`Acceptance. To feel respect and approval from our family, our friends, our fellow man. Something we all yearn for, something we all seek, whether we recognize or admit to it or not. Acceptance can come in many forms, sometimes after long periods of searching for it, after struggles and struggles to work towards it, and sometimes – out of nowhere – when we most least expect it. For me, one of the singular and most life affirming moments that I’ve felt this degree of acceptance was a few years ago at my dear friend Elaine’s wedding.
Elaine and I met through the workplace almost 8 years ago now. In just a short time, we developed an amazing friendship, in a brother from another mother kind of way….well, except she’d be a sister. We bonded over music and food and beer and dancing, and shared a very similar, very wicked Gaelic sense of humour. That, and the girl is absolutely stunningly beautiful, and DAMN – we thought – we looked good together as we went off to take on the town on one of our many adventures. Ironically, and although I am (ahem) a few years older than she, we grew up (me in Whitney Pier, Elaine in New Waterford) about 25 minutes apart in good ol’ Cape Breton, but never met until our paths crossed here.
Anyway, the fun continued, and then one day….er make that night at the Lower Deck, Elaine meets Andy, this good looking, rugby playin’ transplanted Newfoundlander now living and working in the Valley, and the sparks flew. In a magical, here come the fireworks kinda way. And then….nothing. Andy was presumably back home, but had her number, but still, no phone call. The first day I said “don’t be silly, of course he’ll call! You just wait!” The next day, seeing Elaine’s disappointed face, I said “Um, maybe he’s busy, or maybe his dog ate the phone number you think?” And after the third day of no contact, I cried “forget that loser, we’ll go cruising for another one, a better one next Saturday!” (Yes, I literally did teach my buddy how to “cruise” guys, to her great success, but that’s a story for another day!) But then, wouldn’t you know it, Andy phoned that very night. And every night after that. And suddenly he started visiting his sister Charmaine (I love this girl! And a beer rep sister….I mean, come on, seriously, how cool is that??) in the city And months later, moved himself to the city and before long they were completely inseparable, and within a year or so happily engaged to be married.
With this exciting news, Elaine’s Ma Kaye was a more frequent visitor to town, eager to help plan her youngest daughter’s wedding. After hearing so much about her mom, a very lively spirit if ever there was one, well-known in our homeland of Cape Breton for her love of music and step dancing, I was excited for the chance to finally meet her. And we did meet, although rather unexpectedly during the work day, when I ran into them in the hospital corridor where we both worked, on an afternoon Kaye stopped by for a visit. Elaine greeted me with a big hug, while her mom gave me a quick, polite smile but kept walking. “Ma, THIS is my friend Colin that you’ve heard so much about!” Kaye looked at me quizzically, then back to Elaine. “Huh, this is Colin? This guy? Really?” To me “Are you sure?” “MA!” Elaine cried, looking just slightly mortified. “Yup, 100 percent!” I laughed, assuming she must mean my sexuality, “but if I weren’t I would’ve run off with your daughter here years ago, just so you know!”. Elaine continued to apologize long after, and noted what came out of her mom later was even “worse”, something about how I didn’t seem to look gay or act gay, and people must look at me and think “wow, what a waste, with no girlfriend, no wife.” But I thought her mom’s reaction quite funny and amusing, and knew her comments were to be taken lightly. “Come on,” I’d say, “We ARE from Cape Breton! The only point of reference many of our peeps back home have these days is Jack MacFarland, by way of Jack Tripper. Kaye and I came to grow quite close over the following weeks, and she came to love Shawn even more, and the three of us delighted in each other’s company and our ability to make each other laugh, usually at Andy and Elaine’s eye popping and/or eye rolling expense.
One summer evening, just weeks before the wedding, we gathered at the Lower Deck, the original scene of the crime, to celebrate the upcoming nuptials. There we met Paul, an old school buddy and former roommate of Andy’s, who, truth be told, seemed to be struggling a bit watching his friend take this big step into adulthood and settle down with his new bride. After one too many draught, he began to extol about how even though Elaine and Andy were about to become husband and wife, she should know that no one has ever known Andy as well as he does, and that they were as close as two friends could be and always would be, no matter what. Not meaning to be hurtful I’m sure, more likely just not thinking clearly…but I could see my friend was taken aback, wondering where this equation, proposed by her soon to be husband’s best friend, left her.
