Is cousin-in-law a term? Let’s go with the answer to that question as a ‘yes’. Today, my cell phone vibrated in the middle of the work day with a call from my cousin-in-law, Phi. I don’t recall the last time Phil and I spoke by phone so my mind immediately went into that worst case scenario mode of the someone is either dead, or dying, variety. Usually this concern is directed to a close relative, though occasionally I’m honestly fearful it may be about Betty White passing. Yes, I felt this way before the whole Saturday Night Live hosting gig but she’s old, and her time is limited. It’s going to be a sad, sad day when she goes. The Hallmark Channel may finally come out of the closet as the Golden Girls channel when that dark day arrives. Meanwhile every gay bar in the continental U.S. will have lines out the front door and a massive vodka shortage that’ll make Judy Garland’s wake look like a sham.
We’ve all had those moments where we get an unexpected phone call and our instinct is to replace a greeting of “hello” with something more like, “How far has the pancreatic cancer spread?” or “Did his liver finally give out?” Fortunately, the call from Phil carried no bad news. Instead, this call was seeking my advice as a professional gay. While I don’t carry a rainbow card, and I don’t think I’ve actually given any money to HRC, it’s sometimes good to be the token in your family. God forbid there was another gay individual who could offer adverse advice. Their lack of presence makes me the expert. Thank goodness I’m so often right.
Phil sounded inquisitive, and somewhat stressed. He shared that he had spent the last half hour debating with a co-worker. The co-worker’s name I don’t know, and I’m dreading continually retyping the word “co-worker” so let’s just call him Ted. Ted’s a social conservative but supports gay people having civil unions with all the benefits of marriage, just not to call it marriage. Sure, you can eat that hamburger but just don’t call it a hamburger!
Phil was seeking my opinion on the topic. I’m not sure if Phil was having an especially slow day at work, or was wearing his social justice cap, but an ally is an ally, and family is family, so it’s all good.
I find old Teddy’s opinion to be interesting, and of the dated ‘separate but equal’ category. Ted, who I’m mentally envisioning as a divorced father of two adorned in a Brooks Brothers suit with a hankering for old fashions, is of the opinion that marriage is defined as solely between a man and a woman. Ted’s entitled to his opinion as I am my own. I’m sure Ted would think I appreciate his approval of my civil union but, in my belief, language is powerful. Calling the same thing by two different names sends a message that something is a tad off. Rather, I believe an inherent message lies within this framework that one is normal/better/ideal, and the other is, well, it’s other. Generally, in U.S. society, and any other place on the planet for that matter, being defined as ‘other’ comes with moderate to severe stigma. Hell, we spent the last six years freaked out by “the others” on LOST. What more proof do we need that that?
Yes, some revel in their otherness and are defined by their lack of definition (hmm maybe that’s developmental?) but I think for the majority, we all want to fit in and enjoy the same rights, privileges, and opportunities to screw up as the rest of society. That same society, I optimistically believe, is changing, and changing rapidly. Positive visibility of gays was slim to none less than two decades ago. A tremendous amount of change has happened in very brief span of time. Even social conservatives like Ted are coming along. We’re not there yet though. There’ still work to be done, marches to be had, and drink specials afterwards in which to partake. While Ted may not get to that place of seeing his separate but equal philosophy isn’t going to fly, I do believe his children will, whether that be regarding their beliefs in a more equal and just society, or when they decide to marry whoever it is they marry, and not civil unionize.