When Your Boyfriend
Takes You Home for Christmas
by Michael Alvear
© 2000, Michael Alvear
Last year, my boyfriend Brad finally brought me home for Christmas. As his boyfriend, not his “friend.” Nervous as Pat Buchanan on Judgment Day, he made all the arrangements including a sit-down with me.
“Promise me you’ll behave.”
I recoiled indignantly. “Let me get this straight. You want me to impress your family, but not at the expense of being myself.”
“You know exactly what I’m talking about,” he said, reminding me of his grandparents’ visit earlier this year. He was so knotted up and nervous giving them a tour of our house, he looked like a gay pretzel. Right before they walked in I had switched a picture on the mantel with one of him in full naked glory.
“Oh, that,” I said sheepishly, my memory refreshed.
“Yes, ‘that’,” he snarled. “Swear to me you won’t be yourself for the whole weekend.”
I swore. Which meant I had to ditch my plans to ingratiate myself to his very southern, Kentucky family by showing up at the door with two blackened front teeth.
Even on my best behavior, I present a huge problem to Southern families. As the world’s smallest minority I don’t have to write columns or make practical jokes to get people to hate me. I just show up. As the only gay, Latin, Jew who’s had his first communion, I redefine the way bigotry is practiced in this country (my father was a Roman Catholic from Ecuador; my mom’s Jewish and from another foreign country — New York).
Basically, I bring convenience to the prejudiced, providing one-stop shopping for busy haters. They can roll a queer, attack a Jew, and get served a taco — all in one place. As many of my loyal bigots proclaimed, “Why hate anywhere else?”
Which brings me to the first question I asked my boyfriend: “What will wreck your family more? That I’m gay, Jewish, or Latino?”
“Neither,” he shot back. “Your personality — that’ll offend them the most.”
A six-hour car-ride later and we’re in Kentucky. Where I met the most friendly, unbigoted family in the south.
I instantly liked his 26-year-old brother. Mostly because he calls Brad “fruit-boy.” His brother reminded me that gays don’t have a lock on hair obsession. Even his 14 year-old stepbrother has an entire suite of hair care products. The teen said three words to me the whole time I was there, and only when I was in the bathroom with the door closed. He knocked and asked if I could hand him the hair mousse before I got in the shower.
I was trying really hard to keep my promise and not be myself. But his grandfather presented me with the kind of opportunity you break promises for. He dismissed any ideas of going hungry on the trip back because — are you ready for this? — there were so many Cracker Barrel restaurants on the way home!
You remember Cracker Barrel. They’re the southern restaurant chain that sent out a memo instructing managers to fire anyone they suspected of being gay, triggering massive protests.
It was a bases-loaded-bottom-of-the-ninth-I’m-Mark-McGwire-and-somebody-just-pitched-me-a-grapefruit kind of moment. The kind of moment requiring maturity and self-restraint.
I had three choices. I could ignore it, I could take a principled stand or I could torture my boyfriend by prolonging the conversation without signaling which way I was heading.
I chose the lower road. As anyone who’s married knows, principled stands tend to cheapen a relationship. The chance to create real pain for your spouse is not something you should easily pass up.
Brad, who would have ripped into anybody for suggesting a meal at Cracker Barrel was silent, his mission a peaceful no-conflicts holiday. He simultaneously begged me and threatened me with his eyes. I looked at him, I looked at his grandfather, I looked back at him. And to his grandfather I said:
“Great! Did you know that Cracker Barrel is Brad’s favorite restaurant?!”
I paused for effect. “Isn’t that right, Brad?”
Perhaps the sweetest moment of my visit came when I said goodbye to his 98-year-old great-grandmother, a woman prone to sticking her tongue out when told something she didn’t like. It was the kind of defining moment that each of us wants from our families — a chance for light to flicker against dark and wind.
As we said goodbye, she grabbed my hand and with kind, knowing eyes said “You and Brad are, are …” she struggled, her sense of southern propriety disallowing anything direct. “You both are nice, nice boys.” For a culture that still refers to the civil war as “the recent unpleasantness” those were pretty powerful words. But it was her look, not her words, that said what she meant:
“God bless you both. Take care of each other.”
© 2000, Michael Alvear
Mr. Alvear writes for Idaho’s “Diversity” newspaper.
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