The wedding day was soon upon us, and the beautiful but simple ceremony held in a small church in New Waterford, literally packed to the rafters with friends, family, and well wishers of the new bride and groom. And the reception that night, in true Cape Breton style, turned out to be one of the most fun parties I’ve ever had the pleasure to attend. The festivities were helped along by Kaye, who swung both Shawn and I around on the dance floor like a quarterback might throw a winning game, and Elaine’s equally beautiful and equally wild and crazy cousins Lynn, Jacqueline, and Trea, who opened a “bar” in Lynn’s trunk, to which the cover charge was a kiss on the cheek and to wear a mini umbrella behind one’s ear (well, originally it was to go shirtless, but we were able to talk Lynn down.). And so….I proceeded to get a bit intoxicated. Now, days before the wedding, when I told friends that we were off to the wedding and ho down in New Waterford, they’d reply “well, have fun, but be careful”. I wasn’t quite sure what that meant. Don’t get lost along the way? Don’t forget to bring protection? “Well…” they’d say, “just don’t you guys be too….obvious.” Obvious? What the hell did that mean? Were we going to get down and do the nasty in the middle of the dance floor? Were we going to break out the feather boas Shawn clearly always keeps cleverly concealed in his trunk and belt out some show tunes? Probably not. Although, I did, at that point, have at least 5 cocktail umbrellas sticking out behind my ears. So, that “warning” did little to quiet us down, as both Shawn and I love to dance, alone…with each other, with anyone who’ll care to dance with us. Shawn has this thing he does where he likes to lift me up and spin me around so hard I start to laugh til I feel I might puke….well, here he just did the same ol’ thing, only Celtic, round dance style. Seems I’m just as dizzy afterwards.
As the evening progressed, Elaine’s two lovely and ever so slightly older and wiser sisters Tracey and Kathleen grabbed centre stage, and began to poke hilarious fun at Elaine for passing them over for the bridesmaids jobs, and then making the terrible mistake of letting them emcee. And after about 20 mins of making everyone roll on the floor laughing so hard our sides hurt, these first ladies of comedy opened the floor to the guests, and asked for people to come forward to give toasts to the bride and groom. And after Elaine’s uncle and Andy’s brother extended well wishes, Andy’s friend Paul soon grabbed the mic. His speech started out OK, sharing stories from their former college days, but then he started to…go a bit off track, once again, describing how important he and Andy were to one another, and then jokingly said that he sometimes like to think of himself as “Andy’s heterosexual life partner”. And then….silence in the room. Utter and complete. And as I looked across the room at Elaine’s face, I could tell she was feeling a bit annoyed, and perhaps a little sad and hurt by these comments. So….what to do? Two things struck me. First, I felt an immediate urge to come to my friend’s defense, to at least somehow lighten the situation. But then, second, I just witnessed a straight guy deliver a potentially “gay” joke that went over badly, and I wondered if I got up there on stage, would I just make matters worse? Nevertheless, the first instinct took over, and I quickly took the stage from Paul, still surveying the stunned silence in the room. I had prepared a bit of a speech to give earlier in the day, something about how I’d been there the night they met to witness the magic unfold, all that, but that was now superseded by a need to “fix” what had just happened. So I began:
“Hi there. I wanted to introduce myself. My name is Colin, but you can call me by the names I’m better known as: Elaine’s Homosexual Life Partner, or as Kaye affectionately likes to refer to me – What A Waste!” And with that, the room broke out into laughter, applause, and foot stomping cheers. So much so that I became so overwhelmed I forgot the speech I was originally going to deliver. And for the rest of the night I became a bit of a mini celebrity. Girls asked me to dance, guys approached me to shake my hands and slap me on the back, older ladies would point and whisper “there’s the gay guy!” and then smile and wave as I passed outside on my way to and from Lynn’s bar.
I enjoyed my newfound fame for the rest of the evening and we all celebrated ’til next to dawn. And left feeling good about being a Caper Bretoner and about being queer. Elaine laughed so hard at the Homosexual Life Partner line she couldn’t possibly be bothered by the Heterosexual one. And apparently being “obvious” in good ol’ New Waterford is just fine. Well, who would’ve thunk? Me maybe. Let’s just say I had a good feeling about it 🙂