THE LOOK OF LOVE

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I’m a 9th generation American homosexual.

Either that, or there’s an amazing coincidence in the inordinate number of bachelors and spinsters in my ancestry. I count two or three in every generation on both sides of the family for the past 336 years.   

Perhaps that’s why the stigma attached to being single wasn’t an issue in my upbringing. My father’s sister never married. And even though the topic of ‘why’ wasn’t openly broached, my maternal grandmother divorced after her second daughter was born. She spent the balance of her life as single, in the close company of women.

I suppose you could misconstrue this as proof that it’s possible to be raised gay, or that I was. But you’d be wrong.

I wasn’t raised to be sexual at all. Like so many of my generation, the subject of sex was taboo in our home. And even though I grew up with two sisters and three brothers, we never shared conversations of an intimate nature until we were all well into our 40s. Even then, the talks were strictly casual between just sisters.

My father was as distant as mother was demonstrative by nature. It was she who showed us how happiness flows from doing good.

We learned to be courteous, courageous, curious and kind. We were exposed to music, literature, art and theater. We were trained to respect language through oratory and debate. And while exploring the works of William Shakespeare, my mother implored us to hold dear the line, “To thine own self be true.”

So don’t think it took some long struggle with my sexual identity before I spoke the words, “I’m gay” to my mom. Nor was it her fear of hurting my feelings that kept an exchange from happening between us before she reached 89.

It’s simply — believe it or not — most lesbians don’t consciously categorize themselves as being gay, per se. I don’t. I never have.

True, I avoided dating while in high school and remained chaste until halfway through my 23rd year. By then the family phone fests had my younger sister convinced I’d become some sort of recluse, while my older sister swore I must be ‘on’ something. (Mom thought if I wasn’t, maybe I should be.) 

So, when I called home from New York City that glorious March day in 1970 to tell mom I’d be bringing a friend back for a visit, she was delighted. She didn’t question what the friendship entailed or which gender it involved. All that mattered was I’d finally connected with someone.

No one has questioned it since. Liz remains the only love of my life. For the past 43 years we’ve lived under the same roof sharing the same bank account, abiding by the same moral compass, collaborating in the same businesses, and demonstrating the same affections for an array of pets. 

We’ve never been apart in all those years. Never taken separate vacations or even wanted to. Never appeared at gatherings alone. Never accepted an invitation unless the other’s name was included on the envelope. Never sent a birthday card, letter, or holiday greeting without our joint salutation.

We aren’t provocative or particularly political. There’s no role-playing, recognition-dressing, or exhibitionism. And even though our choice to remain reserved is based on a nothing-to-hide-nothing-to-share ideology, you can’t exactly classify us as closeted.

The fact is, no one has ever asked me, “Are you gay?” Not even once in all these years. Instead, we’ve been treated like any other two people who graciously appear as an extension of the other.

But then, at age 89, my mom finally brought it up.

“Why now?” I asked her during our daily long-distance chat.

“I watched a biography on television last night about two men who had this great devotion for each other,” she recounted. “And I marveled, how wonderful it must be to know that kind of love. It made me think of you and Liz.”

My eyes welled.

“But they led such tragic lives in many ways,” she continued. “I hope no one’s ever been mean to you like that.”

I recognized a question masked in those words.

My mom and I were always close. She was a role model for the independent spirit I became, a mentor of uncommon good sense. But there are things I’d never confided — mostly because they all occurred to me in retrospect, long after I’d missed the meaning of the stone thrown.

I had just turned 15, fresh from being voted the wittiest girl in my class and slated to become editor of the school paper, a forensics champion, thespian, and most photographed person in my senior yearbook. Plus, some considered me cute to boot.

And yet, I was never a team player. I rarely attended sports events. I avoided pep rallies. I didn’t spend  spare time with classmates. I resisted temptation and defied intimidation. I refused to follow the crowd. And I simply did not date.

Not that I lacked opportunity. Indeed, my primary pals were male. But I was careful to keep boys at bay, preferring platonic relationships restricted to school hours, or clustered occasions. 

