No, not the emotion. Today I mourn the passing of Joy, the person.
Joy was the longtime partner of one of my great aunts, Ruthie. I often joke that I’m “1/8th gay” because lesbianism runs on my grandma’s side of the family. It’s tongue-in-cheek, but true — Ruthie was my lesbian great aunt.
Joy died yesterday following a long battle with lung cancer.
Now my family (on my mom’s side) is straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting. A whole clan of middle class church-going straight white Anglo-Saxon protestants. While nobody is what I’d call a “fundie”, there are quite a few that I’d call “evangelical” and most of them I’d call “born again”.
Yet there was never any shunning of Ruthie & Joy. They were together at every family reunion I can remember since 1980 (we hold them biennially), they always had one hotel room with one bed, they were always photographed together in the family pictures, and everyone adored them both.
However, their homosexuality was always topic non grata. It’s not like it was a secret; it was just something not talked about. A love that dare not speak its name, if you will.
Part of that was the family dynamic, part of that was Ruthie and Joy themselves. Ruthie must be in her late 70s by now, so they’re from the generation before Stonewall. They were never public about their relationship – they wouldn’t hold hands at the store, for instance – and would never engage in any sort of political rights movement. I never got to talk to either about
gay marriage equal rights to marriage for gays, but I have a feeling they wouldn’t have supported it, more out of a “don’t rock the boat” attitude than anything sinister or self-loathing.
I was more than happy to accept Ruthie & Joy’s feelings on the matter, but it was always weird that it was me having the heated discussions about homosexuality with my relatives and not them. In a sense, Ruthie & Joy’s non-action helped to foster some of the continued anti-gay sentiments some of my relatives still harbor.
Actually, “anti-gay” isn’t exactly a perfect description. Like I said, my family loved Ruthie & Joy. I think some in my family just prefer their homosexuals closeted and non-confrontational. Ruthie & Joy never tried to force America down to her knees and shove the rock hard gay agenda down her unwilling throat.
I will be interested to see how the shared property and inhertance issues work out. In the meantime, my heart goes out to Aunt Ruthie and condolences to the rest of their families.