ditor's Note: Loren A. Olson MD is a board certified psychiatrist and a Distinguished Life Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association. He has received the "Exemplary Psychiatrist Award" from the National Alliance for Mentally Illness, and has received recognition for his writing and editing. Dr. Olson is also a father and a grandfather who came out in mid-life. He lives on a farm in Iowa where he and his partner of 22 years raise cattle. He blogs at That Magnetic Fire.]
As my partner and I began to tell our families and friends about our plans for our September wedding in Iowa - or, "Iowa-of-all-places" as it's now known -- one of our relatives asked, "Who will be the bride?"
Although in LGBT circles this question often comes up, it is meant as a joke, but this relative was dead serious. She has no experiential infrastructure upon which to build some understanding of same sex marriage. She isn't homophobic or bigoted; she is homo-naïve.
In the universe of most people, weddings are about brides, every young woman's time to be princess and center of attention for a day. Mothers share the spotlight, and it is one of the most intimate moments in the lives of fathers and daughters. (I know; I have two married daughters.) In planning weddings, the families often say, "We're only doing this once, so we want to do it up right." Weddings detonate budgets.
As my partner and I began planning our wedding, my first thought was, "We're both mature gay men, and it's a second wedding for me. Wouldn't it be vulgar to have a big wedding?" We want our wedding to be non-political, a celebration and validation of the 22 years we've already been together. Then I began to think about the potential impact in terms of my granddaughters.
We conceptualize what we don't know from what we do know. Kids in early adolescence can't quite mentally visualize how heterosexual people have sex, but as adults, we realize sex just happens, spontaneously and automatically. When heterosexual people think about men who have sex with men, they often think, and sometimes ask, "Which one of you is the woman?"
There was a time in my life when I was homo-naïve, and I tried to imagine how two men could have homosex, at least beyond the limits of the most obvious ways, and I have to admit, I only thought about man on man sex in sexual terms, not as an expression of love and commitment. No movies are shown in middle school to enlighten men who have sex with men.
One of the benefits of being in a same sex relationship is that there are no rigidly defined gender roles. Tasks are divided on the basis of who does (insert any job) best, and I guess our sex happens in much the same way. Everything is based on mutual likes and dislikes, and nothing is assigned by societal definition.
But as a gay friend of mine said, "Our weddings are historical." We are plowing new prairie here in Iowa, and because of that these weddings also become political whether or not we choose them to be. Our wedding will be one grand coming out party for two older gay men.
Because a wedding between two people of the same sex is inherently revolutionary, our wedding will confront all of our guests with their own values about homosexuality and same-sex marriage. Some of our friends are Baptists, Catholics, and yes, even Republicans. Although they all love us and always treat us respectfully, after they leave the reception celebration they will be asking a question they may have censored, "What will they do on their wedding night?"
As members of the LGBT community, where these questions were answered for us during the process of our coming out, we often forget that others are just beginning to examine the nature of our gay relationships. Sometimes we get reactive and are quick to judge others as homophobes and bigots, and some of them are, but many of them, like our relative, are just homo-naïve. Gay marriage can be legislated; tolerance cannot be.
Those of us who are older gay men and women, since our generation is most strongly opposed to gay rights, have a particular obligation to teach others of our generation that our relationships are just like theirs, even though our weddings may not be. We are obliged to teach them that our relationships are simply about loving another person.
So, at our wedding, who will wear the wedding gown? If there were to be a wedding gown, it would depend upon which one of us knows better how to sew.