Saturday, May 26, 2007

Committing Family

This column was first published by The Liberty Press in April 2007. Regular blogging will resume after Memorial Day.

By Diane Silver

I hurt.

I suffered a loss this month. It’s the kind of loss that makes you suddenly pack a bag and go online to buy airline tickets to fly to a family funeral.

This is personal, but sadly people will also try to make it political because this loss illustrates how those of us who are LGBT are never allowed to just be family. Even explaining who died could be seen as a political act. Despite the usual focus of this column, though, I don’t want to do that.

The people who pursue us with a single-minded obsession force every aspect of our families into the political arena. I’m just as tired of it as I’m sure you are if you’re LGBT or part of one of our families, but I digress.

The person who died was named Marge. She was 87. She had been in failing health for several years, and she was my mother-in-law. And here is where things get sticky.

Most people probably wouldn’t have called her that. I suspect Marge might have been uncomfortable with that title, but that is who she was. Marge was the mother of my late life partner, and the relationship I had with my late partner was a marriage in all but name.

Marge was never completely comfortable with that relationship. However, she did something that millions of mothers do every year. She accepted her daughter and her choices. Marge didn’t disown her, and she always welcomed both of us home for reunions.

When my partner had a son and I eagerly took on the role of co-parent, Marge doted on her grandson and accepted me farther into the family. When my partner died of breast cancer and my son was only 7 years old, Marge could have torn us apart. She could have demanded custody of my son, and given Kansas law, both then and now, she would have won. Instead, she did what loving grandmothers should do: She thought about the needs of her grandchild.

My son had already lost one parent. Marge and other members of the family didn’t compound that by tearing him away from the only other parent he had ever known. As a result, my son knew security. He survived the tragic loss of one parent and grew into the fine man of 21 he is today.

You see how this could be seen as political, don’t you? To call Marge my mother-in-law, to even say that I’m going to a family funeral, is to claim to have been married. To some people, that’s a sin. To honor Marge for considering what was best for her grandson is to call into question every lie the anti-gay right tells about LGBT parents. Even to be invited to Marge’s funeral is to destroy the myth that lesbians are always shunned.

Oh yes, LGBT people face many trials, and my late partner and I even faced a couple of them with Marge and other members of the family. But to the credit of this incredibly tight-knit group of people, they have always done with the best families do: They made decisions out of compassion. They followed the Golden Rule and treated others as they themselves would want to be treated.

In a few days, my son and I will board a plane, fly down to Florida and share our grief with the rest of the family.

When we’re attending services, laughing about the fun times and sharing tears, we won’t be making a political point. Instead, we will be doing what millions of other LGBT families do every day: We will be living our lives.

Perhaps, that is the most radical act of all.

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