In transit

I’m in an airport, between planes. I’ll finish this up on the last leg home and post it tonight.


My fiancée went out West last week.

She started and runs her company. She’s turned over day-to-day management to her partners. So she can come and go as she pleases.

I had to go to Asia for work, but I’m free for the next month.


We will be married at my fiancée’s family’s ranch. It’s spectacularly beautiful, especially at this time of year. It’s in a valley bounded on both sides by untouched mountain wilderness. The sun will be going down over the mountains to the west during our ceremony.

Her family has spent the last year restoring the ranch house and sprucing up the yards and outbuildings.

Her great-great grandfather received the land as a grant for his service in the Civil War. He was an inveterate improver, innovator and experimenter.

My fiancée’s great-grandmother kept a scrapbook of newspaper articles about her father. Almost every edition of the county weekly newspaper had an article about one or another of his innovations – the electric generator and banks of batteries to light and power the ranch, the irrigation system that still waters the ranch, the various machines he bought. There are also articles about his lawsuits against mining companies for polluting the stream that waters the ranch.

He built the house in a grand style for his family of nine children.


We’ll be married in a field. The forecast is for beautiful weather. If it rains, we’ll be married in one of the old barns.


My fiancée will pick me up at the airport. We’ll have dinner at the restaurant where we met. Last year, we had dinner there on the first anniversary of our meeting. This year, it’s a little earlier. We have a more pressing engagement for the actual anniversary.

We’re going to have our rehearsal dinner at the restaurant Friday night. The ranch is 75 miles away, but the restaurant is in the nearest town large enough to have an adequate supply of hotel rooms.

Tonight, my fiancée and I will be staying at the B&B where we stayed after our anniversary dinner last year. Tomorrow, we’ll go to church at the church I used to attend, then each to her parents’ homes. I want to spend a few days with my family before starting a new life.

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For Mother’s Day

I’ve had more serious conversations with my mother since coming out than I had in my whole life before coming out. After 20 years of building a wall, I’m tearing it down. And I’ve found a friend on the other side.

I’ve never called my mother, “Mom.” Always, “Mother.” Until now.

She’s no longer forbidding, distant. She’s become a friend. A confidante.

For Mother’s Day: Mom, I love you.

Choosing to be a lesbian

At my fiancée’s family cookout last month, someone asked me,

When did you become a lesbian?

I gave the stock answer:

I didn’t become a lesbian. I was born this way. Nobody would choose to become a lesbian.

And that’s true: Nobody would choose to be a closeted lesbian in a heterosexual world dominated by the intolerant. From my own history, I know that a teenage girl or high-school-educated woman in a remote farm or town would not be likely to choose to be a lesbian.

The firebrand conservatives say that’s a good thing. Decriminalization, social acceptance, legal equality – make it easier to be a homosexual, encourage the spread of homosexuality.


There’s a joke:

Two guys are out golfing. A bolt of lightning kills them. At the Pearly Gates, St Peter is befuddled: These two guys weren’t supposed to die today.

St Peter says he has to send them back. As compensation for their trouble, they get to choose who they want to go back as. The two guys huddle, then come back.

Two guys: We want to be lesbians.

St Peter: Lesbians? Why lesbians?

Two guys: We still want to have sex with women, but we want to use the ladies’ tees.


That joke gives me a warm smile.

Loving a woman is glorious. Absolutely, utterly glorious. I love everything about it, about her.


Of course, I love a woman because I was born this way. I never got the chance to choose to become a lesbian.

But, now, I am glad I was born this way.

I would choose to be a lesbian.

In that sense – and in the sense that I have chosen to come out, chosen to meet a woman and fall in love with her, chosen to ask her to marry me, chosen to accept her request that I marry her – I have chosen to be a lesbian.


There was a time, and there are places, where no one would choose to be a lesbian.

Not New York, of course.

Not back home, either – at least, not for my fiancée or me. Conservative Christians and Mormons may disapprove, may even tell me that I’m going to Hell. That doesn’t bother me. I’ve dealt with much worse disapproval and heard a lot worse things said about me – for things that I have chosen. There’s not much that they can do to us beyond tut-tut.

I can live happily and openly with the woman I love.

I choose to be what I am: A lesbian.

Mother bear and her cub

At the cookout, I saw my Mother looking beatific, a sure sign that she has done something that will embarrass me. [Two things about Mother: She is a devout Catholic, and she sometimes talks in italics.]

