by Scott Owens
My friend, Gregory, was perhaps the greatest female impersonator the city of Charlotte has ever seen. For the eleven years that I knew him, he was Patti LaBelle, and he was so good at it that after every performance he was surrounded by men who wanted to be with him and overwhelmed by invitations to go home with them. But the invitations came almost exclusively from men who didn’t know Gregory because those who did, knew that every night he was going home with Sean. Part of what made Gregory so good at what he did was how much he loved the attention his performances brought him, but most of all he loved the attention of Sean, who in eleven years, and probably for much longer than that, never missed a single one of Gregory’s performances.
The most “in-love” couple I have ever known were Lisa and Lana. Lisa was an English professor at UNC Charlotte, and Lana was the very successful owner of a real estate business in the area. When I met them, they had already been a couple for eighteen years. They were so kind to each other that it seemed almost impossible, almost too good to be true, but I came to know them well and discovered that their kindness was one of the truest things I would ever experience. I did odd jobs for them while working my way through college. I worked on their house, their yard; I even house sat for them when they traveled. And when I lost my home through divorce from a heterosexual marriage that was rushed into to take advantage of the favorable tax and insurance rates offered to married couples, I lived with them for a while. So I was able to observe firsthand a closeness unlike any I had seen before or since. When Lisa had a decision to make, her first thought was always what Lana would want, and Lana’s was always of Lisa. They routinely looked into each other’s eyes far longer than I could imagine it being comfortable to do so. They held hands and hugged often, but even more they seemed to touch somehow constantly and so gently that it was almost imperceptible. When Lisa developed ovarian cancer, Lana moved her office into their home and was with Lisa every moment of her two year struggle with the disease. They cried together, laughed together, remembered and regretted together. Lana pursued her business only when Lisa slept. And when the two years ended tragically, it was Lana who held her when Lisa took her last breath.
Perhaps the two best men I’ve ever known are David and Manuel. They own a small business in a small town in North Carolina. Separately they are each thoughtful, nice, hardworking, and honest. Together they have become a veritable force for good. They and their business are the living epitomes of the word “charity.” They not only contribute time, energy, and money at a level that seems beyond their means, but they facilitate opportunities for others to discover ways of coming together for a cause and contributing as well. Over the years they have done more to support the arts, the health and safety of children, the advancement of women, the awareness and research of various diseases, and the humane treatment of animals than any dozen other people in the community. Their business is widely recognized as a hub of artistic and charitable efforts. One can hardly mention their names without hearing back, “Aren’t they wonderful!” And I’ve yet to hear anyone, even those I know frown upon homosexuality, contradict that claim.
Two other good friends of mine, Amanda and Carol, have been together for thirty years. Unlike the others I’ve mentioned, they are not characterized by traits commonly thought of as “genteel.” They are rough and crude; they curse like sailors; they smoke; they dress badly; they operate a farm together and are often seen with dirty hands and dirty clothes. Yet, like the others I’ve named, their lives seem defined by true gentleness, as well as by kindness, compassion, and commitment. Granted, Carol had a child in a conventional marriage before admitting to herself which way her heart was truly directed. But after rescuing her son from her violent husband, being granted a divorce, and spending a few years alone with him, she and Amanda raised him together. Now, pushing 70 themselves, they work together to help Carol’s 96-year-old aunt finish her years with peace and dignity.
Despite recent reports that child abuse is virtually nonexistent in lesbian relationships, I am not naïve enough to think that all homosexual relationships are faultless, and I know that they can be far from perfect. But I grew up the abused son of heterosexual parents who between the two of them have had thirteen divorces, and as a community college instructor, I’ve seen enough bad heterosexual relationships to know with certainty that there is nothing particularly providential about the pairing of a young man with a young woman. So, when I hear the rhetoric of those opposed to gay marriage, I can only wonder, especially given the dubious history of marriage as an institution, how anyone can feel they have the right to tell someone else who they can or cannot marry. Or how anyone can tell another that because their commitment is not to someone of the opposite gender they have to pay higher tax, life insurance, health insurance, and car insurance rates. And when I think about Gregory and Sean, Lana and Lisa, David and Manuel, and Amanda and Carol, I cannot fathom how anyone could dare say to them that their love isn’t good enough for anything.