I was in the checkout line at the grocery store on Saturday and the clerk asked me if there was an occasion, since there were two cakes and some ice cream among my purchase. So I explained that my husband’s birthday was this week, and that we had friends coming over Saturday evening. Then she asked if it was a major birthday, and I said that he was turning 48. She grinned and said, “Oh! Forty-eight! You got yourself a young man, didn’t you?” And I laughed and said, “Yes, yes I did!”
There are people who might object to the characterization of a 48-year-old as young, but age is relative and my husband is ten years younger than me. When we first started dating, he was in his 20s while I was in my 30s. More than one of my friends and acquaintances at the time expressed (some less tactfully than others) worry about the difference in our ages. Though I think some of those worries were very inverted. He’s far more sensible and mature than I am, for instance. I know at least one of his friends was convinced that I was an evil old pervert taking advantage of him. I get it. Most of my adult life I think I’ve looked older than my actual age (heck, when I was in my late teens people kept mistaking me for my Mom’s brother rather than her son!). When I look at pictures of him from when we first started dating, I think he barely looked old enough to be in a bar, let alone working as a bartender!
And truth be told, I’ve also felt way too lucky to even be with him, so it’s not like I could blame people for having doubts. But we’ve been together for a bit over 20 years, now, so I hope we’ve put those doubts to rest.
I’ve written before about how wonderful Michael is. So rather than risk repeating myself, I’ll just quote one friend who observed one time when Michael pulled a tool from his pocket and casually repaired a light fixture at a mutual friend’s house, “You’re married to MacGuyver!” while another time when we had to the huge solid oak entertainment center and Michael grabbed it and moved it before the rest of us could get in position to help him the same friend commented, “Your husband is a circus strong man!”
Michael is sweet, kind, helpful, smart, funny, cheerful, and patient. He reads novels faster than anyone I know, and retains memory of even very minor details in the books long after. He cooks incredibly well (the homemade rub he made for the ribs this weekend resulted in supernaturally good ribs, for instance!). He chops vegetables so fast it’s like watching a movie being played back sped up. It seems as if he can repair just about anything. He always finds far more awesome presents for birthdays, anniversaries, housewarmings, and the like than I ever do. And did I mention that he’s both funny and kind?
So, to extend the observation of the cashier: yeah, I’ve got myself a young man, a smart man, a hot man, a kind man, a man that anyone would feel fortunate to know, let alone be married to.
Happy Birthday, Michael. Thanks for letting me share your life!
What’s actually on my list are lots of things that aren’t going to happen, such as Congressional Republicans finding moral spines and impeaching the traitors in the Oval Office, real peace coming to several parts of the world that haven’t known it in many years, homophobic relatives seeing the light, and so forth.Otherwise, when I try to come up with lists, it’s fairly mundane things such as books I want to read, movies I would like to own, nice warm fuzzy socks, or some nice new Andrew Christian underwear. Things that it would be nice to have, but not that I necessarily need. I mean, yeah, socks wear out—particularly for someone like me who has to wear warm socks for medical reasons during cold parts of the year, and thus runs around the house in socks all the time. So, when I put fuzzy socks on my wish lists every year, I really appreciate the folks who get them for me.
I find myself, instead, thinking about things that I’m thankful for and things that I wish I could give to others. Yes, I gave people presents, and the gifts seem to be appreciated. But while I can go to a store and buy someone some chocolate, or that electronic thing they put on their list, or a nice sketchbook, and so on, I can’t give people the job with benefits that they really need, or a non-dysfunctional family, or just health. So I can offer my love and support.
So, this is my list, things I wish for everyone who reads this:
- People in your life who love you
- Someone who appreciates you
Bless us, every one.
We’d only been together for 14 years and 10 months. We weren’t one of the couples of silver-haired people who finally got to legally tie the knot after 50 or more years together. But it still deserved a non-ironic finally. And even though we had been together those years, and I had never doubted his love for me, and couldn’t fathom my life without him, there was something magical and wonderful and powerful about being able to finally call him husband legally.
