Editor’s note: Welcome to writer J. Corbett Holmes’ column exploring the life experiences, observations and musings of gay men over 40. It’s the first of what we hope will be many monthly Desert Outlook blog posts, so let us know what you think about it.
By J. Corbett Holmes
“Sometimes, I just put a ring on and lie,” Amber said with a nonchalant shrug, before downing the remains of her lemon drop. “It’s easier.”
An hour earlier, after weaving my way through the maze of pathways surrounding The Parker Hotel, I eventually found my friend Christina’s suite. Christina, Amber and Lisa, all in various forms of relationship, had left their men and children behind and come to Palm Springs for a birthday weekend of sunning, shopping and pampering — all accompanied by alcohol and their favorite gay. Me.
Once hair was blown out, eyelashes curled, and the day’s purchases modeled in an informal fashion show — accessorized with cocktails — we eventually made our way to dinner. As I mixed myself into their evening (trying to catch up), I stopped to take stock of Amber’s statement.
Before going back in for more questions, I scanned the restaurant: Mister Parker’s was teeming with table upon table of romantic couples all relaxing into their love-bathed dinners. Duos of gays cooed through candlelight amid heterosexual pairs languidly swooning over bottles of wine. It was a sharp contrast to our rambunctious table of (at least for the weekend) singles. No one at our table was the least bit interested in putting a ring on it. Only Amber. And only occasionally — to ward off a married-mom inquisition, when she was too exhausted to explain her free-spirited life choices.
Amber, a sexy bartender/flight attendant/wife/mother was a cross between a tousled, raspy version of Gia (’80s supermodel-gone-bad) and someone who might sell you Noxzema face cream. She was sweet and sexy. Good girl, bad girl. Innocent and audacious.
Following childhood and college in various parts of California, she set her sights on New York City. Her traditional side led her into investment banking before her unconventional side lured her to bartending. Her nontraditional side told wild tales of Brooklyn bartender-nights, while the traditional side proudly shared photos of her children and her not-husband/partner.
If you looked at her with tradition in your eyes, you saw the wife and mother of a conventional, nuclear family. If you probed a little deeper, you met a modern maverick who did life her way — and occasionally lied about it when traditional thinkers wore her down.
I went back in, pressing her for more. “Really? Even in Brooklyn?”
“I know! It’s weird, right?” she countered. “Andy and I have been together for 12 years, and we’ve had two kids by choice.
“But a lot of people can’t deal with the fact that we’re not married. Whenever I tell people that I’m the mother of two, they immediately scan to my hand for a ring. When they don’t see one, the assumptions start.”
“Like what?” I solicited, filling her wine glass.
“They assume things like my kids are from different fathers, or … or, that the pregnancies weren’t planned. Like my children are a succession of accidents. It’s just so silly.”
“People become sooooo focused on being married,” she added, brushing her chestnut mane to the other shoulder. “It becomes the most important thing and my relationship becomes secondary. Like it’s invisible.”
All the girls nodded. Amber took a sip of her wine.
“If we’d gotten married, I might have taken him for granted. By not having the traditional relationship, we’re still interested in learning about each other. I feel like it’s made us a stronger couple.”
“Amen to that,” said Lisa, who recently had been considering divorce. All the girls raised their glasses, bringing them together with a clink.
“Do you ever think about getting married?” I asked.
“I don’t think about it every day … but a few times a week.” She paused. “But that’s only because I’m always having to defend my relationship and my choice.”
The table was silent.
“One of the things that pushed me away from the altar,” Amber said, then stopped and took another sip before looking me straight in the eye. “Although I believe it should be available to anyone who wants it, is the way that people treat marriage — especially in Hollywood. Women like Britney Spears or, or Kim Kardashian.”
Christina and Lisa rolled their eyes.
“What does marriage mean to them? So many people who’ve had the right treat marriage like a friendship ring,” Amber continued.
Another “Amen” rang out.
“So I bought a wedding band. And, sometimes I just put it on and lie. It’s easier. Everyone thinks we’re married, and that seems to comfort them.”
While the girls morphed into critiques regarding the menu and the sprawling collage of kitschy art that lined the restaurant walls, I checked my reflection in the mirrored ceiling and wandered off into wondering.
Initially Amber’s story reminded me that there are some straight couples who — even when given the choice — prefer nontraditional unions. What followed was the facet regarding other people’s discomfort with her (unmarried) choice. And that took me straight to gay: to a recent pool party where a collection of tanning gays ganged up on a man (I’ll call him Conrad) who thought it was stupid for two men to follow the established marriage model. Conrad was all for equal partnership rights, but thought it silly to “attempt imitation of the heterosexual template.” No one around the pool was having it.
Like Amber, I lied. Sort of. I kept my mouth shut, smiling — while busying myself with another (unnecessary) application of sunscreen. Akin to Conrad, I want the rights. But like Amber, I want the nontraditional template — and none of the expectations that go with it, like “till death do us part.” If I had my say, I’d even assign gay unions a different moniker. But that’s just me.
However, both situations reminded me that we — the pioneering 10 percent — must tread carefully amid convention. Equal doesn’t necessarily mean same.
With the overturning of Proposition 8 (yeah!) expanding rights in California, offering us the choice to say I do, there should also be the choice (and the acceptance) to say I don’t want to do it that way — especially given that we are gay. Because while we strive for the same rights as straight people (as we should), when we are through marching up the steps of city hall or down the aisle of a church, we will always go straight back home to who we are … gay.
For a closer shave — previously published musings — visit www.shavingsfrommyhead.com, or to offer your shaving graces, contact J. Corbett at firstname.lastname@example.org