Homo at Large
Until this past weekend I never realized just how stressful family gatherings are. All these years it seems I've taken advantage of my limited visit time, never concerning myself with any underlying animosities among us.
Not that there are any. Or many. Hell, I don't even know.
Nobody can get away with "puttin' on a show" (as we call it) around here; we sniff them out rather quickly. I can't get into specifics, because it's none of your business, so feel sufficiently informed when I say that there came a point this past Saturday, at my cousin's wedding, when I found myself wishing all the "adults" of my parents' generation still acted as though everything was great.
When my aunt and uncle were still married and nobody knew how much they hated each other, I had fun.
When my mom pretended she could get along with that one person in her family who she can't, I had fun.
When another aunt brought a new husband home after abandoning another family entirely and everyone embraced her, I had fun.
I had fun because I was young, so young that I didn't realize how complex life is for adults. When you're that young, there is no such thing as compromise, no deluded sense that, for the betterment of the family, you'll keep quiet.
Who knows? Maybe I did know that. When I came out ten years ago, I lived about fifteen hundred miles away. I told mom and within the next few weeks, long after I'd returned to Nashville, she told everyone else. No fuss, no muss on my end.
Yet it's influenced my relationship with my extended family. I was never there to personally gauge their reactions, so I've no idea whether they expect a whole new "Joe" to come flamin' out at them when I show up (like a lot of my straight friends did, incidentally), or -- because this is Canada -- whether there's a sense among them that I'm the same ol' me. Just a bit gayer.
Even that last line is a joke I know I can only get away with among you all.
My cousin got married this past weekend and the entire day moved along flawlessly. One lone bad spot: a rain threatened to ruin the day as the church ceremony began, then it stopped just as we were leaving. Though we grew up only a few miles away from one another and, perhaps more significantly, though she's almost ten years my junior, this specific cousin of mine (and her younger sisters) and I don't have a great amount in common. We were never close in a way I enjoyed with my other cousins, so I was a bit hesitant as to what I should expect that day. Mom did join me, by the way.
One of my other cousins, and her mom, didn't show up like my mother had originally planned to do and it made me mad because, in my mind, be it a wedding or a funeral, an invited guest is just supposed to go. Don't think about it: just go. It isn't your day, it's someone else's and imagine how terrible your big day would be if everyone you invited just brushed it off like you did. That's how I think.
Perhaps they, like my mom, are so far beyond "acting" as though they're enjoying themselves when they know, for whatever reason, that they won't that it was for the best they didn't join us. It makes me wonder if I'm somewhere in between these two extremes, and someday I'll refuse to "just go" because I've reached some higher truth that outweighs courtesy.
My cousin, the bride, greeted me just before the reception. In the receiving line with her (handsome) groom, his and her parents, she looked up toward my eyes and said, "Hi Joe." I smiled, hugged her and said the obligatory, "Congratulations you look great" and threw in a joke about being the favorite cousin when I introduced myself to the groom (and, as I sit here now, I can probably guarantee I was one of the pitifully few males who commented on her gown) and I was genuinely relieved that she recognized me after all these years. My radical change in appearance is one of the delusions I've convinced myself of.
In the end, I drove home that night with no complaints. I danced and shared a drink with relatives I hadn't spent a great deal of time with since I was a teenager, who in that sense don't know just how I've grown. I realize as I write this now how much I'd entirely been disregarding any degree that they've all changed.
The presence of the only gay guy in the room don't mean shit if we're all different people than we were twelve years ago.
Moving home is becoming a lot more of a challenge than I expected. I smirked all while I mentioned to a cousin that I've been here three months now and her mother has yet to invite me to dinner. She smiled and reminded me that my mother hasn't yet invited them to a "welcome Joe home" dinner either.
Native people laugh in the face of formality. We embrace irony, self-deprecation and, above all else, humor. I see now how difficult at times it was for me when I lived away from here to adapt to a world that appreciated courtesies a bit more, especially living in the South. Now, I find myself still out of sorts but from the opposite perspective.