A holiday story of family, nerves, and acceptance
by Whiskey Blue
My favorite queerish Christmas was the one I spent in Cape Town. I had never been to Africa, and I grew up in Montreal so I’m used to snow in December. I didn’t miss it. I did miss my grandparents. My grandmother tells me to look at the moon from wherever I am and to think of her, and that she’ll be thinking of me. So I felt a deep longing to be close to her, and for the strange comfort of habit, perhaps ritual. Familiarity.
I had met my girlfriend’s grandmother once before, at our graduation. I prefer to be on a grandmother’s home turf though because it’s where she seems most herself. This grandmother is a brilliant host, a truly graceful matriarch. She is a woman capable of great harshness, a devoted mother, a hardened and dutiful wife, and a haver of many close female friends, fellow wives and personal shoppers of mysterious European descent.
On Christmas afternoon there were fours generations in her garden. Four of her six children – one is dead, one lives in Australia – were there as well as some of their children and one grandchild. And me. I felt out of place, unsure about manners. I also don’t speak Afrikaans which they tend to speak when it’s just family, although I sometimes enjoy listening to a conversation in a foreign tongue because it tends to be less boring. But I was anxious and felt a bit like an idiot. I wore a tweed blazer. It was too hot.
The grandmother gave my girlfriend her gifts while intermittently handing me a present each time as well, in the same amount and more or less the same things.
Sidenote: in my own awkwardness about being out of place and about fitting in on account of my gender (at every store a friend or personal shopper would comment on how lovely her granddaughter’s boyfriend seemed, and when this happened the grandmother shot me a glad, complicit look) I was all the more moved by her choice of gifts.
Intermittently she handed my girlfriend and I pairs of his and hers slippers, golf shirts in pink and blue, gender-neutral beach bags. Then a sparkling pink pen for her and a sparkling blue one for me. For my writing, she said. And right then and there, if I weren’t as generally awkward as I am, I might have hugged her but instead I smiled self-consciously from across the garden hoping she would know to interpret this as mutual respect and some level of ecstatic joy.
All this to say I’ve rarely felt such sly approval. The family still lives on the same estates gathered in the crescent of a gated community at the foot of Table Mountain. I still send a Christmas card.
Whiskey Blue is the author of Brooklyn Love. She blogs for Psychology Today and writes an advice column at Everyone Is Gay. She is the nonfiction editor for the Manhattan-based reading series Inked.MFA and interviews editor for In My Bed magazine. Her work has appeared in The Atlantic, The Believer, Tin House, Ms. Magazine, Bitch, Curve, Slice, Hobo, and AfterEllen. Follow Whiskey @topshelferotica.