You Probably Need a Will, So Here's How to Have That Potentially Awkward Conversation with Your Family
Remember, if you die without a will, the state will determine who inherits
I got married, noon last Tuesday, at City Hall in New York City. Less than six hours later, the news, replete with pictures, was on Facebook.
Seven hours after I got married my mother rang me, laughing hysterically, nervously. “Marcie,” she intoned in her South Jersey accent that sounds a lot like a less-twangy southern drawl, “did you get married?!”
“Yes,” I said, matter-of-factly. “And, by the way,” glancing at my new wife, “you’re on speakerphone.”
“HAAAAA!,” she cackled. “Reeeaaaallly?!”
“Yes,” my wife and I said in unison.
“Reeeaaallly?!,” she said again, as if she didn’t believe us.
“Yes." Now I was laughing because the exchange had crossed-over into the comical.
“Wait! You’re laughing! No, you didn’t!,” she replied. “Why would you get married on a Tuesday?! This is an April Fool’s joke!”
“No, mom.” Then, I offered, “Don’t worry, we’ll have a proper celebration later.”
“OK,” she now said at a respectable pitch. “Are you sure you’re married?”
“Yes,” I said again.
“Well, then. OK. Congratulations.”
So goes the scene of exchange between me and my mother.
I deliberately didn’t tell her — or any of my family — about going to City Hall. My wife and I were determined to make the marriage ceremony as simple as possible. Work demanded the pragmatism; she runs a print magazine and is currently in production, followed by a business trip, and I also work in media and have no time off. We could both spare a day, and then had to return to the grind.
I think, too, we also are working through the whole tradition of marriage while in the process of getting married. As lesbians who have only recently gained institutional access to marriage, we have endlessly deliberated the whys and wherefores of the institution. As lesbians, too, we grew up without the social pressure to get married — it’s simply a hetero-tradition that’s not lodged itself into the gay psyche … yet. At least it hasn’t for us.
We have been trying to do it our way, make it personal and relatively private, even though marriage itself is by its very nature anything but.
Marriage is social contract, sanctified by law. The contract is between two consenting adults, yes, but it is also a contract of those two adults as a union with society. In this capacity, the wedding ceremony is the event that marks the social recognition of those two people as one.
Because we kept our wedding private, minus our two witnesses who are two close friends, technically, we eloped, and it was Facebook that played the allegorical role of Rumor, the goddess made of ears, eyes and tongues, who broadcasted our marriage on social media.
Let me be clear: my wife and I both consented to this broadcasting, in the back of a taxi cab, after hesitating for a few moments. Then we shared a handful of photos ourselves, on our respective timelines.
But it was this very broadcasting, which announced the marriage on Facebook, that effectively rendered our wedding as an elopement. Because it wasn’t just my mother who felt left out.
For example, a friend and former colleague of mine, a young butch lesbian, commented on the first photo posted by one of our witnesses, “Whoa ok.” Perhaps realizing that this was not the most congratulatory comment, and that I’d call her out for exhibiting stereotypical aloof butch behavior, she edited her comment to add “1) SAD YOU DIDN’T TELL ME 2) CONGRATS.”
In our attempt to “share” the good news, and to, in a way, ask for the social recognition and acceptance from our community in a way befitting the situation, we made the private event a public one. And, in doing so, those people who feel closest to us felt left out.
Yet, in relationships, not all feelings are the same. In fact, it is impossible for there to be equivalent feelings from both individuals, even though we sometimes force language to play the equalizer. I felt badly that my friend felt left out. However, I didn’t feel anything at all that my mother expressed similar disappointment in her feeling of exclusion. The difference is that my friend is part of my community — two communities, actually — the gay one and the media one. She is part of my chosen family. My mother is not.
The historical meaning of the family — and especially the significance of the relation of a child to her mother — established the ethical sense of obligation. The historical force of obligation is one that I have fought against my entire life.
It wasn’t that I ever lamented the “loss” of a mother or of the mother-daughter bond. I simply didn’t. What I fought was society’s imposition that I care about that relation and try to recuperate it as something that I was “supposed” to do, because, as the line goes, "She’s your mother!"
As if that line was ever effective logic, was always my response.
At the same time, I couldn’t help but notice that she didn’t “like” any of my wedding photos, and that this deliberate act constituted her form of disapproval. Her “Well, congratulations,” might as well been an “As long as you’re happy...” — implying, of course, that she isn’t. She is a heterosexual, devout Christian woman who literally cannot comprehend the meaning of what I’ve done.
Our cultural differences are insurmountable because she does not understand or see the value of what it means for her, as a mother, to have her lesbian daughter get married in a two-minute ceremony at City Hall “on a Tuesday” without telling her. I mean, what motherly pride could she take in telling her friends at Church?
If a woman doesn’t get married in white, in a Church, on a Sunday in June, in front of invited guests, is it a marriage anyone cares about?
Regardless of my knowledge of psychology, history, and ethics — that is, regardless of how much I see social mores structure ethics and humans’ sense of obligation — I still am subject to the force of those ethics. While on the one hand I don’t care that I didn’t tell my mother about my marriage, on the other hand I clearly do — so much so that I had to write this essay about it.