|Image description: Dave and Joe standing beside each other, August 1997|
The box arrived in the mail. It came unexpectedly only because I had forgotten that my parents, several months before, had said that they were going to be sending a bunch of stuff our way. They were downsizing and wanted me to have a chance at looking at some of the photos and bric-a-brac that they had collected over the years. Browsing through, I picked up a book and this photograph fell out of it.
It was an emotional kick in the teeth.
I still can't look at the picture without feeling incredible pain.
Bone. Deep. Pain.
Soul. Bruising. Pain.
I put it back in the box, never wanting to see it again. But, one day when the girls were visiting, they pulled the picture out and were fascinated by it. They were particularly taken by the fact that I wasn't in a wheelchair. In fact, particularly for Ruby, it seemed wrong. I laughed with them as they looked at the picture. They are too young to understand what they are seeing. They are too young to understand what this picture represents. Boundaries are the most important skill that a child needs to learn to grow into any hope of safety, and for them to learn it, we have to practice it. I said nothing of what the picture meant to me and why, when they were done, I asked them to put it back in the box, not on the mantle where they thought it should go.
That picture was taken in 1997, by then Joe and I had been a couple for 28 years. We had gone through University together, we'd established a home, we'd developed hopes and plans for our life together. But. It was 1997. It was a different time in 1997. We were surrounded by silence and our life was spoken of in whispers and suppositions and ignorance. We loved each other, dearly and passionately, behind closed doors, at home we existed without distance.
Behind gay walls, be it bar, or restaurant, or club, we were welcome.
But no where else.
We were determined that we would be a couple so I attended Joe's family events, he attended mine. On his turf I was the one who didn't fit - wasn't easily explained. On mine, he was the one who was, in language at least, ripped from me. We were friends. We were room mates. We were the whispers.
I look at that picture and I do not see a couple in love with each other. I see two men standing, stiffly and uncomfortably, as if one or the other was posing with a cousin briefly met and little liked. I see two men with a studied distance between them, a well practiced distance, a distance that kept them safe. I see a fat man with his hands behind his back to stop him from reaching out to put his arm around the other man. I see a mustached man only very slightly leaning, as if pulled by the moon, towards the other.
I see restraint, so well oiled that it doesn't show.
I see the space between.
That morning I would have gotten up, untangling myself from Joe's arms. How do I know this all these years later? Because I got up this morning and untangled myself from Joe's arms. It's how I've gotten up for over 45 years. That morning we would have chatted and laughed and gossiped and planned for the day. Then we would leave the door of the motel, first one, then the other, then the distance between.
I choose today, to show this picture to you. I want you to be able to look at it and see what I see. Oppression. Repression. And Distance. In the shade between my shoulder and Joe's arm, see the face of silence.
That's what they called us. We always left gay identified places with the utmost caution. Until our footfalls were far enough away to make us anonymous again, there was danger. Gay bashing, they called it, but it was simply violence. And even drunk, pissed out of our mind, we walked home, together, separately, never touching. We knew that the dark could easily hide hatred.
That's how employers saw us. I did, on two or three occasions, bring a female friend to a work party. But I stopped that. I couldn't do it. I couldn't. So, I started bringing Joe. And again, the whispers. And the threat of unemployment. We kept it all at bay.
By that fucking distance.
By that stance of indifference.
By that bit of shade that hides the face of silence.
"I don't understand why gay people have to shove it in my face."
"I don't understand why gay people can't just shut up about it."
"I don't understand why gay people need to have special rights, you know, like marriage."
This from a people who shove heterosexuality into every conversation, words like 'husband' and 'wife' and 'children' reserved only for them. This from a people who want their relationship acknowedged at all times, who wear rings to show attachment, so that their heterosexual status is acknowledged even when not spoken. This from people who invented a holiday for public acts of love that has never known ...
Ah, but that's not quite true is it?
There are others whose love required distance. Whose love couldn't be so easily masked. Remember inter-racial marriages and the need of many to stamp out this awful immoral evil. What about people with disabilities in general and people with intellectual disabilities in particular? The idea of love revolts you because in your mind you've neutered our bodies and paid taxes to imprison our bodies.
So this day.
This Valentine's Day. It's creation was by the priveleged few who determined that in their love was beauty, in their relationships was purity, in their hearts God lived.
It's not for us.
Valentine's, Joe and I don't celebrate the day, it passes without notice in our house. Because our house is where we've hidden 46 years of loving. 46 years of being family. 46 years of being able to sleep tangled.
Home, where there is no shadow, no distance and no silence.
See, really see the picture below, see what freedom looks like ...
|Photo Image: Dave and Joe leaning into each other, Joe's head on Dave's shoulder, Dave's head resting on Joe.|
For those of who who are celebrating Valentine's, I wish you a happy day, I truly do.
For those of us who are celebrating the end of distance and silence and shame, we join with you in your revelry.