Because my mind wasn’t functioning in the immediate present back then. It was clouded with illusions of running off to Greenwich Village to live as a Bohemian poetess and consumer underachiever.

Then one afternoon while stopping to pick up books for history class, I noticed a word scrawled sideways down my hallway locker with letters the length and width of the door: Q-U-E-E-R.

It was 1961, a time when ‘queer’ hadn’t yet become generically derogatory in small-town, Midwest America and graffiti was an anomaly. I pondered the purpose of the scribbling only a moment before shrugging, grabbing my books and jamming the combination lock closed.

Then I glanced toward the far end of the hall. There stood my best friend in the company of girls belonging to the most popular class clique. They’d been watching me. Watching as I approached my locker. Watching as I read the message on the door. Watching while I prepared to leave. They seemed insidious standing there.

So I did the unexpected. I waved, and smiled, and walked away — oblivious. Because right then, I hadn’t a clue the day would dawn when I’d look across a crowded room and fall in love with a woman looking back at me. 

But apparently, they knew — those cowards with ‘pencils’ mightier than swords. 

“No,” I said to calm my disquieted mother. “No one ever hurt me.” It was such a long time ago and such a well-intended little lie.

But I think about it more often now that she’s passed on and I’m getting older. How the heartsore hasn’t healed much in 336 years since the first of my ancestors sought freedom here from religious persecution. How men are still mauled and murdered and women are ridiculed and raped in righteous retribution for being gay.

What has changed is an emergence of people demonstrating compassion, acceptance, and moral courage — most of them parents, friends and relatives enlightened by genetic codes.

I know there will always be conflict between those who flash a swagger as their badge of honor, and those who flash a swish.

But I’m thinking, someday, there might be three key categories from which to choose: Heterosexuals. Homosexuals. And people who love each other.

The last one? 

That would be me.

#   #   #   

This freshly updated essay by Marguerite Quantaine first appeared in The St. Petersburg Times, eleven years ago.  (Copyright by M. Quantaine © 2002/2013)

Please share your thoughts on love, here, by selecting REPLY.

I’m all eyes and heart.

 

 

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38 thoughts on “THE LOOK OF LOVE

  1. Mary Anne Frett

    There have been unattached cousins, great aunts and uncles in my family too and it never occurred to me that they might have been single because they were homosexuals until I was in my mid-forties and accepted myself for what I am. Now I realize that I am not the first in the family and I know I am not the last.
    You were so very lucky to find the love of your life and accept that love without question and without labels.
    Yeah, that third category is the one I hope future generations of my family choose.

    Reply
    1. margueritequantaine Post author

      When I was still too young to truly understand her words, my mom told me not to bother myself with what others thought, said, wanted, or expected of me. She said I’d never reach my full potential and I’d never truly be happy if I concentrated on what others thought instead of what I wanted. That advice has served me well.

      I cannot say, unequivocally, which of the unmarrieds in my ancestry were gay since even my mom, aunt, and grandmother told me different stories than they told my siblings. But I know for certain, I’m not alone on the tree.

      Yes, I was fortunate in oh-so many ways. (Being naive helped.)

      Reply
  2. Donna Wells

    When I was about 13 maybe 14 my mother decieded it was time to have the birds and bees “talk”. a couple minutes into this talk she looked at me and said” you don’t need this do you” I srugged my shoulders and say no mam. That was the end of that. My dad was a little different, old retired military man that he was. I was visiting him with a female friend. as we were unpacking the car I let him know we were going out that night. He said to me “you going to one of them GD queer bars” I said yes sir.He said just be careful don’t drink if your going to be driving. My parents knew long before I did, I concider myself fortunate to have had them for my parents. It never mattered who I brought to visit they were alway treated as one of the family, respecting each other was the very first lesson taught in my family. It’s never occured to think of any single realitive as anything other than a person not married. Congratulations on your long and happy relationship. thank you for sharing your story.