I had been introducing him as my husband for years. It was a linguistic and political decision I had made before meeting him. Years before Ray died, we had had a commitment ceremony, signed some legal papers (medical power of attorney, wills, that sort of thing). And after that, I called him “my husband.” And now more than 20 years after his death, I still call him “my late husband.”I had tried some of the other words, such as boyfriend or partner. But boyfriend sounded far less serious and fleeting than what our relationship had become. And partner—well, let’s just say that one of the times I used it, an acquaintance literally asked about the business that they thought we were joint owners. So, I started saying husband. And while that sometimes evoked nervous stuttering replies, double-takes, and even the occasional angry comment, it was the word that most accurately described our relationship. And, as I had decided a couple years earlier with the word “queer,” there is power it seizing a word and wielding it like a weapon back in the face of both the actively homophobic and the more thoughtless forms of heterosexism.
I wasn’t surprised that I cried at the wedding (and cried while we were on our way downtown three days earlier, and when strangers handed us rosebuds as we exited the license office, and when a random stranger ran up to us as we were walking away from the courthouse still carrying our roses and gushed “Congratulations!” with tears in her eyes, and when two friends surprised us with a string duet at the ceremony, and… and… and…). There’s an old idiom “he cries at card tricks” to describe those of us who are easily overcome with emotion which most definitely applies to me. But what did surprise me was how, after the ceremony, I would have a little hitch in my voice and feel the surge of my eyes getting watery—not quite tears, but definitely tearing up—whenever I said “husband” for the next several months.
I’d been calling him that (and thinking of him as that) for years, but now it was different. Because for most of my life I had thought I would never be able to legally marry the man I loved. The thought was completely unimaginable! I still have vivid memories of a film they showed us in health class, back in the mid-seventies, during the week we studied “sexual deviancy,” and the film included a scene of two men in pastel tuxedoes walking hand-in-hand down an aisle in what seemed to be a church with the narrator talking about how sexual deviation was so normalized in places like California that people pretended to get married. And it was edited to make it look like they were skipping (you could see the jumps in the flow of the image) with some ridiculous music playing. Meanwhile an entire classroom of my peers were laughing and making gagging sounds all around me.
I had lived through a small number of the most liberal cities in the country setting up domestic partnership registries that carried no actual legal rights, but gave some way to register the relationship so that an employer that decided they wanted to be magnanimous and hand out some benefits to their gay employees, there was a legal-looking paper to point to. And I’d lived through the grudging middle stages, fighting every step as the way, as we got some civil partnership or other half-assed quarter-measure acknowledgement in some states and so forth. I’d watched the bigots spend millions of dollars campaigning against civil unions, angrily insisting that it would destroy the fabric of society and so forth. I had watched, as we slowly won the hearts and minds of a growing percentage of the population, those same bigots suddenly switch to insisted the domestic/civil unions/partnerships were more than adequate and why can’t we live with that so that marriage can be reserved for something special?So intellectually I understand why those same two syllables felt so very different after marriage equality became the law of our home state. As I said after the election, a solid majority of my fellow citizens — a whole bunch of straight people — voted to include us. They staffed phone lines to urge people to vote in favor of equality. They donated money. They showed up and voted. And then hundreds (or more) of those straight people turned up at the courthouses and county offices and so forth on those first days we could get licenses to cheer for people they didn’t know. On the first day the ceremonies could happen, a huge crowd gathered outside city hall to cheer and clap and being the receiving line for a bunch of queer couples — strangers! — who had just been joined legally in matrimony. Knowing that made me cry then. And it makes me tear up long long after any time I’m reminded of it.
Which happens to be every time I refer to my husband…
So! Today is the five-year anniversary of the day we stood in front of many of our loved ones and exchanged vows. We were pronounced husband and husband and I cried. He’s the most wonderful man I know. I really, seriously can’t quite understand why he puts up with me, let alone loves me. But I’m eternally grateful that he does.
Happy Anniversary, Michael!
A note about the title of this post: I’ve been reading the Savage Love advice column for decades, through the years before Dan Savage met his husband, Terry, when they started dating, when they adopting a kid together, when they finally legally married (in Canada), and so forth. After the Canadian wedding, Dan started referring to Terry as his husband in a very exaggerated pronunciation: “mah huzzzzben!” And I always took it as his way of being proud and a bit shocked that marriage equality had arrived in at least some places within his life time. I always thought it was cute. In a recent blog post he answered a question from a reader who felt that the weird pronunciation was an insult to Terry, or something, and Dan explained:
I started calling Terry mah huzzzzben when we got married—more than a dozen years ago—because in all honesty it felt so weird to call him that. To be able to call him that. I never expected that marriage, legal marriage, would happen in our lifetimes. And while I didn’t have a problem calling him my boyfriend, calling him my husband took some getting used to. So I played up my… well, not quite my discomfort with the word. I played up my unfamiliarity with it. It felt strange to say it—the word “husband,” unlike my husband, felt awkward in my mouth—so I said the word in an awkward way. I did what I advise my readers/listeners to do: you gotta embrace awkwardness to get past it. And I am past it now. It no longer feels strange to call Terry my husband, and I’m capable of saying the word these days without hesitation. But you know what? I like calling him mah huzzzzben. It’s less “this is weird and new and feels awkward to say!” and more “this is my own affectionate pet name for him!” And I’m gonna keep saying it.
I still think it’s cute.
Then a couple of nurses turned off the monitors, removed the respirator tubes, and turned off the rest of the machines.
I held Ray’s hand. I said, “Good-bye.”
I’d been crying off and on for hours—days, technically (though I’d only slept a couple hours out of the previous 59-ish, so it seemed like one really long, horrible day).
My last chronologically-in-order memory is taking hold of his hand that one last time. My memories for the next few months are like the shards of a thoroughly shattered stained glass window.
When we had our commitment ceremony several years earlier, he promised me he would stay with me for the rest of his life.
I consider myself indescribably lucky to have had that kind of love in my life. The fact that after Ray’s death I later met and fell in love with another man does nothing to reduce the sense of loss I feel when I think about Ray.
In fact, I get irritated at the kind of people who use phrases such as “That’s not a real word!” when someone uses a word that they don’t believe is in the dictionary. One reason they annoy me is that they are usually wrong. For example, “embiggen” is a word that has been used in print since at least 1884—one hundred and thirty-six years ago. Similarly, another word I’ve seen people sneer at others for using, “kitty-corner” (and its variants cater-corner and catty-corner) have been in the language for many centuries, since at least medieval times when it was spelled “catre-cornered.”
But another reason they irritate me is that the dictionary definition of the word “word” is “a sequence of sounds or morphemes intuitively recognized by native speakers as constituting a basic unit of meaningful speech used in the forming of sentences.” In other words, if the people listening understand it, it’s a word.
But sometimes I run across a word or turn of phrase that I understand, but wonder why it’s needed. The last few years I’ve noticed a bunch of my evangelical relatives and their friends referring to the wives of their sons as “my daughter in love” and the husbands of their daughters as “my son in love.” Now, the first time I saw it in a Facebook update or where ever I read the update, I thought maybe it was a bit of autocorrect weirdness.
But I started seeing it more and more, and realized it couldn’t be that many autocorrects. So for some reason a bunch of people had decided to abandon the perfectly understandable and long-standing words “son-in-law” and “daughter-in-law” with phrases that sound similar, and mostly mean the same, but also seem to be a kind of virtue signaling, you know? As in, “see what a great relationship I have with my son-in-law/daughter-in-law?”
I admit, one reason it felt like virtue signaling to me is that, because most of the people I saw using the term are folks I’ve known for many, many years, I couldn’t help notice that one person with a gay son who happened to be married to another man kept referring to the husband of her son as “his friend.” I suppose it could be worse—she’s not calling him her son in shame or anything like that.
The Oxford English Dictionary cites as the first use in writing of the term “daughter-in-law” in the year 1536, but traces the use if the suffix “-in-law” (though it was spelled “yn law”) a couple of centuries earlier to approximately the year 1300. Daughter-in-law usually refers to the wife of one’s son, though it was sometimes used also to refer to step-daughters. Brother-in-law is oldest form of the suffix, which can refer to the brother of one’s spouse, the husband of one’s sibling, or even the husband of the sibling of one’s own spouse.
The law in question, by the way, isn’t related to civil marriage laws. The original sense of the word comes from older religious and social prohibitions against marrying the widow of one’s own brother. The widow can’t marry her late husband’s brother, because in the eyes of Sammy the Supreme Being or whoever, her late husband’s brother is the equivalent of her own brother. Once the person has married into the family, they become the equivalent of a blood relative to the other members of the family.
