In conjunction with Capital Pride 2023, I am proud to share my family’s story.
George Carlin once joked about working in an office. Acting the part of a company employee, he said, “When I arrive in the morning, don’t bug me. The first ten minutes are mine.” Well, I was having my first 10 minutes at the office on a Monday morning decades ago, chatting with two colleagues about the weekend. Jen was angry because her husband had not let their son play with a doll, believing that it would steer him towards gayness. As she spoke, I felt a sentence beginning to form in my head, but would I dare say it aloud? Is this the day I go public? It just felt like the time was right.
As Jen described the fight she had with her spouse, my lips parted, I breathed in deeply and then the words rushed out, “Well Jen, my son Andrew is gay and he never played with dolls.” Gosh, that felt good. It’s done. The lid is off, word will spread. I finally killed the secret. Mind you, I did not mention that when Andrew was three he would wear his winter leggings on his head with the knitted legs hanging down his back so that he could swing his tresses when he turned his head quickly or he could spread them out on his pillow when he went to bed at night. Nor that girls were always his best friends and that he hated gym class and sports. After all, those were just behaviours that any child could have. I suspected that Andrew was gay since he was little, but you do not know for sure, until you do.
We found out that one of my brothers-in-law was gay in the mid-80s, a year after his heterosexual marriage failed. My husband George felt guilty and filled with regret because of the gay jokes he had told over the years. He would never tell another. We found out that another brother-in-law was gay not long after. In the early 90s, our eldest son Andrew told us that he was gay, when he was in grade 12. Now that I knew for sure, I had a good cry in private, filled with fear that someone might hurt him. I also grieved for the life path that Andrew would not follow and that I mistakenly thought of as the “normal” one. Andrew did not share his sexual preference widely until after university because he was not ready, so neither did we. But twenty years later, when our grandson, our other son’s child, told us that he was gay, we hugged him and congratulated him for coming out. We were anxious to hear about the boy he was dating. We laughed that there was no safer place to be gay. As Andrew says, “The force is strong in our family.” We had come a long way, from hiding the truth to celebrating it.
During these years of revising the straight-to-gay ratio of our family members, we also lived the evolution of male gay relationships from hidden to open, from confirmed bachelor to roommate, to life partner, to husband. Andrew and his boyfriend Tomás were married in October, 2007. Gay marriage was still new then. We were happy for them but we did not share the news widely. Not yet. Society was still adjusting to same-sex marriage. Many rejected it, even condemned it.
Their marriage was held in a small chapel at Ottawa City Hall. The Justice of the Peace said gay marriages were some of the most meaningful she had officiated because of what the couple has been through to get there. In his vows to Andrew, Tomás, who is from Puerto Rico, said that he left the cold behind when he came north to be with Andrew. In his vows to Tomás, Andrew said how thankful he was that despite the distance, they found each other. At the end of the ceremony, there was an awkward moment and the Justice said quietly to Andrew and Tomás, “It’s okay, you can kiss each other.” Their first kiss in public. Tears ran down my cheek, George held my hand. Afterwards, we hosted a small afternoon reception at our home with all the trimmings – fancy finger foods, a wedding cake, speeches, champagne and photos. It was a happy and meaningful day for the grooms and for those celebrating with them.
But we still had some growing to do. Along with gay marriages came the terminology surrounding them. Introducing Tomás as our son’s husband or as our son-in-law felt awkward and uncomfortable, so we avoided it. But then at a social function, Tomás introduced me to a crowd as his mother-in-law. Heads turned to look at me, I blushed and smiled. Pride filled me. From then on it was easy and a pleasure to introduce Tomás as our son-in-law, just as it is an honour to have Tomás in our family.
A few years ago I met a young woman in the washroom at a wedding reception. She was in an openly gay relationship, but she was upset that her girlfriend would not dance with her that night in the presence of friends, family and other guests. I told her that I understood and that my son and son-in-law felt the same way. “But don’t worry,” I said, “I believe the day will come when you will both be comfortable stepping onto a dance floor together with no one staring and judging you.”
I hope I was right.
Gail Ritchie, Almonte