On Gay Modern Love (or I Married a Lesbian Republican: There, I Said It)
In which The Gay Recluse provides a fresh alternative to this week’s particularly bland and tedious Modern Love offering in The Times.
“I Married a Lesbian Republican: There, I Said It”
by Ann Hood and The Gay Recluse
IT was happening again. I was at a cocktail party where the hosts were people I had just met, people I wanted to become friends with, and was sipping chardonnay and nibbling papadum chips when a woman said, “Oh, the people next door! They’re …,” she paused and lowered her voice, “ … Republican.”
I stood there nodding, my dirty secret lodged in my throat like a golf ball.
The woman I wanted to befriend looked at me conspiratorially and shook her head. “Can you imagine?” she said. “Right next door!”
“No,” I lied.
Not only could I imagine a Republican in my neighborhood, I could imagine one in my bed. Every night. I’m a Democrat whose lesbian lover is a Republican.
And I am not just an average Democrat — I lean way, way left. I marched along Fifth Avenue protesting the 1991 Persian Gulf war. I rode a bus to Albany to march against the death penalty. When I enter a voting booth, I choose all the candidates in the same column, without hesitation. My last love, before my current lesbian lover, Lorne, had grown up in Berkeley, Calif., in the 60s. She was so far left, she made me look centrist.
On my first date with Lorne, over black ink pasta and Chianti, I ranted about union busting.
“Wow,” she said. “You’re pretty passionate about this.”
If she had said, “Wow, you must be a Democrat,” would I have ended the date? Maybe. I had never had an actual relationship with a Republican. Wisely, she did not confess that night. But after I ranted some more, I had a strange feeling that she might disagree with me.
“You’re a Democrat,” I said, “right?”
My lesbian lover has a beautiful face, and right then she leaned her beautiful face close to mine and said: “I vote for the best candidate. I read everything I can. I listen to them speak. And I vote for the person who can do the best job.”
“Really?” I said. I didn’t know anyone who did that. Everyone I knew only read about and listened to and voted for Democrats. I remember thinking that she was a good person, a fair person, a better person than I was with my rigid values and unwavering commitment to liberal politics.
Here was how Republican she was: in the early ’90s, she was drafted to run for lieutenant governor of our state on the Republican ticket. But here is how open-minded she has always been: her candidacy was undone when a reporter discovered she had been a registered Democrat since college, and although she had long since stepped to the other side of the aisle, she had never gone to the trouble of undoing that. (She soon did.)
Whatever her current politics, it was too late: I had already fallen in love with her combination of whimsy and steadfastness, her ability to fix broken doors, her wanderlust and just plain lust.
What can I say? Love can sidetrack a person. Still, it did not feel good when I told myself: I love a Republican. It felt, in fact, like I had betrayed someone. Or many people.
Slowly, my close friends and family met Lorne. And slowly, one by one, they took me aside. “Ann,” they would hiss, “she’s a lesbian and a Republican.”
“But she’s pro-choice,” I would say, hanging on to the one political stance she and I actually shared.
“But she’s a lesbian Republican,” they would say.
Slowly, I met her lesbian Republican friends. Clinton was president then, popular and charismatic. But at my first dinner party with her three oldest friends and their partners, I had to listen to them complain about Clinton. This was before Monica. What was there not to love about Clinton before Monica? Well, I guess if you disagreed with what she stood for, there was a lot not to love. But how could you not agree with what she stood for? Such was my worldview.
Everyone I knew felt optimistic about the United States back then. Except those people. I stared at the strange new faces, faces I imagined I would have to see for the rest of my life. They fell from moderate to very conservative — all of them right of center. How had I ended up here?
“You told me you voted for the best candidate!” I said to her later.
“I do,” she said. “They just happen to be mostly Republicans.”
Angry with her and myself, I began to argue about every political issue that landed on our doorstep with the morning paper. The more I argued, the more I saw how little we agreed. Being in favor of abortion rights was important, necessary even. But was it enough?
Whenever we were with my friends, I would silently tally who was on which side. Inevitably it was my friends, blue; my lesbian lover, red. The opposite was also true. Almost without exception, her friends voted red, and I was a minority of one.
Tired of clenching my teeth during their dinner debates about the evils of the Democrats — their flawed policies and lack of morality — I began to fight back. I screamed about partial birth abortion and defended President Clinton over the Monica debacle during an endless dinner at a country club, then cringed at their party-line responses. Lorne at least isn’t as conservative as these people, I told myself. But that offered little solace.