I realize to modern ears the “in-law” suffix might imply the one is required by law to accept the person, whether you wish to or not, having forgotten that the original law in question wasn’t like the modern sense of legislative constraints
I did some google searches on “son in love” and “daughter in love” with and without hyphens, hoping to find something to give a clue as to when this particular construction came about. Most of my searches weren’t very useful, leading to blog posts and articles that were fairly recent and didn’t strike me as the sort of thing that would become part of the American Evangelical gestalt. I also kept finding references (mostly at wedding sites, and usually under the heading of Religious Service) a poem that began with the phrase “You came to me not after nine months of waiting…” and is suggested as something that the mother of the groom could read at some point in the ceremony to welcome the bride into the family. Most of the sites list it without attribution, but I eventually found a version of the poem posted without blanks for the mother-in-law to fill in with things like her age and so forth, attributed to Roberta Anne Hahn. And it includes this sentiment:
Here was not a person I could call
because that sounds like a contract
and doesn’t begin to describe our relationship.
Law has nothing to do with it… but LOVE does.
It’s the kind of poem my grandmother would have described as “lovely.” Words I find more accurate are “cheesy,” “corny,” “cloying,” “schmaltz,” and “eye-rollingly bad,” It is also way, way too long for a reading at a wedding and I feel great sympathy for any people who have had to sit through a reading of it. Since variants of this thing have apparently been read (or at least considered for reading) at the weddings of people who turned to the internet rather than the Book of Common Prayer for guidance on their religious marriage ceremony, I could see how “daughter-in-love” as a preferred term for the wife of one’s son would catch on in certain evangelical circles.
I do find it ironic that the original meaning of the “in-law” suffix came from religious law, and now the same people who are always clamoring about how god’s law should override man’s law are trashing a bit of god’s law under the uninformed notion that this word has something to do with the legislative code. But then, those folks aren’t known for reading much of their own holy book, anyway. Why should I expect them to know how to use a good dictionary?
Nineteen years and one week ago, Michael and I went on our first official date.
We had known each other for a few years. Ray and I had met him at a NorWesCon a couple years before that, and then again at the next NorWesCon (where he signed up for the Tai-Pan mailing list), and then he came to a Red Dwarf Marathon Party at our place and we started hanging out a lot. Then, when Ray died, Michael was one of the friends who kept me from completely falling apart.
It hadn’t been quite three months since Ray’s death when I asked Michael on a real date. I was nervous, not about the date, because we were already friends, but I wasn’t sure how some of my friends would react to the news. The first person I told was Kehf. She put her fists up, went “Woooo! I hoped something like this was happening. He lights up when you walk into a room.”
And the only thing I could think of was that I wanted to keep making Michael smile. I wanted that smile in my life forever.
I didn’t propose that weekend. But it wasn’t long after. We didn’t tell people, because I was still getting some weird reactions from several friends (and even worse from family) at just the thought that I was dating so soon after Ray’s death. So we made this very sober and rational plan that we would wait until at least November before moving in together. And we might have sticked to it, too. But some weirdness happened with a pair of new roommates at the house he was sharing with several (they weren’t hostile, they just had no sense of boundaries and did weird things like decide to switch rooms with him and moved all of his stuff without consulting first, and other creepy things) and I barely stopped myself from going ballistic. He was being calm and telling me I was overreacting, and I was “No! We’re getting you out of there now!”
So he moved in with me in August of ’98 and we’ve been together ever since.
I would have to go dig around in the filing cabinet to remember the date of our commitment ceremony. My then-employer changed the rules for adding domestic partners to insurance, and we had to have certain papers signed by a particular date, so the times was thrust on us. We decided to sign medical powers of attorney while we were at it, and since you need to have a notary and witnesses for that we made a small party out of it. It was fun, but wasn’t timing of our choosing. Neither to I remember the exact date we officially signed the paperwork for the state level civil unions, when they became legal.
Our wedding when marriage became legal in the state was also a date that wasn’t entirely our choosing (the very first day you could legally do it), but because of when the law passed the previous spring, and its implementation being delayed because of the anti-gay referendum attempt, and ultimately the voters getting to approve marriage by a comfortable margin, we had months to plan. And our friends threw us a great shindig. So that date I remember. It’s an anniversary, legally and otherwise.But while I don’t remember other details of our first date, I do remember it was February 7, 1998, and it was clearly one of the most important days in my life. We didn’t have a meet-cute. We didn’t experience a lot of hijinks or drama. I still can’t quite believe such a funny, smart, talented, wonderful man can put up with me at all, let alone love me. But he does. And clearly I’m completely and totally gone on him. Happy Valentine’s Day, Michael!
