This day

This is the day. It’s the 2nd Monday of October: Indigenous Peoples’ Day / Columbus Day in the U.S.; and Thanksgiving in Canada. And it’s October 11th: National Coming Out Day; and Jacques and Arnold’s Anniversary (celebrated) — the actual moment would be 45 years in December.

Mostly this posting will be about J&A Day, with affection, silliness, and a certain amount of playful raunchiness (just to warn you, there will be tiny chocolate penises, in Pride Flag rainbow wrappings). I will have a few words on Columbus Day, Thanksgiving holidays, and NCOD, before the main event. But to establish the main context, here’s the Robert Emery Smith photograph of Jacques and me after having been declared domestic partners by the city of Palo Alto on Valentine’s Day in 1996:

(#1) The two husband-equivalents, in their cymbidium garden (the plants themselves being gifts of love)

The third, and most emotionally significant, of our domestic partnerships. The first two were administrative procedures, at Ohio State and Stanford, while this one, though entirely symbolic, was designed to be as much like a conventional wedding as possible: there was a public ceremony and a celebration in front of City Hall, with friends and family in attendance; people wept with happiness; and the city issued a certificate. More below.

Columbus Day. The beginning of the story, from Wikipedia:

Columbus Day is a national holiday in many countries of the Americas and elsewhere, and a federal holiday in the United States, which officially celebrates the anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s arrival in the Americas on October 12, 1492.

Christopher Columbus was a Genovese-born explorer who became a subject of the Hispanic Monarchy in order to lead a Spanish enterprise to cross the Atlantic Ocean in search of an alternative route to the Far East, only to land in the New World. Columbus’s first voyage to the New World on the Spanish ships Santa María, Niña, and La Pinta took approximately three months. Columbus and his crew’s arrival in the New World initiated the colonisation of the Americas by Spain, followed in the ensuing centuries by other European powers

In briefest summary, Columbus was a mercenary who served as Ferdinand and Isabella’s agent in seizing territory for Spain, so that Spain could exploit the resources and people in that territory — and, simultaneously spread the One True Religion. Shiploads of gold and whatever, indigenous (and, later, imported) slaves to tend the crops, and a Catholic New World. What could have been better?

[1492 saw not only Columbus’s landing in the Caribbean, but also Isabella’s (fanatic, to my view) elimination of Muslims and Jews from Spain: they were given the choice of fleeing, converting to Roman Catholicism, or being executed for heresy. (There were not yet any Protestants for Isabella to expunge, but they certainly would have gotten that treatment. In fact, Ferdinand and Isabella originally established the Spanish Inquisition in order to root out heretics among the Jewish and Muslim conversos.) A treatment similar to that later applied to the native peoples of the New World, who were mostly slaughtered or enslaved in one form or another.]

But Columbus was a son of Italy, so came to be viewed there as a hero, and that view followed Italian immigrants to the U.S. (in a series of waves, the largest between 1880 and 1914). You can follow the history of the Columbus Day holiday in the Wikipedia page. Note that October 12th (then converted to the 2nd Monday in October) didn’t become a federal holiday in the U.S. until 1968.

Meanwhile, the history of Christopher Columbus has rightly given pause to jurisdictions and organizations of all sorts in the U.S., leading to movements, now quite extensive, to repurpose the holiday. Most commonly by converting it to Indigenous Peoples’ Day. That strikes me as a decent and honorable gesture.

Still, Italian-Americans deserve a holiday. Irish-Americans use St. Patrick’s Day; so maybe Italian-Americans could use the Feast of San Gennaro or the feast day of one of the two patron saints of Italy, St. Francis of Assisi and St. Catherine of Siena. Or, sticking to the secular, they could adopt Italy’s National Day (Festa della Repubblica (Republic Day)) or some suitable date from the 19th-century Risorgimento that united the various states of the Italian peninsula into a single nation. But any alternative would require some driving force behind it.

Thanksgiving. (I started writing this part by listening, once again, to the Autumn section of Haydn’s oratorio The Seasons, which I first became acquainted with in a Mozart and Haydn course at Princeton (everybody knows the Vivaldi, but the Haydn was a delightful surprise — even more so now, when I appreciate that it’s one of the great works of his old age, along with the 12 London, or Salomon, symphonies).)

In temperate climates, we have need of an autumn holiday celebrating the end of the growing season and the harvest. The 2nd Monday in October is pretty good timing for these purposes; the 4th Thursday in November is pretty late, also uncomfortably close to Christmas.