Me: Mother, what have you done now?

Mother (with a sly smile): That woman doesn’t approve of your lifestyle.

Me: Oh, God, Mother, what did you say to her?

Mother: Don’t take the Lord’s name in vain, dear. I told her that you two have respectable lifestyles. You live in a little one-bedroom apartment, [fiancée] lives in a sublet and doesn’t even own the furniture, for goodness sake.

Me: I don’t think she meant that kind of lifestyle.

Mother: Of course she didn’t, the ignorant bigot. I told her you don’t go out to bars and you don’t party. You court each other by making dinner for each other. By the way, you both work too hard.

Me: I don’t think she meant that kind of lifestyle, either.

Mother: Of course she didn’t, the ignorant bigot. She said you didn’t have a Christian lifestyle. I told her that getting married and having kids is the best kind of Christian lifestyle, and you will make terrific parents.

Me (rolling eyes): Thanks, Mother.

Mother: Don’t roll your eyes at me, dear. It’s not ladylike or respectful. I told her you are good Christians, too. You go to church every Sunday. For goodness sake, [fiancée] is ordained or an elder or something, isn’t she?

Me: Yes, Mother. An ordained elder. But aren’t we a couple of Protestant heretics?

Mother: Of course you are, dear. That doesn’t mean you can’t be good Christians. So I told her, why don’t you stop beating around the bush, talking about lifestyle? Why not just say that you’re an ignorant bigot who doesn’t like homosexuals?

Me: Oh, God, Mother.

Mother: Don’t take the Lord’s name in vain, dear. She told me I should read the Bible instead of going to one of those liberal churches where the gay agenda is more important than the Bible. I told her she’d have to take that up with the Pope. Ignorant bigot.

Cookout

Every August, while my fiancée is home, her family gathers at her parents’ ranch for a cookout.


Last year, they had two cookouts. Only her siblings and their families were invited.

At the first cookout, my fiancée came out to her siblings and their spouses. The next day, at church, my fiancée’s sister outed her to the minister – who then set my fiancée up with me for our first date.

At the second cookout, on Labor Day weekend, they got together again to meet me. The warmth for each other and for me was overwhelming.


This year’s cookout promised to be a gigantic affair. Relatives in three states – out to third cousins – angled an invitation.


I thought my fiancée incapable of worry. Her self-possession, her self-confidence, is unnerving.

She’s no Pollyanna. She has known hard times, even financial disaster. Her partners say that for the first few years of her firm, she only slept when she collapsed, and she didn’t have an untroubled night’s sleep for three years during the recession.

But I have never seen her nervous about the future. She’s like a kid watching a thriller, on the edge of her seat in excitement about the surprises about to unfold in front of her.

Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.


We had a lovely, romantic evening after our anniversary dinner.

She was up early, which is out of character. She was itching to go, which is even more out of character. Getting her going in the morning is the most difficult thing in our life together.

We had planned to shower and dress at the ranch, to be as clean and fresh as possible. But my fiancée’s mother called to say that people had already started to arrive at the ranch. So we showered and dressed at the B&B.


Before I flew out, my fiancée told me to make sure to bring my lemon-yellow sundress. It was what I wore when we had our first kiss. (She loves that dress on me.)

She wore a light blue sundress. (I love that dress on her.)


We drove over in my fiancée’s 50s-vintage pickup. Bench seat, stick shift on the floor. I slid all the way over next to her and she drove with her arm around my shoulder. She let me do the shifting, which is considered pretty damn chivalrous out where we’re from. The sort of thing you only let your best girl do.


It was an absolutely glorious day.

The day I arrived had been beastly hot – almost 100 F/38 C. Late afternoon thunderstorms had broken the heat. It was in the 50s (10s C) that night and the forecast was a high in the 70s (20s C). The sky was spectacularly blue, without a cloud, and there was no humidity.

Her pickup pre-dates air-conditioning. It was cool enough that we didn’t get sweaty. With the windows down, we did get windblown.


We thought that the heat and thunderstorms of the previous day would have discouraged some of the cousins – particularly those from farther away. We were wrong.

The ranchyard is a half-dozen buildings surrounding a gravel lot of a couple of acres – big enough to jockey split-rig stock trucks around and back them up to loading chutes. When we arrived, the lot was full of cars. We parked in the machine shed.


The cookout was in full swing when we arrived.