For some reason, I thought Saturday was the 9th. And I had Friday off as a vacation day, whereas he was going to be working. And I knew I had to finish the Christmas shopping on Friday, so it would be the perfect time to pick up the fixin’s for the breakfast, right?
Well, Friday we got snow, so at about 5:30am when my hubby usually goes to work he woke me up to tell me he’d decided to take a personal day rather than ride his bike on the ice- and snow- covered roads while Seattle drivers were losing their minds because of snow. Fine, no problem, I could still do this. When I woke up later I was working on some writing and trying to decide when I should go shopping when I finally noticed that my calendar app on the computer had a big ol’ 9 on the icon.
Funny side note: on Thursday, that same calendar app gave me a reminder that a former co-worker’s birthday was Friday. But it didn’t remind me that my anniversary was the same day because genius that I am, I have never entered our anniversary into the calendar. D’oh!
Midmorning I realized that our anniversary wasn’t Saturday, but it was that day. So I went upstairs, wished him a happy anniversary, and apologized for getting the days mixed up. He pointed out that he hadn’t said anything about it, either, so I didn’t really have anything to apologize for.
So, we went out to brunch, then we did the Christmas shopping together, I didn’t pick up the breakfast fixin’s. It was okay.
This morning, I woke up and decided that I would proceed with the plan. So I walked to Ballard Market, picked up flowers, picked up fixin’s for biscuits, gravy, scrambled eggs, and bacon breakfast, and came home and got to work.
I was about midway through cooking when he got out of bed earlier than usual and came downstairs. He expressed surprised I was cooking a big breakfast. I told him that I was in the middle of making a surprise breakfast for him, and shoo-ed him out of the kitchen saying, “Go look at your late Anniversary Flowers!”
And he said, “They aren’t late. They’re Anniversary-plus-one Flowers.”
I don’t deserve him.
But there are good things in my life. Specifically, good people. My husband. Our many wonderful friends. People near and far who have reached out to say we’re not alone in this. For most of my life family hasn’t referred to people who happen to be related to me by blood. Yes, a couple of my actual relatives have always been supportive and accepting even while others were most actively letting me know that my queer self was not welcome, but they are the minority. I’ve felt much more welcome and accepted by many of my in-laws. Not only that, my ex-wife and several of her family members have been more accepting of me than most of my blood relatives.
But blood or DNA isn’t what makes someone family. I will fight anyone who tries to say the my mom’s adoptive father wasn’t my real Grandpa, for instance. Family are the people who love you not in spite of your flaws, but including the flaws. It’s known that they have your back, and that you have theirs. The old joke is that a friend might help you move, but a real friend will help you move a body; and I am lucky enough to have some friends of the latter category (and I hope they know that I’m in that category for them, too).
The larger world seems to be out of control right now. What’s getting me through the craziness is knowing that I have these people I love, and who love me as well.
Nineteen years ago today I had to sign some papers.
Then a couple of nurses turned off the monitors, removed the respirator tubes, and turned off the rest of the machines.
I held Ray’s hand, and said “Good-bye.”
I’d been crying off and on for hours—days, technically (though I’d only slept a couple hours out of the previous 59-ish, so it seemed like one really long, horrible day).
I don’t remember if I cried again. My last chronologically-in-order memory is taking hold of his hand that one last time. My memories for the next few months are like the shards of a thoroughly shattered stained glass window.He promised me he would stay with me for the rest of his life.
And he did.
Just a bit over 26 years ago I met a boy…
He was 25 years old, so not really a boy, but then I was only 29. I wasn’t completely out of the closet, yet. I regularly went dancing at a gay country bar, and I had just started singing with a newly formed lesbian & gay chorus, so I wasn’t deeply closeted, either. But as far as I knew at the time, other than one cousin none of my family knew I was gay. And only a few of my long-term friends knew.
Ray and I met online on a gay BBS system, and after lots of chatting over several weeks, had finally agreed to meet at a restaurant. I had trouble finding him, because he forgot to tell me that he’d recently dyed his hair. I wasn’t looking for a redhead.
I suspected he was a keeper when I saw the small bookcase beside his bed. I knew he was a keeper when we talked about one particular worn hardback. Not because of which book it was, but because he had a favorite book that he re-read several times a year. And talking about it made him start talking very animatedly about a lot of his other favorite books.
We’d been officially dating for a few months when he first told me that he liked to write. He hadn’t mentioned it before because I earned my living as a technical writer, and while my fiction had mostly been published in small, non-paying ‘zines, he was a little nervous about showing me his work. Turned out he’d never shown anyone his writing before. He had a bit of an inferiority complex about his education: he’d dropped out of high school after his father died to go to work to help his mom support his younger siblings. He had since gotten his GED and taken some community college classes, but he wasn’t confident in his writing skills.
I asked him if he wanted my honest opinion. I admit I was a bit nervous, too. What if I hated his work and couldn’t hide it? Fortunately, the first story he showed me wasn’t bad. It needed work. But he was happy to receive critiques and borrow some of my books about the writing process.
He kept working at it. Revising, writing, reading. He started occasionally sharing his work with other people. He even managed to get a couple of stories published in small ‘zines.
Then he got sick. When the doctors first told us he had two years or less to live, I refused to believe it. I was certain we were going to beat this. For the next few years there were lots of tests, treatments, a few scary visits to the ER, and then chemotherapy.
One night just over three years after they had told us he had less than two years to live (seven years and three months after our first date) he had a seizure and fell into a coma. I spent the next several days sitting beside his bed in an intensive care unit, waiting for him to wake up. But it wasn’t to be.
During the weeks afterward I went through his things, with help from his mother and sister. In the cabinet under the night table on his side of the bed, inside an envelope that said, “No Peeking!” I found a small package wrapped with Christmas paper, with a gift tag that said, “To Gene, Love Ray.” I didn’t open it. But the package was the size of a paperback book. And in another envelope in the same cabinet were two identical copies of a paperback anthology, along with some correspondence from the editor of the anthology.
He had sold two short stories that were included in that anthology. He’d sold them the year before, and had received copies of the book nine months before he died. And he’d never said a word to me about it. He’d wanted it to be a surprise.
He had a deadline for another anthology with the same editor coming up. I couldn’t figure out which of the stories he had on his computer he had intended to submit. I wrote to the editor and explained that Ray had died. The editor sent a very thoughtful condolence note back.
Ray had made his first professional fiction sale—two stories! —a mere six years after shyly admitting he was afraid to show his work to other people, but didn’t tell me because he wanted to see the expression on my face when I opened the package Christmas morning. I wish I’d known. I wish I’d been able to tell him how proud I was of him. I wish I’d been able to grab a Sharpie, hold the book out to him, and ask for his autograph.
Make no mistake, I love my husband, Michael. Every time I see his smile, I feel like the luckiest man in world. But I loved Ray, too. I miss him. I wish he had lived to see the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, to see the citizens of our state vote to give same-sex couples the right to marry, to see the Supreme Court overturn the Defense of Marriage Act, and of course to see that same court make marriage equality the law of the land.
This week Michael and I are going through our things, hauling stuff to Goodwill and so forth. We’re both packrats from long lines of packrats, so we have to do these purges every year or so. I tend to hang onto things, and I get overly sentimental over a lot of those things. I had a couple of rough moments Monday. One was when I came across the book with Ray’s stories on a shelf. Another was when I was pulling plushies from another shelf and found a small, peach-colored Teddy Bear. Only a few weeks after we started dating, Ray had to fly to Georgia for a business obligation. He picked up the teddy bear for me and a coffee mug for himself in a souvenir shop. Yes, 26 years later, I still have the “Georgia On My Mind” mug, and I still think of it as Ray’s mug.If he’d lived, today would have been Ray’s 52nd birthday. That’s right, our birthdays were only two days apart. We usually wound up celebrating both birthdays together with his family, and then would celebrate just the two of us on our actual birthdays. I assume that that is the reason that I start getting a bit depressed and moody every September. I can’t think about my birthday coming up without thinking about his birthday that we don’t get to celebrate.
I would love to see his goofy grin over a cake covered with candles at least one more time.