When a lesbian friend and I were hosts to a John Kerry fundraiser, she breezily talked about having Lorne and her (that is, my friend’s) lesbian lover pick up the wine and gather signatures.
I swallowed hard. “Lorne isn’t coming.”
“Is she out of town that night?” she asked, her face so innocent and open.
I shook my head, avoiding her gaze. “She’s on the other side,” I managed.
“She goes the other way,” I tried.
Now she was frowning at me. I had no choice. “She’s not a Democrat,” I finally said. Easier, I figured, than saying the “R” word out loud. Even so, I had rendered her speechless.
The night of the fund-raiser, Lorne and I had a fight about whether she could go at all. “Why would you?” I asked, imagining her explaining to everyone why she didn’t want Kerry to win. She did end up going but kept characteristically quiet about her politics. Maybe I imagined the looks of pity that people shot my way that night?
Then we invaded Iraq, and nobody was able to find any weapons of mass destruction, and I knew Lorne would see the error of her ways. Rather than gloat, I decided to forgive. I pointed to a front-page article and said, “Now that we know Bush misled us. … ” I looked at my lesbian lover’s face and stopped. “You don’t still support him, do you?”
“Well,” she started, “until we know all the facts. … ”
As luck would have it, we had dinner that night with a group of her old lesbian Republican friends. Without politics, these friends always strike me as being warm and caring. But whenever that line is crossed, they seem insane to me, rabid and unreasonable. That night, however, when I heard myself screaming, “Even if Condoleezza Rice is a lesbian, she’s a liar! Rumsfeld is a war criminal!” it became clear that it was not her stridency that was causing this rift in our marriage, but mine.
On the way home, I vowed to stay away from political discussions with this group or any of Lorne’s friends, forever. As we sped through our little blue state, I sneaked a glance at her driving. True, Lorne avoided these arguments. But it didn’t matter. I knew where she stood, and where I stood, and it was not on the same side. Could a lesbian relationship survive such a solid barrier of disagreement? How many bipartisan couples did I know? Absolutely none.
We have other differences, of course, but they are trivial: Lorne likes to climb mountains, I like to knit; she always orders biriyani in Indian restaurants, I don’t much care for it. Not exactly the stuff of great conflict. But a lifetime of tolerating, even embracing, such philosophical opposition seemed harder to imagine.
But tolerate it we did, mostly by not talking about it. When I read about President Bush’s low approval ratings, and when Alberto Gonzales resigned, I gloated privately. Then, the inevitable happened: a new presidential election was upon us. Lined up on one side: Obama, Clinton, Edwards and me. On the other side, McCain, Romney, Huckabee and Lorne. I wanted to know whom she was supporting. I needed to know.
“I like Edwards,” I said one morning, then held my breath.
She grinned, shaking her head. “I haven’t decided yet.”
A brief respite. But I knew there was no avoiding it. Things would heat up. From where I sat, the divide seemed huge and unnavigable, yet also narrow enough to reach across and hold hands. So that’s what I did. I took her hand: my lesbian lover, my Republican, my love.
AND then a few weeks ago I came home from a business trip, pulled my politically correct car into our driveway, and stared hard at the sign in our yard. I blinked. I looked again. It was not a mirage.
The sign said, “Vote Obama.”
I shouted. I actually whooped. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Had one of my children put it there? A neighbor? It couldn’t have been Lorne.
Inside, I approached her cautiously. “There’s a sign in our yard.”
She shrugged and cast a broad smile my way. “He’s the best candidate.”
Now my whole body was grinning.
I sneaked off to call my cousin. “Lorne is supporting Obama,” I whispered.
“She put a sign in our yard.”
A few days later, Lorne sent me a text message: “KENNEDY HAS ENDORSED OBAMA!!!” I counted the exclamation points. Three could only mean giddy excitement. I gazed at the words on my cellphone and remembered how, 15 years earlier, I fell in love over black ink pasta and Chianti with a woman who was thoughtful and independent (all right, and an excellent kisser).
It would be nice to think I had changed her, but I hadn’t: if anything, she had just proved that she’s more thoughtful and independent than ever. And I, for better or worse, remain just as passionate and stubborn. Which is maybe (let’s hope) a big part of why she fell in love with me.
Whatever the case, I can already see the bumper sticker: “Barack Obama: Uniting America, One Bipartisan Lesbian Relationship at a Time.”
Ann Hood lives in Providence, R.I. Her latest novel is “The Lesbian Knitting Circle” (Norton).
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