Out with the In-Laws

Article excerpt

Meeting the in-laws can be a tough ritual for anyone, but it's especially daunting for the lesbian or gay couple. Imagine, then, what a landmark year this has been, meeting my sweetheart's mother and stepfather, Esther and Dick, for the first time in the spring, followed by a summer visit to the old hometown to see them as well as Mary's dad and stepmom, my new sisters- and brothers-in-law, and a passel of new nephews. All of this, mind you, in Grand Rapids, Mich., known to the film world mostly for warping Paul Schrader's childhood with enough Calvinism to fuel a whole movie career.

I was thrilled, then, to find my Jewish dyke self and our relationship accepted so enthusiastically there in the heartland, where her Dutch-descended family made me feel very much at home. "How enlightened they are!" I exclaimed more than once to my shiksa soul mate. "Not always," corrected my Mary, explaining how her original coming-out, back in the '80s, had been chock-full of the usual heartbreak and recriminations.

Lucky me, coming along half a dozen girlfriends later. She'd just kept at it, knocking down every signpost of intolerance and easing their panic, getting them used to lesbianism along the way. I could arrive with no extra baggage attached and get the in-law treatment without tears.

This isn't a clever Trojan-horse story designed to offer up an autumnal National Coming Out Day message. Sure, coming out is a handy phrase, the October 11 date a convenient marker. But staying out is just as important. It's the rhythms of daily life, lived over the decades, that carry through a process that a onetime announcement can only begin. Actually, I've always believed that what is most important is being comfortable. Not in an armchair--being comfortable with yourself and your sexuality and your choice of partner.

I've known lesbians who hid their partners and relationships from parents, sure that the truth would "kill" them. And women who hid their lovers down the hall or made them go home in the middle of the night to "protect" the children. …

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