So I think the Canadians have a good idea here.

NCOD. The idea was to combat homophobia by showing people that everyone knows gay people, whether they realize it or not; we are everywhere. The way to do this was for as many lgbt people as possible to come out, as publicly as possible. The project was presented as an alternative to more confrontational responses to homophobia.

As a matter of strategy, I’m inclined to think that we should be working on all fronts at once, because different tactics work for different people. And because some tactics simply enrage some people and will produce backlash (that’s not a reason for not employing those tactics).

Jacques and I went about these things in very different ways. I came out, to the world in general, blazingly in 1971 and accepted the mantle of being a publicly identified queer (since almost everyone read me as straight, I invested early in high-visibility clothing: sloganed t-shirts, rainbows and pink triangles, etc.).  As far as I can tell, J didn’t come out to the world in general until we hooked up and became lovers and partners-for life (all in one day —  see below), and then his coming-out techniques were (a) to refer to his partner Arnold offhandedly, letting people know by implication that he was coupled with another man (and, on occasion, forgetting that he was doing so); and (b) to encourage and support me wholeheartedly in my visible-queer ways. (Eventually, I asked him about this, and he said he wasn’t comfortable playing that role, but he totally admired my abilities at it, so he was delighted for me to be visible, and sometimes outrageous: I was acting for the two of us together.)

In any case, J thought that NCOD was a great idea, and it was his idea that October 11th should be J&A Day (again, see below).

When did this marriage-equivalent start? Before there was same-sex marriage in the law, same-sex couples who were committed for the long haul and wanted to have some reference point for reckoning how long they’d been together had lots of choices for picking START: the day they first met, the day of their first date (note: someone has to define what counts as a date for the two of you), the day they first had sex, the day they first said “I love you” to one another, the day they first made their mutual commitment to be partners for life, the day they had a formal but private ceremony of union (just for the two of them), the day they had a public ceremony of union (not sanctioned by law, but made before a community, not just to one another). (No doubt there are other possibilities.)

Three of these possibilities are bold-faced, because J and I compressed them into a single event. Which was the occasion we used thereafter as actual J&A Day, which came, however, to be celebrated on NCOD.

Most of this is detailed in a posting of mine, “Images of Jacques”, from 12/11/20 (with some wonderful photographs of Jacques). I’ll now quote fairly extensively from that posting (because I don’t think I can improve on the way I put things then).

From “Images”.

The background: Living in almost complete isolation for many months now, I have been missing Jacques, painfully (though it was 1998 when we last shared a bed, and he’d been slipping into incompetence for years before that). I’m desperate to talk to him, embrace him, smell him, just enjoy the negligent pleasure of being with him and hearing his advice. He was a very good man.

(Early on in our relationship, I wrote his parents a letter about why I loved their son, which was all about his moral qualities, and they were totally charmed. We all understood that he was smokingly hot sexually, but that that alone would have been no basis for undertaking a life together, which is what we were doing.

In these awful times, I miss him terribly.

Our first sexual connection, initiated by an astonishing profession of his love for me — I was doing exercises at home, where he was visiting — when he picked me up in his arms, kissed me, and told me he loved me [AZ from 10/21: and I responded, with delight, in kind] — was almost 44 years ago (in December), though we’d been friends for some time before that (he knew that I was gay — this was public knowledge — but I didn’t know he was, though I was immensely pleased to discover it). [AZ from 10/21: From The Kisses we went on to have extremely satisfying frenzied sex together (in a bed, not on the living-room floor), after which we lay languidly in each other’s arms and  committed to being partners for life. Then the task of making that happen.]

Some years later we privately performed our own version of the wedding ceremony (uttering “to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish; from this day forward until death do us part” — but pointedly not committing to cleave only to one another or to have either of us obey the other). We viewed these words as a binding commitment. And so they were.

J. supposed he was committing to taking care of me, helping me in what he saw as a difficult and demanding life as a distinguished academic. As it turned out, I ended up taking care of him as dementia ate him away. But my commitment was just as firm as his.

Here came the photo in #1.

The photo was taken by our photographer friend Robert Emery Smith (aka ModBob), who did this as a gift to us. … Bob just said, “Look at one another”, and so we did and we were so happy in the moment and connected to one another, and lightly holding hands, so it was all done in a couple of takes. Long ago I posted about this photo, and its depiction of us as very close to being equals (I held all the power in the outside world, but he was far more powerful physically (and two inches taller than me)), but we adjusted to achieve as even a balance as possible, because respect for one another was central to our relationship.

