Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Here is the letter that I wrote to mom and dad re: Grandma's obit. I haven't sent it yet...not sure if I will.

Dad and Mom,

Before I begin, I want to make two points. Please don’t take this note personally. It is not meant to be a direct observation of you two, but a general sense of the thoughts of the extended family and the community of Grandview in general, sort of written how I would have it unfold in my mind. And, keep in mind that there are bits of sarcasm spread around too. (What? Reid being sarcastic?)

I want to make it obvious that I completely understand the implications of the following observations – I have tried to look at everything from multiple perspectives, so there is no need to defend a position using them. I know defence is the first reaction most people would take to the following pages I am about to write:

That the traditional definition of ‘marriage’ and ‘intimate relationships’ is something our family holds dear and is a construct that many members of our family would consider unchangeable or unalterable.
That apparently some/many members of our family are uncomfortable with the implications my life and relationships have on their sense of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, even though they won’t indicate it in face-to-face conversation.
That most people in our family do not, nor will ever, consider my relationships to be in the same standing or on equal footing as those of my heterosexual cousins, even if the legal system considers them so.
That the family is undergoing grieving and some people may currently not be thinking in a sensitive, impartial way.

Okay, so here goes. Simply, I have been very upset at how I interpret everyone’s reaction to my relationship with Joe. I have this feeling that everyone has been paying me huge lip service over the past four years, but deep down are very resentful or very ashamed of what I am, yet don’t have the guts to say how they truly feel. I assume most don’t really know what to make of it, so they would rather toe the common Grandview line, breezing over an issue they find difficult or challenging (ignorance is bliss, after all) rather than face it, get educated on the facts of it, deal with it, and move on.

No matter how much members of this family wish that things weren’t what they are, the truth is, I love Joe Gallant very much, and we love each other enough that we may even decide to get married one day. End of story. If you don’t like it, tough shit.

Believe it or not, a gay relationship is not the fire and brimstone end of the world as all of the right-wing religious neo-conservatives would have you believe. In fact, some of these relationships are a lot less dysfunctional than some of the ones you would consider ‘normal’, despite all the external pressures gay people have on them to ‘conform to the norm’.

This has sort of been building, but I had been feeling like it had reached a new low point since the weekend at home for Grandma’s funeral. It wasn’t anything tangible, it was lots of little cues in situations that made me feel very inferior or angry. One such situation was down in Grandma’s basement when Grant would get grilled ecstatically by several people on how long him and Tara have been going out, when they’re planning on getting married, and how fantastic it is that they’ve been together for TWO WHOLE YEARS! You know, post-funeral family get-togethers tend to dwell on the living or potentially living to lighten the mood. I don’t mean to pick on Grant – he’s the only one in the family who is in a similar situation as me (unmarried, yet in a long-term relationship)…

I had told Mom (and a few other family members) the fact that Joe and I celebrated our fourth year together on September 20. Grandma’s death and funeral aside, I do understand that there were other more significant things going on in the family at the time, such as Scott and Jen’s expecting, Owen and Chloe’s first wedding anniversary, Dave Pulock’s 40th birthday.

However, was there any acknowledgement of this milestone from anyone at all? No way. It’s just too vile and shameful and society-destroying a concept to even consider that anyone would want things that way, let alone let someone know that they even thought about it in an even remotely affirmative light, or even celebrate it, heaven forbid.

After all, gay relationships are fake, and therefore really easy, right – despite the fact they are completely unnatural and immoral notwithstanding. There’s nothing hard about being an uncommitted, irresponsible, immoral sinner and living with another guy – it would be just like having a satanic roommate, right?

Well, I hate to disappoint you, but a gay relationship is just as much work as a straight relationship. There are emotional, financial, scheduling, security, communication – and yes, even child raising issues for some -- issues that have to be dealt with all the time. The fact that it’s a guy and a girl, two guys or two girls doesn’t make these conversations and compromises any different or easier for anyone. In fact, I would say they are harder to maintain for gay couples because there are the additional pressures of an generally intolerant ‘democratic’ society continually telling you how disgusting and immoral and unbalanced and misguided you are, that you and/or you and your partner are not worthy of equal benefits or respect or privileges because of who you are and your unnatural couplings, even though no one has a problem taking the same amount of tax money or disposable income from gay people as everyone else – things that may possibly have some effects on a person’s psyche and well-being. So, please don’t think things are easy.

