I originally wrote the below and titled it "The Island of Misfit Toys." In light of the legal battles going on and protests raging, I took a fresh look at it and in front of my eyes it changed, and grew. Now, it wants to be this editorial for the holidays. So, I'll let it.
It happens every year in homes all across America. While millions sit down to watch parades and football and prepare to feast on roast beast surrounded by loved ones others laugh and dance in the kitchen while reciting lines from "All About Eve." Holidays are a time for gatherings and family. To most of American that means in-laws they never see, relatives they wish they didn't have to see and the perennial argument, "But we went to your mother's house last year, this year we have to go to...." However, it is also time for unconventional gatherings, the Islands of Misfit Toys, the gays and lesbians who throw down a spread for their "extended" family -- a unit of people drawn together not out of blood but out of love and the need to "be" someplace on Thanksgiving or Christmas.
Now as the elder statesmen of gay couples, my late partner Andrew and I were that island. Each and every year for the almost 12 years Andrew and I were together, and in the seven years since his passing, he and I would create a sumptuous feast (he cooked, I chopped) and the open invitation went out to our friends. Each year dinner for ten or more was served. Many showed up early in the day others came just for pie or dessert as a way to escape the traditional family hell they've been in the rest of the day.
The gatherings became a regular event, and it gave those people that attended a sense of belonging, a place to be. In fact, when one of our dear friends moved to Hawaii, we video taped our gatherings all day long -- just let the camera run -- and sent the hours of tape to her so she could still spend the day. Ahh, the era before Mac and video chat. Thank you Steve Jobs: this year, there'll be iChat video links all over the holidays, at least at Park Howard (my home).
There were those whose family lived far away and they couldn't afford to travel that year. There were others who had no wish to be with their real family on Thanksgiving or Christmas because their partners weren't welcomed or they would have to hide their relationship. Some came because we WERE their family, not by blood, but by the unbreakable bond of friendships forged through years of good and bad times.
It gave Andrew and I such a great sense of family and love. Preparation was often hectic, changing the menu each year (hint: never try eggplant with Gruyere Cheese Sauce), getting the right party favors, music, games, videos, adding to the guest list right up until dinner. The mix was always vibrant -- from my senior mother to our circuit boy friends-- from those that had to rush off to do drag shows to those that were betting on the various games. It was a group one might never find together any place else but at the dinner table on Thanksgiving or on the patio on Christmas afternoon.
Something miraculous happened over those years of hosting holiday misfits. Soon, there were no misfits, there was a family. New members were brought in as some changed lovers or gained new ones; some seats were left empty for those that had been lost during the previous year. And the day seemed normal. Yes, normal. Just like a regular Christmas or Thanksgiving. Andrew would be madly cooking; I would be assisting along with other friends in the kitchen. A group would be outside, listening to music, having cocktails, lighting joints, whatever moved them to holiday cheer. Some were glued to the TV arguing over whether to watch the Lucy or Twilight Zone marathons. Fights erupted and were quelled, and by the end of the day everyone sat full, happy and having that glow that only spending the day with family can give.
Since his passing, I am the misfit toy. Andrew is gone. Everyone expects the island to sink. But the beauty of it is, it can't. You see, the bonds we, and you, forge on those days don't go away. The extended family that gathers in the homes of those who have been made to feel outside the realm of normal family the rest of the year stays in place, even when one of the matriarchs fall. Because that's what we became. You all have a couple in your lives as well. The two lesbians that always invite you over. The two gay men who insist on hosting holiday events: The annual Christmas party at their house; the usual Thanksgiving potluck. This year, I host the event, with a little more help from friends and the same amount of love around the room.
To those that question our family values as a community, I say to them attend just one of these gatherings this year. You see they are more precious than any "real" family gathering. Love is what brings us together the need to belong. The need to share. It's not blood, not obligation, not some warped sense of yearly duty that makes us sit at a table with those we would not normally see.
To those that have shared our gatherings over the years, my heartfelt thanks. To those that will join in future, welcome. And to those of you that find yourself host to the misfit toys of the world know that you are doing something that forever touches and changes the lives of those that attend, even in such a small way.
Holidays are for families. I am so proud to be a member of a community that acknowledges that by creating families from the most unlikely of people in the most unusual of ways. Happy Holidays, be you misfit or matriarch. And Andrew, as I ask Jake to pass the potatoes, or sneak off with Candy to that same bedroom you, she hid away in for so many years so no one would what we were doing (ya, right, only now, we're resting instead of smoking!), as Heather regails me with stories of her new home in Seattle where on Thanksgiving night she'll sit and stare towards the Northern Lights... well, your seat is not empty at the table. You are alive, in them, your niece, your nephew, your sister, our niece, our nephew, our sister (in law). As generations age or grow, so they do at the tables of these misfit toys, these misfit families across America.
I didn't need Proposition 8, I didn't need a license, I didn't need a thing. Andrew Howard and I decided in 1989 to form a union out of love, and a family of all shapes and sizes grew out of that.
You may vote against us, you may try and stop us, you may frown upon us, disapprove of us, claim your tolerance of us...and all I have to say it is you, those on the outside looking with disapproval or ignorance, with bigotry or ridiculous dogma, it is you for whom I feel sorry at the holidays. Because a seat at any one of these tables is coveted, is an honored place of love and laughter. May you one day realize love, and marriage, and family is something that cannot be coopted by a law, or a God. It is as human and natural as breathing.
Happy Holidays to all families, blessed by God or not, approved by Man or no. Cherish the ties that bind, honor those that love, and hold those that are dear. These days more than ever, it truly is all we've got.
And for those that are alone, find a misfit gathering. You won't be for long.
Follow Charles Karel Bouley on Twitter: www.twitter.com/therealkarel