The photo was extravagantly admired by many readers.

Previous lives in the subterranean world of sex between men:

J liked to cruise guys in the locker rooms for sex. I remind you that we didn’t include the “cleaving only” clause in our commitment ceremony, because we didn’t expect that. We had both come to gay identities through the subterranean world of gay cruising for sex, and that was a source of pleasure for both of us, which we recognized and respected (my cruising grounds were mostly t-rooms and the gay baths). And I remind you again that people are very complex, and that there are many ways of crafting decent and honorable lives.

And finally:

NCOD and our anniversary. 10/11 is National Coming Out Day, which Jacques and I chose to celebrate as our anniversary — that was his brilliant idea, both that we needed a day to mark our union and we should choose a day that wasn’t entangled with national holidays or other family celebrations (like [my / our daughter] Elizabeth’s birthday [Valentine’s Day]), so he fixed on NCOD, which suited us perfectly. Out and proud, together.

Presents. After these reminiscences, my attention wandered on to anniversary gifts for male couples.

[Digressive raving. People are inclined to refer to male couples, of whatever age, as The Boys, as if gay men, in their irresponsible self-indulgent way, never really grow up to adult concerns and responsibilities — a usage that seriously pisses me off. I’m pleased to say that my father and step-mother and J’s mother and father were never tempted into this infantilizing usage.]

Well, it’s pretty dispiriting territory. A lot of people hawking greeting cards and gifts just run with the idea that gay guys are just like straight guys, except for the objects of their sexual desire. This has some genuine utility as a crude first approximation, for people who don’t know how to wrap their minds around queerness. But it’s gravely lacking, especially in its failure to accommodate the enormous variety in the way male couples configure their relationships and their lives.

Well, first you get some Couples Are Couples stuff. The jewelry industry has devised a calendar of presents for specific anniversaries, the way they do for birthday months. The 45th anniversary is the sapphire anniversary (the sapphire is also the September birthstone, so it’s mine). J and I were indeed fond of sapphires (and rubies and emeralds too), but never conceived of accessorizing with them (or with the much more affordable spinel imitations). (Our wedding-equivalent rings were hematite and — when the hematite ones kept getting shattered — plain steel. I know, so butch.)

And, backing off here, plenty of male couples don’t want any part of reproducing the practices of straight couples.

So, want a gift for the guys on their anniversary? Get a guy gift!

You then get gift suggestions that look just like the suggestions for Fathers Day gifts. At the top of the list: equipment for grilling (how Real Men cook); tools; and sports stuff. (There are queer men who are into all of these things, of course, but they’re not central activities in gay male communities.) And then: grooming aids, drink-mixing, and equipment for working out — some space here for both gay and straight.

But, but …  the best advice on giving gifts to a couple is to select something for an interest that they share, and for this you really need to know the couple in question, though you can make some headway by asking the question: what activities or subjects are often shared by straight couples? by female couples? by male couples?

For male couples, there’s (almost) always penises — as objects of desire for both men in most couples, as the organs of everyday sex (fellatio) for most gay men in modern Western societies.  Well, not necessarily actual penises, but certainly playful simulacra of penises, and for that there are plenty of gift possibilities, especially in the world of edible simulacra.

There’s my 5/24/13 posting “News on the edible penis front”, on penis-shaped cookies and chocolates, including an 8-inch chocolate penis that oozes fondant cream (I am not making this up).

At the other end of the size scale, from the Etsy site:

(#2) [ad copy:] “Cute little 1.5 inch chocolate peckers with rainbow power colorful foil. Approx. 20-22 pcs. per box” (available in milk chocolate, white chocolate, or dark chocolate)

Ah, les petites queues! Adorables!

Love to eat them mousies,
Mousies what I love to eat.
Bite they little heads off.
Nibble on they tiny feet.
— B. Kliban

2 Responses to “This day”

  1. Robert Coren Says:

    For what it’s worth, in my recollection my mother at least occasionally used “the boys” to refer to me and my (straight, married) brother, probably right up until the time of her death (by which time we were both in our sixties).

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      That’s just the standard kin term, with the boys as a variant of my boys ‘my sons’. (And there are still other uses of the boys.) Not the same thing as using the boys to refer to a male couple.

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