The ladies next door


When I was a kid there were two ladies who lived next door. I remember them being there from when I was a toddler till when I was probably halfway through grade school; so this would have been the early 60s. One was a tall, slender, plain-looking woman with graying hair, always wearing a very plain dress of the sort a housewife would typically wear in the 50s. And she did stay home and take care of the house. Her elderly mother lived with them. The other wore slacks and sport jackets and had rather short hair, also graying, which she wore combed up. She went off to work each day and sold insurance.


They owned a nice, large, Victorian-style house. This was in a typical older suburban neighborhood. A neighborhood with lots of kids, lots of Catholics. In fact, our house was right across the street from the school, and theirs was right across from the church. I remember my siblings and I and other neighborhood kids going to their back yard for a barbeque in the summer. No one ever bothered them or said anything unkind or sneered when they spoke of them, that I was aware of. They apparently were simply accepted as an anomaly in the neighborhood. Though that's probably just the memory of a protected kid. Life must not have been easy for them.


They were far from my only exposure to gays. I lived with some in the Christian group home I helped run in Baltimore in my 20s. Several people there at one time or another were gay, celibate, devout Christians. They had the added burden of assuming they would never marry because, while they understood that the church believed practicing homosexuality was wrong, they just felt that they were born with a different biology and had no choice in the matter; that heterosexuality would never work for them. I merely had to deal with the idea that the church taught abstinence until marriage. They had to deal with the idea of abstaining for life. Kind of made my commitment pale in comparison.


I thought of those ladies recently when I saw a picture of pop singer girls kissing for the camera. I thought, first of all, how silly the picture was. They thought they were shocking. Actually they were just boring. They evidently feel their entertainment value can't stand on its own and have to try desperate measures like shock value to keep their careers going.


But then I thought of those ladies next door — what a shame to trivialize the lives of people like them. They were just ordinary people trying to lead ordinary lives, but unlike most people, with the added burden of what was then a huge social stigma. But they stood up to that challenge and took it head on, trying to live as openly and normally as they could. It must have taken enormous courage. You don't put yourself in for that kind of trouble if you can avoid it. It must have arisen from a deep commitment to one another, a commitment that must have grown deeper as they weathered the stigma together.


They are probably both dead by now, or certainly quite elderly. No matter what you or I or anyone thinks of gay marriage, one thing's certain. If either of them are alive and have their faculties, when they read about gay marriages it must give them quite a smile, knowing that their open weathering of the times paved the way for others who feel they have no choice but to be who their biology dictates, and to be able do so with less of a social price to pay than in those ladies’ time.