Author, ‘Homo Domesticus: Notes from a Same-Sex Marriage’
October Surprise: A Gay Man, His Mother and the Vote
It was an October day much like today when I found out how divided my mother and I were, the size of the gap between the woman who raised me and the family I have now made for myself. It was 2009, and same-sex marriage was on the ballot in Maine, the state where I grew up and where she still lives.
I left Maine at 16, never living at home again for more than two or three weeks at a time. Though no one else knew this at the time, I felt like I needed to put distance between me and the town where I had nearly committed suicide as a closeted gay teen. I went off to church boarding school and then put myself through college and grad school, each advance a step closer to the future I imagined: life in a city where I could be out, gay and loved.
Leaving home didn’t mean breaking ties with my mother, not even when I came out and she made her disapproval clear, or when I married a man and she refused to attend the service, or when we adopted a child and her first response was dismay — though a providential turn of events changed that opinion soon enough.
No, despite the sting of those opinions, I have always watched out for my mom, calling faithfully every week, helping out with expenses and making the long drive home, because I know she loves me, and because that’s what families do. Happily, over the years, she became fond of my husband and loved her new granddaughter; I felt like our relationship was repaired.
By the fall of 2009, with Mom in ill health, trying to manage her care from afar had become quite stressful. Between calls to her doctor and the staff of the emergency room where she continually ended up, I worked multiple jobs to help cover the cost of her home health aide and a number of her ongoing bills. Raising a child and paying off ancient student loans, it wasn’t like my husband and I were flush with cash, but we kept plugging away, because we knew Mom counted on us to see her through.
So you can imagine our surprise and pain on the last weekend of October that year when we learned that she had already voted to ban same-sex marriage in Maine. In fact, she had gone out of her way to do so; as she rarely left her apartment at this point, she had asked the town clerk to come to her so that she could participate in early voting.
When I asked her how she could possibly have done such a thing, she was clear: She didn’t believe gays were moral or that same-sex marriage was allowed by God, and there would never be anything I could do to change that. We were good enough, in her logic, to be the conduits through which God provided for her needs, and she even agreed that our adoption story had seemed like God’s will, but our gayness trumped all. The pain in my voice was clear when I asked what on Earth her God would have to do to make it clear that He had no problem with us.
Raw with hurt, I warned her that it seemed unlikely that we would make the drive north again to see her anytime soon, which meant it would be a long while before she saw her granddaughter. Ignoring most of that statement, she murmured, “She’s such a beautiful child!” I pointed out to Mom that there were plenty of beautiful children in Maine, as well, with parents just like us, and that she had just made their lives measurably harder. I meant it when I said how glad I was that I didn’t live in Maine, where people like her could hurt people like me.
After I hung up, I didn’t have time to cry for too long: We had my daughter’s entire preschool class coming to the house for a Halloween party that afternoon. The next few hours were filled with stuffing goodie bags, setting up games and making cupcake spiders. Later, as I stood among the costumed children, scudding through fallen leaves as they played monster tag in our backyard, I realized something important and healing.
The world was already moving on, vote or no vote. Eleven mom-and-dad families saw our two-dad household as a family, too, and they’d entrusted their children to our care. These parents had quickly adapted to the contours of a world that my mother couldn’t quite fathom, while their children themselves would never remember anything else. These kids already knew us as a Daddy and a Papa; to them it was just a fact of life. Their real concern that crisp afternoon was candy. And I understood: Mom could vote, but she couldn’t stop time.
It is three years later, and I am thrilled to think that the state I left behind may well become the first state in the union where the voters choose to make same-sex marriage possible. My mom will not be one of them. Do I wish she would help make history? Yes. But I will accept it as a kind of progress that she had decided simply not to vote: She can’t bring herself to endorse families like mine, but now she doesn’t want to have to vote against us, either.
It must be a little frightening when the world spins forward without you; there is powerlessness in realizing that you are being left behind. And for my mom, that’s exactly what’s happening. Even as she stubbornly withholds her vote, she knows this much is true: My family is already the future.