Note: This is eighth in a series of imaginary conversations with my next girlfriend.
Dear Next Girlfriend,
This past weekend I returned to my hometown of Racine, Wisconsin to celebrate the wedding of my niece Jennifer and her spouse Becky. They were married earlier this summer when same sex marriage was legalized in Wisconsin. They’ve been committed, loving partners for 12 years. I wish you could have joined me; it was a wonderful event and for me an affirmation that love is love, especially when families are able to accept, support and love their LGBTQ relatives and welcome their partners unconditionally. I am grateful to be a member of that kind of family.
I came out to my family as a lesbian 35 years ago. My parents were very accepting, but grieved the loss of my husband, Frank, who I was separating from. They loved Frank as much as I did, and the four of us were also friends, spending many hours together, going out to dinner, having a few (or more) drinks together, and long talks into the night and often early morning hours of the next day. Yes, we were much younger then.
Of course my family had questions and concerns when I first came out. I learned quickly that much like my own process of questioning, naming and accepting the changes in my life, they too needed time and answers to their questions to better understand the change taking place in their daughter and sister’s life.
When I did come out to them, I did it in a letter, one of three or four letters in my lifetime that announced a branching point or significant change in how I identified and what direction the new path of my life was about to take.
In my letter to them I wrote about how I wished they’d respond. Both Mom and Dad did what I hoped they would do, accept and love me unconditionally. The next time I saw my mother she simply said, “It doesn’t matter to me who loves you as long as they treat you well.” My father had questions, and I wouldn’t have expected anything less from him, but not for one moment did I feel judged or criticized. He simply wanted to know that regardless of how I identified, was I still his little girl. My father had five daughters and he loved each one of us with all of his heart.
Next girlfriend, besides being accepted as a lesbian in my family, they welcomed my loved ones, both my partners and in some relationships, my partner’s children who I co-parented. They encouraged the kids, to call them Grandma and Grandpa. At family holidays there were Christmas presents and at Easter, baskets filled with chocolate, candy and a personalized egg, they were given a seat at the table for Thanksgiving and birthday cakes, celebrations and gifts. Both my partners and children were embraced as full members of our family.
When a relationship ended, my mother always provided a shoulder to cry on and my father would continue to ask how “my friends,” his euphemism for my lovers, were doing.
Once I brought two friends for a weekend visit. Note: These were in fact friends and not romantic partners. I heard my father comment a couple of times, “Linda has two friends,” and witnessed him acting a little twitchy, until I realized he assumed I brought two lovers home.
I explained to him that they were in fact friends, not lovers. He relaxed again, but to his credit he was trying to wrap his head around the fact that his daughter, in addition to be a lesbian was possibly polyamorous. Rather than being critical his first response was to understand in an effort to accept.
To this day my exes ask me to say hello to my parents and my parents extend warm greetings to them. When my sister Roz died and my ex, Cindy, arrived at the memorial open house, my parents cried in her arms. I strive to have my partners, friends and exes become members of my family of choice and by the nature of my family’s love and acceptance they also become a member of our extended family.
The Next Generation
I’m not sure if there were LGBTQ ancestors in my family, but I would not be surprised if there were. I have speculated about a maternal aunt and uncle. They are no longer here to talk with and the latter died when I was still a child. I would love them regardless of how they identified, but I’ve always been curious.
Next girlfriend, 16 years ago I attended the wedding and reception for my nephew John and his wife, Nikki. My partner didn’t join me, so I sat at the table with my parents, siblings, and niece and nephew. My niece Jennifer was accompanied by her guest, Lisa. My gaydar immediately went off. I’m not sure if it was Lisa’s “butch” presentation, her tattoos, and Jennifer’s new tattoo, or simply the affectionate way they talked with each other and the extended eye contact and nonverbal communication they shared.
I smiled to myself and must admit to having been a little delighted. I liked my niece a lot. She was athletic, smart, a hard worker, quick to smile and a first born child like me. Her friend Lisa was more introverted and I suspected a little uncertain on how she would be welcomed and treated at this family event.
A few months later Jennifer and Lisa called and said they would be in Madison for a couple of days and asked if they could visit Cindy and me. They didn’t openly come out to us that day but asked us a lot of questions about our relationship. There were extended periods of time where they simply watched Cindy and I interact, and we them, as I made dinner and we talked about our family and got to know Lisa a little more. When they drove off that day, Cindy and I were pretty sure they were more than just roommates.
My brother and his wife Nancy, like my parents, spent time welcoming and including first Lisa into their home and family, followed by a couple of other girlfriends of Jennifer’s. Their presence was always treated matter-of-factly, no overt announcements. My parents and other family members reacted in kind.
Love Is Love
Jennifer and Becky married this summer as soon as they were able to register and get their marriage certificate, find someone to perform their service and invite a couple of friends to be witnesses. At the wedding reception this weekend, they shared their story on how it was decided who would be the bride, and who would be the groom. My niece Jennifer argued that she met the most important criteria to be the bride: she had the largest number of dresses and high heels, and in her words, “the biggest boobs.” However the County decided differently. They required both a groom and a bride, and the designations were determined alphabetically. Jennifer became the groom.
Their wedding reception was hosted and paid for by my brother Rick. He and his wife Nancy have a second wedding coming up this summer in Colorado where they moved and retired last year for their other daughter, my niece Taryn. I will travel there too and attend that wedding, but this one holds a special place in my heart and it felt like a gift to me as well. I witnessed all the love in the room as both families and friends of the brides celebrated the union of these partners who have built a life together and have shared their love with us and we for them. Yes, I have witnessed a lot of progress in my lifetime of love and acceptance. And, there is no question in my family that love is love.
Next girlfriend, I’m grateful for my family, and be assured you will be welcomed in their hearts as you will be embraced by mine.
Note: This is Episode 8 of the series Conversations with My Next Girlfriend, imaginary conversations with the new girlfriend I haven’t met yet, replacing the one-sided talks I was having with my ex in my head. For Episodes 1 – 7 click on the links below: