A Phobia is Irrational

This past weekend, I attended my sister’s wedding. I had met her partner (now wife) once before at a family gathering in Phoenix, and so didn’t know much about her. She’s an organizer of educational programs for adults and children in Chicago, she’s a talented musician and artist, she and my nephew get along very well. Those things I knew.

Waterfall with rocks and water. Like most waterfalls.

The guests stepped carefully across these rocks to a lovely garden overlooking the pond.

The ceremony was held Saturday morning at Osaka Garden, a lovely Japanese garden hidden away in Jackson Park. After the ceremony, there was a four-hour wait until it was time to head to the reception, and I was lucky enough to get to drive to the reception with my new sister-in-law. I asked her all the usual questions – how did you meet, is this your first marriage, how does your family like my sister…

It turns out that while her family loves my sister, they don’t want her as a daughter-in-law. At least, not if it means marrying their daughter. If my sister were to marry one of their sons, that’d be fine. But not their daughter. They’ve never been accepting of their daughter’s sexual preference (as though it were their business to judge in the first place), and so they’re dismissive of both her relationships and now her marriage.

I listened to her tale of rejection and homophobia with an increasing sense of outrage. My sister is a clinical psychologist in a respected program doing amazing work in Chicago. For twenty years, she has fought tirelessly to end violence in Chicago and throughout the world by understanding the social underpinnings of violence and seeking to disrupt the situations that produce it. She’s testified before Congress, been flown to other countries to introduce these methods to other places having similar issues, and is called upon night and day to give her input on complicated and potentially explosive situations. In addition, she is the kind of person whom all her friends call for anything and everything. She is the kind of person that everyone counts on. She and her new wife met because the wife’s sister used to work with my sister and when her son was in an accident, my sister was at the hospital reading to him, rubbing his feet, giving him pep talks, every time his aunt came to visit. She was so impressed that she knew she had to get to know this woman better. In short, my sister is a catch. The kind of person everyone wishes they could be with.

But she’s not good enough for her new wife’s family because she’s not a man. If she were, and were exactly the same kind of person, women would be falling over themselves to be with her. She would be Chicago’s most eligible bachelor. But because she’s a woman, and a woman in her 40s at that, she’s not good enough.

That kind of thinking makes me angry. It makes me want to shake people and say “Finding someone you love and who loves you in return is hard enough. Why must you make it even more difficult?” It makes me want to say “Don’t you realize that having my sister in your family raises the tone of your family considerably? That having your family connected to her makes you guys look really good?” But no. Instead of embracing the fact that their lovely daughter had what it took to get my sister to decide that she was the best candidate for life partnership, they reject the whole notion. They reject the fact that my sister can be both a phenomenal human being and a lesbian.

Maybe that’s it. I hate the word “lesbian” just like I hate the word “gay,” because it makes me feel that if you have to qualify it with a different noun, you’re setting up a judgement. A hierarchy. I am in the middle of writing a novel about a sculptor who falls in love with his model, although the model believes himself to be a saint, and so can’t return that love. Much of the commentary has been around the “homoeroticism” of the work, and I feel moved to tell people “It’s just eroticism. It’s not ‘homosexual love,’ it’s just love. There’s no need for an adjective; it is what it is.”

There’s no need for a judgement of my sister and her new wife. They are what they are. And they’re both amazing.

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