EVERY year my boyfriend’s mother sends out a letter to her inner circle of close friends and family. It’s the kind of letter which nowadays faces extinction at the hands of modern technology — the kind more often written in that ancient, long-ago time pre-dating email or Facebook.
I suppose it’s a “general update” of sorts; about two A4 pages in length and thoughtfully composed in size-12 Times New Roman. It covers everything from family vacations, concerts and illnesses — right through to pets, break-ups and new relationships. It’s simply a tradition. The annual summary to one humble Australian family of four.
We recently received our 2015 edition in the mail — and my boyfriend, Brad, tore it open with a rare twist of excitement and hesitation. You see, there have been a few significant changes to his life over the past year, namely meeting and moving in with me. But the question remained: would we get a mention? Would we make the matriarchal cut? Surely our happy year-long relationship warranted (at the very least) its very own paragraph?
But there’s a catch. Brad grew up in a small sugarcane-farming town in far north Queensland. To put it succinctly: it’s the kind of town which boasts more working petrol stations than openly-gay men. The locals there appreciate the rural traditionalism of family narrative — they live by the hard-working, pat-on-the-back “bloke” mentality of real men. And same-sex unions don’t quite fit the bill.
Brad power-read through the maternally narrated pages with me peering anxiously over his shoulder. All the usual tidbits were there. The much-anticipated Michael Buble concert. The usual trip to Sydney. A cousin’s wedding in Melbourne. Brad’s sister had a new boyfriend — his name was Darren and his personal interests included fishing and boat mechanics. Brad had finally started up his own bedding label — Spreadem Bedding. Had visited home earlier that year. Had recently moved into a new unit…
Words, words, words. Hope you’re all doing well. The end.
We reached the end of the letter in mutual silence. My existence had been all but withheld — barely touched on. Now, as a writer, I understand the occasional need for selective editing. But as a person — as a loving partner — I felt ripped off.
However, after the initial twang of hurt and rejection subsided, I realised something: perhaps acceptance doesn’t always have to be front-page news. It doesn’t need to be highlighted in bold or italic. It doesn’t need to be loud, and it doesn’t necessarily need to be proud. For my new de-facto in-laws, perhaps acceptance lay in the subtext. In the non-existent footnotes. In their baby steps toward embracing a once-foreign reality.
Having visited Brad’s parents last year, I’d experienced first-hand both their nerves and warmth at my presence. They were uncomfortable, yes — but they were really trying not to be. So we did what all gay men occasionally have to do: we adapted. We pushed together our single beds, we quietly held hands (only when deemed appropriate) in public, and I never once felt embarrassed or ashamed to be who I was.
It’s sometimes easy to forget that beyond the glaring lights of our capital cities, there remain functioning communities largely untouched by the growing equality movement. That’s not to say they’re uncultured — to the contrary, in many ways they’re more-so — it’s just that their immediate perspectives often don’t hold the same sexual diversity and openness that ours do. And that’s okay.
Just as Brad’s father showed incredible patience while teaching me the ways of crab-fishing from the back of his old dingy, perhaps my patience and ongoing presence alongside his son will teach him that love arrives in different shapes and sizes.
And who knows, maybe next year I’ll get my very own introductory paragraph. But then again, maybe I don’t need one.
Samuel Leighton-Dore is a Sydney-based writer and director. His best-selling eBook Love or Something Like It is available now and his children’s book I Think I’m A Poof can be purchased here.
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**This article was first published in the April edition of the Star Observer, which is available to read in digital flip-book format. To obtain a physical copy, click here to find out where you can grab one in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Canberra and select regional/coastal areas.