I always thought our family valued truth, equality and honesty, but I guess I was wrong, or partly wrong. This all came to a head when I read Grandma’s obituary. There it was in printed words. A large part of who I am was completely and utterly snubbed, omitted, ignored.

First of all, I understood that Joe wouldn’t be included in the listing in the obituary. I know how Grandview works. There’s nothing worse than damaging the family reputation, having all those people talking about you behind your back because you’re the family with the gay son, upsetting the sensibilities of a bunch of people with narrowly defined concepts of right and wrong, black and white (because, obviously there’s no grey area in any matter) that they’ve learned in the church or some similarly misguided channel. Even if Joe had been put in the obit as Leslie Gallant (his legal name - which could’ve kept everyone guessing for awhile I suppose…), there were four things that really stood out for me at this point.

Whoever wrote the obit consciously made a decision to include EVERY family member except Joe and alter the historical truth. I can tolerate that a majority of the family wouldn’t want his name included. I was mostly upset because there was NO consultation on this at all – no one had the gonads to call me and tell me this was going down. I had to read about it for the first time in my Grandma’s obituary!
It really brought home the understanding for me of how my family is receiving this reality. There appears to be a lot of posing and lip service to sweep this issue as far underneath the collective rug as possible. I get the feeling that my lifestyle and life are just a shameful embarrassing black mark on the family’s name and reputation.
Would Grandma have been okay with the truth? Maybe, maybe not. But I believe, understanding how Grandma felt very strongly about equality and diplomacy within her family, that she would rather prefer the truth – an accurate account of reality – in her final life summary. She wouldn’t like to see some skewed, edited version of ‘reality’ in order to avoid rocking the boat and upsetting the tender sensibilities of some old farm wives that have never left the community and seen how any other parts of the world work. But then again, I could be wrong. It’s lucky that my sensibilities and feelings don’t really matter that much so these things can be done. But then, it’s no big deal to offend the fag, is it?
If someone is going to start defending this position with some religious anecdotes, I’d urge them to stop right there. Despite the fact we are thankfully a secular family and no one in the family should be making ANY religious references at all, the fact that Grant’s girlfriend Tara got full inclusion in the obit blows this theory out of the water. If Joe and I are living in sin, technically, so are they, but Grant’s relationship is real and mine’s fake, right? What a bunch of hypocrisy.

So, there it is. You may be thinking that I’m being overly sensitive about this issue, and maybe I am, but I think this situation is an indication of feelings that are a lot more latent, potent, and potentially dangerous under the surface. I don’t really know what to make of things anymore. I decided a long time ago to refuse to continue living with guilt-ridden responsibility to Grandview anymore and live my own life, no matter how deeply my roots are entrenched there. Is it possible that some people in the family are not taking steps to acceptance of my gayness, and may even be regressing? Obviously. What I do know for sure is that a lot of people have been lying to my face or pretending that things are okay when they’re not. For this reason, I don’t know if I can feel comfortable in Grandview anymore, let alone feel that safe.

Until I see some proof that things are becoming more inviting for me in Grandview, I think I will avoid the situation entirely. I feel terrible about this, but how am I supposed to react? How would you react?

The fact that I could legally marry Joe in Manitoba today if I wanted to now seems so ironic. What if we were married? Would Joe’s name still be conveniently erased from the family record? Most likely. Maybe now you can get a glimpse of how I’m feeling. I just hope that if and when the day comes that I do get married the family isn’t expecting any wedding invitations -- because they won’t be getting any.

By the way, if Grandma Ostrowski ever asks me again why I’m not shacked up and married, I’m going to give her a damn wedding date she can dwell on….

