“This is my husband Paul.”
Paul had grown used to hearing those words over the last six months; they had lost that strange, ineffable quality that was at once familiar and yet wholly new, but he was completely unprepared to hear those words here. He and James had been married since June and were in James’ hometown visiting his family for Christmas. It was a small town of the kind that people sometimes describe as backward (though Paul tried not to think of it that way out of respect for James and his family). He hadn’t expected his husband to introduce him as such; they had even talked about it somewhat, in the way that gay couples do (“Soooo…not everyone back home knows that I’m gay.”) So it was completely out of left field when James’ conservative pastor uncle and his wife (wearing a pink floral skirt, matching jacket, pillbox hat, and white gloves to boot) approached the table where they were all about to have lunch together and James just laid it all out without the slightest hesitation.
The uncle was visibly startled and his wife looked momentarily confused having never really considered the possibility that two men could be married. She had seen on the news that it was legal now and had shaken her head and clucked her tongue disappointedly, but those things seemed so far away, a different world, and she never expected to find a gay couple in her town, certainly not her nephew with this strange man she had never seen before.
Paul turned to James, and found on his face a smirk that was at once whimsical and mischievous. The shape of his mouth made clear his intended purpose: to cause a ruckus which was one of his primary joys in life. There was more to it though, his eyes had an unusual intensity to them and, after a moment, he saw the message there: Paul is family, if you care for me, you’ll love him as I do and if not, hit the road. Paul turned back to the bewildered couple to see if the message was received and found the man putting on a good show of recovering his composure and the woman looking to her husband for the answers she had been unable to come up with.
There was a long pause, lengthened further by the intensity of the situation and as it became clear that there was only one way this lunch could proceed, James’ uncle jutted out his hand and said, “Nice to meet you, Paul” and he hid his discomfort well enough that an outside observer might have believed he really meant it. The aunt smiled with a distinct lack of assurance and offered her gloved hand for Paul to shake as well.
The lunch was not the most awkward situation Paul had ever been in, but considering he had gone through a year long phase of speaking his mind to his family who never spoke about anything, that wasn’t saying much. Everyone smiled and made polite conversation: the uncle asked about Paul’s work as an architect and the aunt questioned him about his family and place of origin. Paul, doing his duty, listened with expertly feigned interest to stories of small town life full of references to feed stores and crops while occasionally glancing over at his husband. James seemed to be refusing to take part in the conversation giving only the most perfunctory answers and often only deigning to shake or nod his head. Paul had the distinct feeling that James was proctoring some sort of test, but had, as of yet, been unable to determine exactly whom he was testing and on what subject.
Eventually, their time together concluded, the check was brought, and goodbyes were said. Everyone continued their show of politeness, except James who continued his performance as a mute. That is, until, they had walked outside, split off to go their separate ways, and just before they were out of earshot of each other, James turned and called out, “You’ll have to come out and see our place in California sometime!”
The older couple looked at each other a moment, not sure if they had heard correctly, but after a brief pause, the uncle called back, “Yes, that sounds like a fine idea.”
As they continued to walk toward their car, Paul said, “What the hell was that about?”
James turned to him with a look of fierce determination and said, “I’m gonna change the minds of this backward town if it’s the last thing I do.”
Paul chuckled a little as hit the button to unlock the car doors and thought, “So that’s what this trip was about.”
AUTHOR’S NOTE: I recently realized that it’s very possible for people to misunderstand this piece so I wanted to clear something up. I’m not James. I didn’t write this as an announcement of my crusade to change people’s minds about gay marriage or anything like that. In fact, my goal has never been to change people’s theology. My goal is to change people’s minds about gay people, not gay relationships. I want people to be loving and compassionate towards everyone, even those they disagree with. And even then, I didn’t write this with myself in mind. Honestly the story just kinda popped into my head as most of my stories do, and I wrote it down. That’s all, no hidden agendas or mission statements, just a story.