Everyone else was wearing plaid shirts and blue jeans. We could have gone full butch and fit right in. Much as we love our butch sisters, that’s not us, and not the message we wanted to send. I’ll post more on that later.

My fiancée’s dad called everyone around the back porch and introduced me, my parents, my sister and brother and their spouses and kids.


Everyone brought food. The variety was unbelievable. Eight different kinds of potato salad. (Freshly dug little red potatoes from a mountain valley, cooked with a bit of crunch left in them, are one of this world’s great pleasures.) Green beans. Peas. Five different kinds of cole slaw. Lettuce salads. Cucumbers, right off the vine. Carrots and radishes, right out of the ground. Roasted beets. Roasted potatoes. Roasted peppers. Roasted squash. Corn on and off the cob. Grilled onions. Homemade pickles. Homemade onion pickles. Homemade relishes. Even Jello.

Steak, sausages, hot dogs and burgers, with charcoal and wood grills to grill your own.

I like steak fine, but wood-grilled lamb is my favorite meat. My fiancée (or her sister) must have talked to one of her lamb-raising cousins. He brought baby lamb rib chops, cut one to a rib, just for me. He dipped them in olive oil and rosemary and grilled them for me over the wood fire. It was the best lamb I have ever eaten. I’m sure that he’d never been kissed by a lesbian in a sundress before. If he wasn’t married, and I wasn’t a lesbian and engaged to his cousin, I might have married him, right there.

Slow-roast pork shoulder.

Raspberry pie. Rhubarb pie. Huckleberry pie. Peach crisp. Blueberry cobbler. Chocolate cake. Lemon cake. Gallons of ice cream.

Growlers of IPAs and stouts and summer wheats from one of the local microbreweries. Lemonade. Limeade.

One of the best things about the Mountain West: Mormons don’t drink alcohol or caffeine, so they make root beer. Not sugar syrup and flavoring in fizzy water. Real, brewed root beer. One of my secret vices is a root beer float with Mormon root beer.


Most of them had been to college and most lived in towns or the small cities within a couple of hundred miles of the ranch. They had probably all at least come into contact with gays. But there probably weren’t any gays in their social circles.

On the whole they were open and friendly – and curious.

I was afraid that we might be ogled and studied like creatures in a zoo. After everyone left, my fiancée admitted that her anxiety that morning had been exactly that – that she suddenly regretted that she was going to put me under a microscope, to be examined critically by strangers.

I did feel that, at first. My fiancée and I made a special effort to engage with those she and her parents thought might be the most difficult.

I thought it might be better for me to mingle separately, rather than with my fiancée as a couple. Engaging as a couple might be provocative – a poke in the eye – and meeting people separately might make me seem more a person and less half-a-lesbian-couple. Also, my fiancée seemed so nervous that I was afraid she’d put a damper on the happiness of meeting people. On the other hand, my fiancée didn’t want to abandon me in a sea of strangers. The only large gatherings of strangers I have ever been in were professional conventions and scholarly gatherings. She was concerned that I’d not be able to turn on enough charm.

In the event, it didn’t make a difference. We worked the crowd together for a while, then went into a cycle of splitting up and getting back together. She had a good sense of when and where I should circulate – a talent I’ve never had. She’d engage a relative or a group, then wave me over. We’d talk together, then she’d leave me and warm up another group.


At first, we were careful not to display affection. After a while, we held hands when we were together.


There was a lot of ooh-ing and ah-ing over our (matching) engagement rings.


I was afraid the older relatives might prove difficult, but they were fine. I’m not sure that they all had gotten the whole story – maybe that they’d been told we were just good friends.

One of the oldest aunts, however, sat me down to tell me that her favorite aunt (my fiancée’s great-great aunt) was a lesbian. After all, the aunt had never married – and she lived in Seattle. With a roommate.


I did get some of the silly questions that lesbians get asked. But they were good natured and seemed honestly curious. There were a few who plainly did not approve, but they were well behaved. The rest ran the spectrum ran from tolerance to acceptance to approval.

My fiancée’s mother was keeping a mental register of those she judged would not attend a lesbian wedding. It’s not an issue; the potential problems are beyond the first-cousin circle, which is as far out as we planned to invite.


