By Mary Ann Cooper
I’m planning a wedding. Or at least helping to plan one. Sean, my thirty-five year old son who lives in Chicago is getting married next May. The wedding will take place at my younger son’s home in Connecticut, where I also live. The lush yard will hold a tent, dance floor, port-o-potties and everything else that’s necessary for a garden nuptial. Since Sean isn’t here, I offered to help him check things off of his list and make it a memorable day.
My first task was to find a caterer. After speaking with friends and reading reviews, I narrowed my choices down to two. On my first call, I spoke with the owner, an enthusiastic middle-aged-sounding woman. I asked her if we might set up an appointment to review food options.
“I’d be delighted to have you come in,” she said. “I have sample menus you can take a look at and lots of other offerings.”
“Great!” I said.After giving her the date, number of guests and location, we continued.
“Ok,” she said. “Groom’s name?”
“Well, actually, there are two grooms,” I said. “The other groom’s name is Robb.”
She paused. “I don’t understand. Another pause. “Oh, wait – is this a gay wedding?”
“It’s a wedding,” I said. “Is there a problem?”
“Um. No. It’s not a problem,” she said. The chirp had clearly left her voice.
“It’s just that we’ve never catered for gay people before.”
While I was speechless, seconds went by.
“Well,” I said. “That’s a shame.”
Seething inside, I gave her a quick thank you and hung up.
Through the years, I’ve learned how to handle myself when a gay slight or slur is hurled, whether subtle or blatant. Previously, I used to fire back, the mama bear ready to protect her own. Now when it happens, whether I’m at a dinner party or just with another person, I exit the situation, finally realizing that I can’t repair ignorance.
I held my breath as I dialed the next caterer. After hearing Sean and Robb’s names, the owner continued taking information without any hesitation.
“It all sounds good,” she said. “We look forward to accommodating your event, and to meeting the grooms. You said they’re in Chicago? What do they do there?”
Wanting to cry with relief, I told her they were both airline captains. I wanted to tell her more, to tell her how kind and wonderful these two handsome men were. But I didn’t.
“Good for them,” she said. “See you soon.”
Sean was twenty-two and finishing college in Vermont, when after some urging by one of his professors, he came out. His first call was to me. I was always close with my sons. While they were growing up, their dad traveled a lot, and now, newly divorced, I was closer than ever to them. Sitting in my driveway, I was just about to get out of my car when my phone rang.
“Mom. Do you have a minute?”
“Of course,” I said. “How are you?”
“I’m fine, but listen Mom. I want to tell you something.”
“Anything,” I said.
The line was quiet for a moment.
“I’m gay, Mom.”
I heard some relief in his voice, mingled with trepidation. I hesitated, letting it sink in, but realized I had to say something quickly, as I knew he was waiting for my reaction and response.
“Sean,” I said. “I’m so proud of you, honey. I don’t care what you are. I just want you happy. This can’t be easy for you.”
“It’s not,” he said. “For years, I’ve been asking myself, why me? I just wanted to be like everyone else. But I’m finally ok with it.”
“I’m so glad. But it must have been so difficult along the way.”
“It was awful. Seriously, would anyone ever choose to be gay, Mom?”
After we spoke, I was relieved and saddened. Relieved that Sean could finally embrace who he was, yet saddened for what might be ahead of him in places where there were people not yet willing to accept others that don’t fit their concept of normal.
During high school, Sean dated many girls, I believe willing himself to be straight. But the relationships never lasted for more than a month. He’d then get depressed, despondent, and try again. My ex-husband and I knew he was struggling; we witnessed mood swings, anger, but never really knew what the cause was. We had him speak with a therapist, talk with the school counselor. Nothing seemed to help. We did wonder if he was gay, but his outward appearance confused us: Sean was the guy wearing the hat backwards and driving a truck with a girl next to him. We had bought into the stereotypical image of what society says a gay man should look like. Sean later clued me in.
“Mom. It’s not always what you look like. Do you know how many cops, construction workers and servicemen out there that are gay?”
I didn’t, but I’m learning.
It’s been pure joy watching Sean grow into himself, content in his own skin, finally proud of who he is. Proud enough to sit in his cockpit and film a segment for the national “It Gets Better” program, which is aimed at kids who are struggling with their identity. And when Sean met Robb two years ago, it was the icing on an increasingly solid cake.
Last month, I had another wedding planning appointment, this time with a tent company. A representative was meeting me at the backyard to measure and plan the set-up. Luckily, Sean and Robb happened to be in town. Looking around, I smelled the lilacs, looked at the tiered patios and the arbor, and thought what a perfect place it was to have a wedding. As we waited, the three of us discussed wedding ideas.
“How about having paper airplanes coming out of the centerpieces?” I asked. Sean looked at me and rolled his eyes, while Robb stared at the pavement.
“No?” I asked.
A truck entering the yard stopped our conversation.
“Here’s the tent guy,” Sean said.
From the end of the driveway, we saw him approaching. Short with muscular tattooed arms, the tent guy’s teeth held a stubby cigar in one corner of his mouth. He wore a sleeveless New York Giants sweatshirt, and his jeans had a belt with a chain hanging from it.
Oh boy, I thought. I hope this goes well.
Sean stepped up and put his hand out.
“Hey, I’m Sean,” he said. “This is my mom and this is Robb.”
“Joey,” the tent guy said, shaking hands. “Nice to meet you all. Nice yard. Let’s take a look around.”
Walking the grounds together, Sean had questions for Joey.
“Robb and I have a lot of friends coming. Should we go with the larger dance floor?”
Joey stopped walking and quickly looked at Sean and then Robb. He took the cigar butt out.
Uh oh. Here it comes. I knew it.
“Wait. It’s you two gettin’ married?” he asked, pointing from one to the other.
I stared at Joey, waiting for the inevitable.
“Yup,” Sean said. “We are.”
“Well, Jeez,” Joey said. “That’s freakin’ great. Happy for you guys. Don’t worry; we’ll get the right dance floor. It’ll all be good.”
I smiled. Another learning experience for me. Just as I don’t want my son to be labeled, I shouldn’t do it to others. With this in mind, I continue checking items off my list.
Mary Ann Cooper is a writer who resides in Westport, Connecticut. She has been published in numerous publications including, Salon and Halfway Down The Stairs. She is presently at work on her memoir, “The Hollis Ten.”