wardrobe--to wear?
"Why, why do gay people have to get married?" I wailed. Why indeed. Weddings are a drag. At my sister's wedding, my mother freaked out and wouldn't let me stay at the house. All the lesbians sat at one table together. None of us felt very comfortable dancing. Weddings seem always to be more for the older people than the people getting married. Weddings are about the fact that you made your parents happy
1. by actually finding someone unwary enough to marry you
2. by giving them the occasion to show their own siblings and cousins that they are not such dysfunctional parents that they can't produce reproducers, and
3. by giving them the chance to look as if they are big spenders.
Now, a gay wedding to go to, for one of my oldest friends. The first gay wedding I'd ever been invited to, and that rarity of rarities besides, a LEGAL one. I'd been asked to co-officiate. Because I don't live in Massachusetts, I couldn't be the "official for a day" that married them, but I could help the official. I could write something sweet to say. Ugh! Now I had to find something to wear AND do wedding homework.
GF and I flew into Providence and were picked up at the airport by friends of my friend. They had an SUV with a navigation system that talked. They had named her Dolly, and we joked about what would happen if Dolly snapped. What if you caught her on a bad day, and she was drunk and maudlin, feeling unappreciated? Would that calm, valium-coated calm crack? What if we took the opposite route from the one she patiently outlined? Would she swear at us, or pout quietly? Would she take her revenge by luring us somewhere completely out of our way?
Not having many friends wealthy or bourgeois enough for SUVs, let alone with navigation systems, GF and I marvelled at Dolly, and the lesbians who used her so callously. We patted the creamy leather seats and laughed at all their jokes. Later that afternoon, we marvelled at the big bed and breakfast on Buzzard's Bay where we had luxurious rooms paid for by my friend, who wanted us to come and knew we couldn't otherwise. You could see the ocean from the windows at the headboard of our king-sized bed. Lesbians with money. How dreamy it felt to be swept into the soft rush of comfort, where material things were mostly taken care of and people were free to focus on their emotions, their friendships, their families. How nice to escape our apartment where bored cats clamored constantly for attention, and the toddler upstairs regularly erupted in a lengthy, head-splitting trot up and down the entire length of the apartment.
GF always seems to look nice, and has a decent wardrobe of teaching clothes and snappy outfits she pulls together on a shoestring. I have one suit and a bunch of polo shirts, but that suit jacket and a brief trip to Dress Barn Woman resulted in some passable ensembles for the dress reheasal dinner and the wedding day itself. The couple who drove us and another couple we knew were staying in the B & B with us. We all drank champagne and chatted in our underwear as we changed for dinner. Suddenly, it was festive.
The dinner was at one of the brides' family house. We all showed up in our suits and drank up their liquor and ate and ate. We made my friend getting married sing Vikki Carr--something she used to love to do 20 years ago. She pretended to protest, then sailed off on "It Must Be Him," accompanied by the rest of us in a rousing chorus. It was a brief, but very welcome camp moment, a female impersonation of female impersonation that offered a respite from the lovely soft normativity of it all. I kept looking around and pinching myself. "It's a gay wedding, " I wanted to say out loud, to the various people I didn't know but tried to chat with. It didn't feel any diffeent from any family event, any wedding I had been to. But it was.
Later that evening, all of us rather drunk, our group sat alone with the brides and talked about relationships. I couldn't believe they were actually going to be able to be legally married in the morning. It felt like something that happened to other people, people on the inside. Not to people you knew well. I found myself looking at them speculatively. I felt like they were different from us, would always be different from us now. They had turned their backs on the sexual revolution, on the "We don't need no piece of paper from the City Hall keeping us tied and true" era of Joni and Janis. They were moving away from the radical sexual politics of the 90s. They were taking vows to be monogamous, to join their stuff together.
They were matter of fact about it, but I wondered whether we would do it too if we could, and how it would feel. I thought about what it feels like to be defined by a lack of options, and tried to imagine the choices I would make if I had them. I gave up because I just couldn't imagine what it would actually feel like. if I could imagine such a thing, would I be a lesbian any more? Or something else?
I became acutely aware of my own guardedness. I am always guarded around straight people--the more normative they are, the more guarded I am. I suppose this is something like the way people of color feel in crowds of white people, though with differences. Some straight people are cooler than others, but few of them get how it feels to be a freak on an everyday basis. Accomodating while being fiercely ourselves is the balancing act of our queer lives. Don't worry, boss, we're really ok EVEN THOUGH we are gay. Don't worry Dad, we won't embarrass you, and you might be surprised how much you like hanging out with us. Don't worry, student of mine, I am your out professor but I really am thinking about World War One poetry right now. It's ok, girl who sits next to me in my law school classes, my body space won't take up too much of yours.
Gay people live like this all the time. We get on a train, and people stare at us, and we pretend not to notice, or care. We get gas in a rural area and leap back into the car as fast as we can. We smile, or don't smile. We try not to seem too comfortable. We rarely say hello to people's children, even when they say hello to us.
At the wedding we were surrounded by lots of heterosexual family, in this case the local family of one of the brides. Family usually means high guardedness mode for me. These were not artists or intellectuals, either, so there were no real bohemian queerish exceptions. They were resolutely normal, married, with kids and houses and jobs. BUT they were there for a lesbian wedding. The secret was not only out of the bag, as it usually is, but it was the subject of the event. The subject.
Can you dig it? That means even the thinnest layer of genteel closet that stubbornly sticks to the social relations around any event not dominated by gay people was GONE. I'm talking about decorum, about social logic, about the truth of relationships. The center was gay, you see. No one could be erased. The species in the center defined other parts of it. We were not aggregate particles, but the main event. And that, my friends, was mind-blowing. That was was made everything lurch slightly out of its normal perspective into something shaded differently. Gay people were not a majority of the attendees by any means. But we were not a minority, or outsiders, because the rules defining us as those things were not possible given the nature of the event.
When the violinist started playing and the flower girls sullenly tossed their petals, I felt like my whole body was being squeezed. My throat closed with emotion. My friend came down the aisle to stand in front of me, escorted by two burly gay men. I blinked back the tears that welled up immediatley with the first strains of music. I looked around, and everyone was blinking back tears. Then her lover came in, and walked down slowly, with a sideways smile. Friends came forward and spoke about the two of them, and about love. I was supposed to speak about evolution in relationships, but having consulted with GF, decided Pater's exhortation to live each moment today was better than talking about measuring a relationship by its pastness. Burn with today, I told them. Let today pulse through you.
Then it was time. We gave them the rings and they said their vows. "Now you will shelter each other," we told the two women getting married that day. "Now you will not feel the rain." Everyone held their breath.
The woman co-officiating with me then tried to say "By the power invested in me by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts" but her voice broke at "Commonwealth." Everyone let out a sigh. Sobbing, she squeezed out "I now pronounce you married!" They kissed, and all you could hear was sniffling in the room.
And then, a loud, long cheer.