I had one uncomfortable chat. It started pleasantly enough. The woman (a student at a well regarded liberal arts college) seemed genuinely curious. But then she said, “I just don’t get lesbians” – and followed it by stridently disparaging the very notion that a woman could find satisfaction without a man. Her vehemence (and lack of understanding) startled me; I brushed it off with an inconsequential reply.

As I thought on it later, the remark irritated me more and more. I’ve been mulling it over ever since. It dovetails with a perceptive comment that I received a few weeks ago. I’ll write more about it, although probably as a protected post.


My family had a roaring good time.

Dad is an affable guy and a great hobnobber. He loves a good party with lots of new people; it’s an opportunity to get out from under Mother’s shadow. He made friends with everyone. Every time I saw him, he was either laughing with some guys or looking at my fiancée or me with pride.

I was afraid Mother might cause trouble if she ran into some poor soul who didn’t show what she considered proper respect for my fiancée and me. She was generally well behaved, the sort of gigantic personality that goes over well in a big, boisterous crowd. There was one lapse: A woman told Mother that my fiancée and I seemed like nice people, but the woman couldn’t approve of our “lifestyle”. More on that in another post.


My siblings and their spouses had a good time, too. They didn’t walk away from the Catholic Church, as I did, and were initially lukewarm about a lesbian in the family. Since Mother laid down the law, however, they have been fine.

I was afraid they might be drowned in the boisterous sea at the cookout. My siblings are very nice and I love them dearly, but they are very normal (compared to my fiancée’s siblings). Their socializing is limited to business, church and their kids’ schools. In the event, they found like-minded people and connected with my fiancée’s more conservative and business-oriented relatives.


A teenaged boy waylaid me away from the crowd. He told me that he thought he was gay, and it frightened him. He was sure his parents would be OK – they had been cordial to my fiancée and me – but he was afraid of being ostracized and bullied in school and he had religious qualms.

I told him he should talk to the minister who set me up with my fiancée, and should consider discussing it with his parents. I didn’t think that he should come out to anyone else – and he shouldn’t act on it – until he was in college. The most awful mistakes of my life were my sexual activity in high school; from that experience, I firmly believe in teenage celibacy. I offered my and my fiancée’s good offices; he didn’t take us up.

He called a few days later to say that he had discussed it with the minister and with his parents. His parents were disappointed, but they were OK.

He thanked me for being a “good role model”. I’ve never been accused of that before.


Almost no one left before sundown, even though some had four-hour drives. They all pitched in to clean up and distribute the leftovers – of which there were surprisingly few.

In-laws-to-be

My fiancée’s parents’ ranch is about 15 miles up a valley in the Rockies. The original ranch – the “hay ranch” – is several miles of flat ground on either side of the stream that drains the valley (and gives the valley its name).

The hay from the hay ranch feeds their cattle during the winter. The productivity of the hay ranch determines the number of animal units (cow-calf pairs) the ranch can carry.

In the spring, after the snow melts from the high pastures, they drive the cattle to upper range. In the fall, they round up the cattle and drive them back to the hay ranch. It’s a delicate calculation: They want to keep the cattle on the high pastures (and off hay) as long as possible, but they don’t want them trapped in an early (or late) blizzard.

Just to burst any romantic notions: They don’t use horses to drive the cattle. They use four-wheelers. They only use horses to roust cattle out of brushy side draws in the fall roundup.

My fiancée has a horse. When she goes home for August, she likes to ride into the back country and to ride fence. (Riding fence is riding along the fence line to look for holes or down fence. She does it on a horse, but that’s just for fun. She can fix small problems with a fencing tool, a fence stretcher and some barbed wire. If she sees anything more serious, she drops a pin on a GPS. A hand will come up with a Gator to fix it.)


The ranch house and yard sit at the mouth of a side valley that winds up to their upper range and their summer leases. The little creek that drains the side valley runs through the ranch yard.

My fiancée’s great-great grandfather built the ranch house in the late 19th century. He did it in the grand style – grand enough to house his family of nine children. The family was nearly wiped out in the post-WW1 drought and credit crunch. Just as they were recovering, the Great Depression nearly wiped them out again. But the ranch has survived in the family.


The kitchen is the heart of the ranch. Everyone in my fiancée’s family – men, women and children – loves to cook and is very good at it. The kitchen is enormous and equipped to the highest restaurant standards – a present from my fiancée.

If you’re looking for someone on the ranch, the place to start is in the kitchen. In any family gathering, there will be at least a half-dozen people in the kitchen – cooking, tasting, discussing the cattle markets, calf or hay yields, politics or theology – or just hanging out.