    Reply
    1. margueritequantaine Post author

      Thanks Donna. You were fortunate to have the parents you did and the courage to be yourself. I think if girls learned to be valiant while still quite young they’d go on to live happier, more productive lives. I was never close to my father and he died a year before I fell in love, but I doubt he’d care. My mom treated my partner like a daughter, my sisters have showered her with affection, and my brothers always showed her respect. I believe who we are is sealed in our DNA. That would require others in my ancestry to be as I, and others in yours to be as you. Shame or fear might have denied the truth but not the reality. I’m certain your folks are proud of you. I know I am.

      Reply
  3. Bruce Peterson

    I don’t remember the exact words that you spoke, but I remember being very impressed with your nomination speech for Jud Gildersleeve to be Parkside’s first Student Body President. I was in the balcony at Jackson High School in the Spring of 1963. I remember thinking you should be the one running for the position. Weren’t the two of you “dating” at the time?

    Reply
    1. margueritequantaine Post author

      Isn’t it odd what people remember about you from 50+ years gone by? Jud and I met at a couple dances and spent an afternoon together at the Jackson County Fair while in 8th grade, age 14, when bikes were the mode of transportation. We were chums for about a month. I don’t recall ever seeing him at JHS and I think it was Peter Brown (at PHS) who asked me to speak on Jud’s behalf. I did it because I was in my actress-writer period then. It allowed me to do both in front of a large, captive audience. And I agree with you – I should have run. But in 1963, girls weren’t “allowed” to be President of the class, only V.P. – which was not my cup of tea.

      Reply
      1. Judy Perry

        Seriously? Girls weren’t *allowed* to run for class president? (Isn’t it sweet that I’m amazed such a time ever existed?!) But then, I’m always amazed when my students are amazed that there was a time when interracial relationships simply weren’t allowed (and, in my family’s religion, African-Americans weren’t fully equal human beings until sometime in the 1970s). May I ask you why your friends in high school were mostly male but I think you’ve recently said that your friends now are mostly female? This is a beautiful, evocative essay; thank you very much for sharing it 🙂

      2. margueritequantaine

        Not that I didn’t try, Judy. I even tried out for Professor Hill in The Music Man (1963) but was told that wasn’t going to happen – although the director conceded my rendition of Trouble In River City was superior. As for boys, I’ve found they always gravitate towards girls who aren’t interested in them, or who put them at ease. I had 3 older brothers so I treated guys like brothers and they responded in kind. Innocence still existed back in the day, through high school for many if not for most. I am ever dumbstruck by the lack of it demonstrated by grade school children today. And saddened.

  4. Jen D.

    I’m definitely in the last category. I’m truly proud to know you, Marge. Happy Anniversary to you and Liz. xoxo

    Reply
  5. Nancy Broadway

    Thank you so much for sharing your story! I have not always been so fortunate when it has come to bigtory living in the south. However it has made me who I am and stronger for it. I have see the mentality of people change over the years and It is nice with other show you the same respect and courtesy that you show them. I am also glad to see that More people are speaking out and being recognized and we all are being more accepted even here in the deep south. I also was very fortunate to have a father who knew long before I did and he is how I survived being an out teen lesbian. It is a wonder I live through my high school years. Happy Anniversary Ladies!! I will be ever so please if Teri and I have as many years together as you two have had to share all of lifes adventures. Nancy & Teri Broadway 🙂 🙂

    Reply
    1. margueritequantaine

      I empathize Nancy. I live in the deepest South in a town where there is a great deal of animosities displayed for a wide variety of unjustified reasons. It’s not that I’m blind to it. I just follow the example set by my mom so long ago. We can’t control what others think or say behind our backs. But we can choose to make it their problem, not ours. And, for me, the difference in caring or not caring about such people and their opinions is the key to a happy life over a tragic one. As for parents, I think they always know, but only the best ones embrace. I’m so sincerely glad you and Teri found each other. I wish you love and laughter ever after.

      Reply
    1. margueritequantaine Post author

      People often recount how they ‘came out’ of the closet. Although I was never in the closet, I suppose you could say this was my coming-out in print, page one, above the fold, in the Floridian section of The St. Petersburg Times, to a quarter million circulation, eleven years ago. Lots of peeking without backlash (yet). I’m in the minority there, and that both saddens and enrages me. I’ve often thought mankind is not unlike the wild animal world. When animals sense weakness they attack, but will shy away from demonstrative strength. Regardless of lifestyle, I don’t think people have to necessarily BE brave – but they must act it. Thanks for your lovely wishes, Sunita. Sending sunshine. Wishing love.

