Ever since Salt Lake City was named the "gayest city" last week, I've been thinking about what that distinction really means. On one level, perhaps it means that we have an oasis of equity and tolerance in the desert, or more likely, that love, especially the love that cannot be named, always finds a way to flourish in the strangest, most oppressive of places. But then again, it may be a mix of both. What I know as a long-time resident, is that many, many things are hidden in plain sight in this culture.
I've been thinking a lot about my first real job right out of college. I worked in an art department in downtown Salt Lake City with four on-site artists, directed by an off-site team of a revolving baker's dozen of artists and designers (revolving because the artists were always quitting and moving to California, New York, London, etc.), and four quasi corporate types, and three totally corporate types. All, save for five were gay.
I was newly married to my first husband, and he'd accompany me to the official work parties, and the very unofficial after work-work parties, until after one very lavender themed party, in which he was the only man present that had ever played team sports. (and who would never wear lavender under any circumstances), he decided he'd rather stay home and watch TV from now on.
I enjoyed my job and my co-workers immensely. All of us had our relationship issues, and we'd grouse and exult over lunch and after work coffee, but only to our inner work circle, a kind of what is discussed here, stays here, understanding.
It was understood that my boss was gay. There was a tacit agreement within our department that although our boss's boss may know our boss is gay, and that her boss probably knew this as well, nobody was ever to speak of it, allude to it, acknowledge it in any way, whatsoever. As far as the collective bosses and staff and company was concerned, everybody was straight, and assumed Mormon.
My boss's partner never, ever attended the official work parties and events. My boss always brought the same tiny blond woman, his quasi-girlfriend/wife. Even though the majority of us barely knew her, we played along. We said nothing when she was difficult or sulky. All I remember of her was that she always wore red lipstick, and that she sent her food back with special instructions on just how bloody the center should be. I think she lived in the same building my boss did. Until now,I've never wondered what she thought of this arrangement. Perhaps she was in love with him, or annoyed that yet another weekend was lost to this game. Maybe this explains her chronic petulance. I remember that it wasn't until the after after party, that my boss's partner would arrive and take his rightful place.
Since I've never had to make a choice like this I'd never really thought of the cost, for my former boss, his partner, the diminuitive blond, and my colleagues.
I'd like to think things have changed over the years and that SLC being named the gayest also translates to something much more. I really don't know. But I hope so.
My husband's niece, my step-niece, recently married her partner of five years. Both brides were lovely, both father's of the brides walked their daughters down the aisle. The ceremony was moving. I cried. The reception was a genuine reflection of their eco-concsiousness and genuine love for friends and family. Later, there were toasts to the couple's happiness, and then after more wine and champagne, there was the customary late night freaky dirty dancing.
As the evening wrapped, I overheard my step niece remark that there was nobody there who would tell her she wasn't really married.
I hadn't considered this fact or the pain behind the words. I've never had to.