My fiancée’s mother is the happiest, most generous, most optimistic person I have ever met. The glass isn’t half empty or half full. It’s always full. She’s not stupidly happy. She’s intelligently, realistically happy. She’s an acute observer and an astute judge of people. She is endlessly tolerant and forgiving. She’ll never say a bad word about anyone, but there’s never any question about where one stands with her. She exudes goodness, grace and charity, none of it pious or false or hypocritical. She could not be self-righteous if she tried. She is my ideal representation of a Christian woman. She is what I aspire to be. She is delightful.

Her father is as comfortable as an old shoe. He’s warm and funny, with a store of sharply perceptive comments and funny metaphors (“slicker than a new-born baby’s bottom”; “tighter than a gnat’s hide stretched over a barrelhead”; “drier than a cow chip on the Chisholm Trail”). My fiancée says he has a ferocious temper if pushed too far, but I haven’t seen it. His pride in his kids and his love for his grandkids is touching.


My fiancée’s siblings regard her with bemused awe. They grouse good-naturedly that when she was growing up, she was able to get out of ranch work by burying her nose in a book; that she has their parents wrapped around her little finger; that she was a borderline felon as a teenager, but she got away with it because she got straight As. The most common remark in her household is, “For a girl who’s supposed to be so smart, you sure do a lot of stupid things!”

My fiancée warned me that her oldest sister is a “potty-mouthed smartass”. The first sentence I heard the sister utter was a description of my mussed hair and happy face. The description included a word that does not appear in family newspapers. The second sentence I heard her utter was a hope that I was good at oral sex (she used an earthier phrase), because somebody needed to thaw my fiancée out and turn her into a human being. On the other hand, she is fiercely protective of her siblings – especially my fiancée.

Her oldest brother manages the family ranch. He’s big and bluff and loudly hale-fellow-well-met. He hides his shrewd business and personal sense behind a seemingly irresponsible goofiness. Of all the people we have come out to, he is the most genuinely delighted by it.

Her youngest sibling is the sister who outed my fiancée to her minister, leading the minister to set us up on our first date. The sister is very much her mother’s daughter: quiet, generous, optimistic, happy and gracious, tolerant and forgiving, combined with a hard-headed realism even beyond her mother’s. She has been my best friend, my only real friend, for many years. Even though she heard all the awful rumors – mostly true – about my past, she still befriended me. As proud as she is of her sister, she is even more protective of me.

Her other siblings are intelligent and devoted, but (relatively) colorless. Her sisters- and brothers-in-law are delightful, if a little overshadowed by her siblings. All have happily accepted that my fiancée is gay. All treat me with love and respect (even when cloaked in potty-mouthed smartassery).

August

She’s gone.


My Love has always spent August at her parents’ ranch. She helps with the August work: cutting, raking and putting up hay; riding fence; chasing strays; doctoring cattle; working on trucks and tractors and implements.

She rides her horse back into the wilderness. She honky-tonks with her high school friends.


Her whole family – parents, brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, cousins – gets together for a big cookout. Steak for the adults, burgers and dogs for the kids, potato salad, green beans, corn, tomatoes, cucumber slices, berry pies with home-made ice cream, home-baked bread.

In years past, the main sport at the cookout was teasing my Love about her lack of a love life. At last year’s cookout, she came out to her siblings. The next day, her sister outed her to the minister of her church – the minister who had been counseling me. The minister set us up a few days later.


My Love left for home on Friday.

I’ll join her out there this coming Friday – the first anniversary of the night we met. We’re having dinner at the same restaurant.

Her family cookout will be Saturday.

Everybody will be there this year: brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, grandparents, uncles, aunts, great uncles, great aunts, cousins, second cousins, even some third cousins. They are coming from three states.

Everybody wants to meet the girlfriend. (That would be me.) My family is coming, too.

My Love’s family is unusually close-knit, even out to second and third cousins. They are also hilariously boisterous. Should be a lot of fun.


After the cookout (and Sunday services at my old church), we’ll spend a few days at a “luxury guest ranch” in the mountains and the weekend with my parents. I don’t know what the sleeping arrangements will be. I’m not going to push it.

I’m less than 6 months into my new job; I can’t take off more than a week. My Love will come back with me and play Suzie Homemaker for the rest of the month.