Thursday, August 19, 2010

To get them thinking...

Out front weeding the other day with Willie the blessing daschund supervising; one of my neighbours stopped to chat on his way home . The first time we’d ever really talked; he’s in his early thirties and until that day it’s been little more than a cordial but rushed 'Bonjour' or 'Salut'. This happens with a lot of the people on our charmed little street when we're working in the front garden.

As my grandfather would have said, my neighbour's a tall drink of water, with thick 60’s sideburns down either side & a pencil-thin line of dark hair bracketing each side of his chin. Definitely a slightly homely original. When not dressed retro, he’s usually in what I've probably assumed were ‘medical whites-’ perhaps on staff at one of the medical facilities or seniors’ residences within easy distance of our little street. Turns out however he’s a kitchen aid at one of those same facilities, and his irregular hours account for his mid-afternoon return home. Six-a.m. ‘till three p.m. means he’s usually leaving home just before five-thirty in the morning.

It’s when we were speaking of his working hours that the conversation got really interesting. Talking about how his schedule can complicate relationships- out of sync with family, friends or a partner. And here it’s important to remember we were speaking in French where words have a qualifying gender association. Specifically, I’d referred to ‘ton partenaire- elle ou lui devrais...’ ‘your partner, he or she must..’.

In his very next sentence- without making an issue of it- he made it clear the partner was she- 'ma blonde' the girlfriend- and the ease of the clarification as much as anything was a reflection of the very civil reality of living in a country where gender is not a qualifying consideratin for marriage; where the rights of my LGBT tribe has been fully protected under the Canadian Human Rights Charter for decades (Merci encore Pierre Trudeau), and where gay men and women serve with full human dignity in our armed forces. We went on to speak of other things...

He’d already stepped away, and I was back on my knees just about to resume weeding when he hesitated and turned back. 'Est ce que je peut tu demander un question?’ Can I ask you something?

Mais oui..

'Did you really think I might be gay?' Not the slightest hint of anything but amused curiosity in his voice.

I couldn’t help it- I chuckled, and went on to explain that for me referring to the possibility of his partner being of either gender was a courtesy more than speculation about his gender. How, after living as an out gay may for more than a couple decades now, I’ve learned to never under-estimate the wondrous diversity of my LGBT tribe. And besides which, it got him thinking didn’t it?

It took him a moment, but he also laughed. 'You’re right... Growing up, one of my best friends was gay, and he works in construction now. A contractor with his own company. ‘Mais, j’ai jamais pensé que quel q’un pourrais me tromper pour un gaie..’ But I never thought...

Another chuckle, and he headed off for a quick nap and then to prepare supper for his ‘girlfriend’ who doesn’t get home until shortly before six.

And then last evening, a call from F and his partner who live in a state with none of the protection or rights offered to LGBT Canadians. F is in his early eighties. He, and M, his spouse of more than thirty years are both retired academics and apparently the other day heading out to do the groceries, F was stopped in the parking lot by one of his neighbours.

‘All this stuff, going on in California, about gay marriage... If it were possible, would the two of you, at your age even bother?’ Probably nothing more than idle curiosity on her part, F assured me, but I didn’t miss a beat- in reassuring her of course we would. 'The whole nine yards-' he told me, 'you know how M and I love to dress up.'

Apparently, just over a year ago, when invited to attended the black tie wedding of M’s niece ‘up north,’ the two of them had given a lot of thought to rental or purchase of new tuxedos. They’d ended up buying- ‘just in case it ever becomes possible’ F explained.

‘A civil marriage- sure- for the longer overdue legal rights and protections- to help create a new statistical reality...'

'Been married for twenty-eight years,’ F told his neighbour, ‘in the eyes of God at least- which is the only party who really matters.’

F & M were married by an Episcopal priest- a convert himself, he was also responsible for both mens’ encounter with the Episcopal Church- their baptism & confirmation. F & M are also godfathers to one of that priest’s grandsons. Now that's what I call the radical welcome of real mission!

‘You know what really gets me though-’ F told me with a hint of frustration, ‘when they insist on calling it same-sex marriage, as if our bits and pieces are the most important thing about us. ’

M was on their second phone and shared how he still loves confusing folks when he refers to F as his husband. ‘Of course, in the right company, I might also call him my wife...’ he chortled.

Things really got wild when I shared with both men the slight linguistic shift I resorted to several times recently. 'Gender-discordant couples-' and even that’s a little more reactive than I generally like to be. It doesn’t exactly disarm the prejudice and assumption of certain gender-discondantly-inclined individuals to try to impose their definitions what’s normal and acceptable in the eyes of God- but at least sometimes it gets folks thinking- or rethinking, and that’s got to be some sort of progress.

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