Steven Cheslik-DeMeyer

Family Values: Blogging My Marriage Continued

Filed By Steven Cheslik-DeMeyer | February 26, 2012 5:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Marriage Equality
Tags: family values, gay marriage, marriage equality, same-sex marriage, wedding plans

I mentioned that one of the unexpected effects of planning a wedding is the increased contact with my family - though I wonder why I would have been surprised - and not just contact but a sort of unstudied outpouring of happiness for us that has been deeply moving. Being cc'ed on the email correspondence among our two sisters and my dear friend of 35 years as they worked together to pick out "groomswoman" dresses brought me pleasure beyond words.

It was such a simple, beautiful demonstration of what people always say weddings are about but I never accepted as a thing uncluttered by gender politics and all the ugly stuff about marriage (power, control, property, money): the joining of two families.

I thought my family was close, but C's family is off the hook. The smallest pretext, say, a Super Bowl party, will have C's mom pulling out the air mattresses while dozens of them, aunts and uncles and their kids twice removed, drop everything to drive great distances just to spend a weekend on top of each other. I was frankly a little freaked out at first, but they've been so good to me I can't resist.

For my part, I was lucky if I saw my family (which by the way is quite a bit smaller, just my parents and two siblings) twice a year. I love my parents dearly but from the time I was a teenager it's been crucial to me to establish a life of my own, separate from them. I and my brother and sister all have created lives for ourselves that are very different from each other's and different from my parents'. They encouraged our independence. Maybe it's something about getting older, but this wedding bringing my family closer to me feels very, very nice.

I must here add what I think is a significant complicating factor (not just in talking about C's and my family dynamics but as part of the conversation regarding how queer people's relationships with their families become "normalized"): C's family places great importance on everyone being an active part of each other's lives, being "there for each other," not just recognizing birthdays and other occasions, but calling each other frequently, sharing the details. I think this comes from a sense of duty, but I don't mean that word in the cold sense of hollowly performing actions out of habit or tradition. Their loyalty and affection for each other run deep and true.

However, even though when they're together the conversation never stops, they avoid certain topics. Namely, religion and politics. C's parents, as near as I can make out from what C tells me and from stray bits of conversation that make it through the filter, are Reagan Republicans, which is to say that their conservatism comes from a culture steeped in God-and-country, so-called "traditional values," and a belief that America was better in the 1950s. I don't know this because they've told me. We've never talked about it.

My family, though we certainly don't love each other less, don't spend as much time together. There are whole swaths of our lives that we don't share with each other. We're independent. I correspond with my mom by email regularly, but I don't even know when my parents' wedding anniversary is - they've always celebrated privately. My brother and sister and I are close but we don't share every detail of our lives with each other.

Yet, when we're together we talk (this is, when we talk - it's not unusual for one or all of us to just sit quietly reading when we get together) we often talk about politics and religion. My mom is a die-hard Indiana liberal from way back. I grew up in the midst of racist, homophobic, misogynistic Bible-thumpers and my mom's resistance to them. I don't agree with her on everything - my parents are more conservative than I am on some issues, like immigration - but that makes the conversation more interesting. Our opposition to religious conservatives binds us, and we all enjoy the conversation.

I was discomfited, and am still from time to time, by C's family's ability to chat all day long and skirt these topics. For me, every conversation eventually wants to lead to politics, and I'm usually anxious to get there, so avoiding these topics with C's family is tricky, it interrupts the flow of ideas. For me.

I don't want to come to overly broad conclusions, but my family, with my League of Women Voters mom at the center (though I have to say my mother is a perplexing creature politically: some of my earliest memories of her are of discussions regarding the necessity of the Equal Rights Amendment, but she's always taken an extremely dim view of divorce) defined ourselves in opposition. We were agnostics in the Bible belt. I grew up watching my mother organize our neighborhood to fight racist practices of realtors in the late 60s. We were surrounded by people who not only disagreed with us but who actively, as we saw it, opposed our freedom. Possibly we couldn't afford to avoid the hard subjects.

C's family, on the other hand, are conservatives in North Carolina. They are comfortably in the majority. Perhaps there's no need to talk about politics or religion when everyone within hearing distance agrees with you.

Okay, I've come to overbroad conclusions. This is a blog. Everything I say is subject to dissent. I'm open to critique.

I've strayed, but what I wanted to convey here is how much pleasure I've gotten from the interaction with our families while we plan our wedding, seeing how much it means to them, how much joy our love and commitment brings to them, how much I look forward to them meeting each other and becoming one family surrounding and supporting us.

I'm not oblivious to how this narrative fits neatly with the conservative argument for gay marriage (eloquently - and maybe first? - laid out by Andrew Sullivan in Virtually Normal, the manifesto of the modern gay rights movement though not many will cop to it because of their issues with Sullivan's politics): if you allow queer people to be folded into their families through marriage, give queer people's families a familiar structure through which to support our relationships, you will strengthen and stabilize our relationships and allow us to be full members of our families and hence our communities, etc.

I get it. It would be easy to look at my changing circumstances as just a natural bending toward a conservative world-view that so often happens as people age and stability becomes more important, but I don't think that's the case.

My plan was to chronicle the preparation for my wedding, not to wax abstractly about the deep thoughts in my brain. But I thought, since I've been such a vocal opponent of the gay marriage campaign I should share a bit of what's going on in my head.

On my Facebook page, I posted a link to my last post here about my wedding. Among the congratulations there was a comment from a friend back in Austin who said, "He's read all your old posts, right? I'm sure you had a wrestling match in your head about this." By which he means, "um, what gives?" Wresting match is right.

I sat down to share some of that mental wresting and now I've written two pages and I've barely touched it. So I will take up this discussion of politics in the next post and just tell you that,

  1. We got our wedding invitations this week. They're beautiful. Old-fashioned script on cream card stock with a gold beveled edge. We went through proofs of two or three different fonts before settling on this one. I wanted something that looks handwritten but most of the script fonts looked too feminine. I wanted something that looked like the Gettysburg Address. We're inviting about 95 people and expect about 75 to come.
  2. We got the proofs of our engagement photos. Seriously. Engagement photos. We needed something for our wedding web site. And we want an announcement in the New York Times. Not just an announcement, I want the big "Vows" story. If I'm going to get married, I want the whole hog.

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