A Different Way of Celebrating
The rituals and holidays and gift-giving orgies by which we signpost (and thus try to direct) our reality take on new and often awkward meanings when applied to the newfangled families many of us are forming. I have been invited to parties celebrating not just birthdays but adoption days. Parents of children born -- even if not raised -- in other cultures sometimes observe or adapt the festivities attached to those cultures: Chinese New Year, Kwanzaa, or for that matter Mothers' Day (plural). Lacking the bright line of legal marriage, gay couples are especially open (or vulnerable) to these gerrymandered celebrations, forced to mark innumerable vague anniversaries instead of one vivid milestone. My partner and I don't even know how to compute the length of our relationship. Do we count from the day that Andy and I met? That was in April, 1995. From our first date, that June? From the first time we slept together -- which was not the same evening, mind you? Or should we institutionalize the date from which, having agreed to be faithful, we counted out the waiting period for any preexisting infection to show up on an HIV test? That was July 1, like a fiscal year -- and about as romantic.
Because our two boys are now 8 and 10, it makes very little difference which of those anniversaries we choose; none will be observed more than cursorily. We're too tired and busy. Instead we focus on the boys' birthdays, not just because everyone does, but because their birthdays are the one thing they have always owned, and gave to us. We are religious about honoring those days with proper presents, as we are about no other commemoration. By "proper present," I keep telling Andy, who once gave me a remaindered novel in a grocery bag for my birthday, I mean a thing in a box. Not an "I love you," nice as that is, or a promise of a gift that will come sometime later, but a tangible item wrapped, knotted with ribbon, and delivered on the actual day one was born.
Lack of Tradition
We give the boys what we aren't quite comfortable giving ourselves. How do you wholeheartedly celebrate the traditional milestones of family life when tradition utterly rejects you? It is probably willful that I can't even remember what day our status as domestic partners was made official at the Municipal Building in downtown Manhattan, though I know it was in the fall of 2001 because there were armed guards everywhere, and the pop of our champagne cork in the marble halls nearly caused an incident. Perhaps the event's lack of emotional resonance (though it was emotional at the time) is the result of our calculating rather than celebratory motivation in seeking recognition, however second-class, for our relationship: health insurance. (As the domestic partner of a municipal employee -- Andy is a high-school guidance counselor in Brooklyn -- I am eligible to share his city-provided benefits.) Had we arrived with more romantic notions, they would have been shot down in any case. The line for registering as domestic partners was also the line for registering as lobbyists. ("I'd like to fake-marry my boyfriend here, and, while I'm at it, urge the city to consider the myriad benefits of natural gas, the clean fuel!") Later, the suitable-for-framing certificates, printed on a computer along with our receipt, were slid through a crack by a bored clerk who had helpfully taped a warning on his grubby, bulletproof window: "Don't ask for a pen I don't have one." We signed with our own.