      Reply
      1. Kabob

        “Regardless of lifestyle, I don’t think people have to necessarily BE brave – but they must act it.” Ain’t that the unfortunate truth.

  6. Cheryl Cusson

    Another wonderful, beautiful and poignant story Marguerite. Keep them coming. Love reading them! Hearing about the number of years together is music to my ears.

    Warmly,
    Cheryl

    Reply
  7. micbent

    Thank you Marguerite for sharing your intimate story, so eloquently told. How refreshing it will be one day to remove labels and just be married to someone we love – same sex or not. Always enjoy reading your blog! -Michelle

    Reply
  8. Nicolette Toussaint

    You’re a heroine of mine too. My step-mother called me a couple years after divorcing my father. She had something to tell me and wanted to know if I was sitting down. She then told me that she had come out as a lesbian — a late life lesbian since she was, by that time, well into her forties. With definite trepidation, she asked me what I thought of her revelation. My answer: “It seems like a perfectly understandable response to having been married to my father.” All humor aside, it made no difference to me at all. And, as the years have gone by, it brought her absolutely wonderful partner into my life. And it may even provide a model for my own golden years. Blessings on you for writing this.

    Reply
  9. Sarah Siegel

    Marguerite, thanks for your essay on love and loyalty, to your partner and your mom. The locker piece, and your decision not to tell your mom was especially poignant — and the fact of your being effectively married for twice as long as I — and I thought that Pat & I had longevity at nearly 21 years together. I’d like to trade with you: Here are 2 series of blog posts from my blog — all of the ones that mention “marriage” and all of the ones that mention “marriage equality”, @ http://sarahsiegelstories.blogspot.com/search/label/marriage and http://sarahsiegelstories.blogspot.com/search/label/marriage%20equality

    Reply
  10. margueritequantaine

    You are, indeed, more prolific on this topic than me. Oddly enough, the widow of my late colleague and mentor lives in NY but doesn’t read the New York Times. So, every Sunday since the wedding section began recognizing gays, I’ve diligently clipped any announcement pertaining to lesbian engagements or nuptials and sent them to her from my perch here in Florida. One of those clippings was of you and yours. Small, wonderful, world, huh?

    Reply
  11. Pingback: THE LOOK OF LOVE | K'Anne Meinel

  12. incompletenesss

    Beautiful Marguerite, I also want to believe that one day people will no longer have the need to label others and that it will be perfectly fine to understand that people love people (the gender doesn’t matter).

    Reply
  13. Di DeLanoy

    What a great story you have!! I’m approx. the same age as you but was fortunate to be elected to leadership positions both in HS and at the Uof MD! My maternal grandmother raised me as both of my parents were unfit alcoholics! I was engaged to three men I adored as friends only and somehow avoided being intimate with them! I was also blessed with a career in IT Management and especially enjoyed being on the faculty/staff at Stanford U. I left MD as all my friends were marrying and I felt a need to be in San Francisco…one I eventually understood. After two good relationships with women, as my best friend was a gay guy, who introduced me “around”…I met the woman who became the “love of my life” in 1972. After 32.5 years and travel all over the world together, drinking became her primary interest and I left, giving her our beautiful home in the Oregon hills, a new car and basically all I had. I began a new life with a woman named Diane, a lovely gal approx 11 years younger then me. Well it never really worked, nnor has she, and I have not had the means to leave ! So I live life day by day now, still in touch with my ex from afar…..
    I suppose I feel very lucky to have had my one great love and would return to her if she had any interest in me. Alas, she still loves her alcohol and has become a recluse and refuses to allow my help! I feel very fortunate to still have all my faculties and drive to work at RE Brokering again soon. My dog, Ingrid is my main pal and we have wonderful times on our daily walks and diiscovery of nature.

    Reply

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