Mom and Dad, I fully understand that who I am has been a very hard thing for you guys to grasp, understand and adjust to, and I am so proud of you for how far you’ve come along the road to acceptance (or at least tolerance). Again, please don’t take this note personally, it’s not meant to be that way. I’m trying to point out (again) the unhealthy subculture of repression that allows a bunch of dissimilar people to live together in a ‘remote outpost’ like Grandview without killing each other (face it, Grandview is very remote in the grand scheme of things). I suspect it has always been this way in Grandview, and always will be. It is the only way the social fabric in such a community could remain intact without unravelling. It is also the reason why some want to escape far, far away, never to return. It is also the reason why some others spend a large chunk of their young lives trying to figure out fundamental truths about themselves once they are matured enough to understand the dynamics of their environment better and realize that they can’t keep running away from and being scared of the truth forever despite whatever responsibility they feel they have to people and places in their lives.

I do understand how Grandview works, which makes this situation even harder for you, and I apologize in a way for having this all result from Grandma’s obituary of all things, but I really want to you get a sense of how I see things. The fact that Joe and I are a complete non-issue to the family and that no one talks about it EVER are things that I can grudgingly accept – I mean, they were all scenarios that I had conjured up again and again before I even told you guys I was gay. Admittedly, the fact I live far away and only deal with the family intermittently helps the situation on both sides on many levels. However, like I have told you before – the one and only reason I came out of the closet to my family was because going forward I still wanted to be part of the family, I wanted to be able to be comfortable bring my life partner / spouse / boyfriend / whatever home and feel like I could be honest and open when talking about my life. Well, I guess that can be written up as being one of the biggest blunders of my life. In pure Grandview style, things are much better left unsaid, or ignored, or assumed – as long as they appear proper on the surface. The real world can be very ugly and the truth can sometimes be what you don’t want to hear, but it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. In order to move on in life and adapt to our now quickly changing world with as little baggage as possible, you need to deal with an issue at hand reasonably, logically, and properly, not ignore it or brush it aside, before you can move on to the next issue.

Living in a large community where there are people from all walks of life in all sorts of shapes, sizes and colours may be why I have the perspective on things that I do. You are continually challenged to reassess your belief system and your understanding of how things work or are. I understand fully that people in Grandview don’t need to deal with their inner insecurities about people who don’t look the same or act the same or think the same as they do because it is a situation they don’t have to be in very often.

Maybe at some point in the past I felt that I could be a beacon of enlightenment for some people in Grandview by living openly and unashamedly gay (how generous of me!), a great example for people to look to. However, things haven’t gone that way, and frankly, I’m tired of making the effort. Despite the strength I have tried to muster thinking I could eventually break down some barriers, I can’t really justify doing it anymore. It hurts me to think that I have felt such strong attachment to Grandview for so long, and now I don’t really care anymore. With Grandma’s death, I now have even less reason to come to Grandview. I don’t like to think of it in this way, but I do.

On a more personal level, I think about how much this hurts Joe too – he’s been dealing with this crap in his life for a lot longer than I have been dealing with it, and despite how much of a tough outer shell he’s built around himself and how much more his family was accepting of him than mine is of me, I know it still bothers him. I would question the sincerity of my partner’s family too after this snub. Why do you think he doesn’t want to do anything with my family? It isn’t hard to connect the dots.

Anyways, it comes down to this. Right now, I feel that I’m about to deal with my hang-ups about my family and hometown the same way I did with my homosexuality in my twenties – by running away. Back then, it was easy – guzzle down a few too many bottles of beer and then you have an excuse for everything. This time, it may be not so easy. Joe and my discussions about moving to Vancouver are becoming more and more frequent. At least in Vancouver, we’d be living in a destination spot and if anyone wants to see us, it’s the logical end to a trip, and it’s good that way. But I don’t think I can justify coming back to Grandview anytime soon, even with you guys there. The only thing that may keep me here is my closeness to Owen and Chloe and the potential of becoming an uncle someday.

I will never forget what mom said the day I came out to you guys on the couch in our crappy apartment in north Calgary:

“We hope it never happens that things come to the point where you never want to come home again”.

Well, sorry mom, but it has come to this point. I’m emotionally drained, upset, and particularly disappointed with my family and my hometown. I feel I’ve been disrespected and blown off. Despite my enduring love for my entire family (yes, even Uncle Dewar), I don’t really feel I have anything I want to contribute anymore. Please understand me when I say that I will never stop loving or staying in touch with you, mom and dad, but it won’t be happening in Grandview anytime soon.

I’m sorry.

Love always, Reid