When I was a kid, the Nazarene church taught us to:
1. Pity "heathens," the Buddhists, Hindus, and Muslims who hadn't heard the Gospel.
2. Be suspicious of "liberal so-called Christians," the Methodists, Presbyterians, and Baptists.
3. Run in terror from Roman Catholics. They drank, went to movies, and worshipped idols. Their Pope was the anti-Christ. They were probably demon-possessed. We weren't supposed to make friends with them, set foot in one of their churches, or even walk on the sidewalk outside one of their houses, lest we be corrupted.
I left the Nazarene church around my freshman year of college, but my parents, brother, and sister are still active.
Ken is actually more devout than when we were kids. He's ok with gay people, but he doesn't go to movies or the theater, doesn't shop or work on Sunday, and doesn't go to restaurants or stores with alcohol on sale.
He married in 1981, and had four kids. Then his wife died, and he married a woman who had three kids of her own, plus an elderly mother. Ten people, four dogs, two cats, and a parrot all living together in a big, rambling house downtown.
The oldest spent time in prison for aggravated assault.
The second sang in a punk rock band.
The fourth got pregnant while still in high school.
But somehow the third, Katie, turned into a ultra-devout "Suzie Nazarene."
In high school, she was president of the NYPS and a delegate to the International Institute.
She enrolled at Olivet, the Nazarene college on the prairie, where girls generally majored in becoming a preacher's wife.
I wasn't out to her, or to any of my nieces and nephews. Fundamentalists insist on a "Don't ask, don't tell" policy. When I brought Lane or Yuri over for Christmas or a summer holiday, we stayed closeted.
I wasn't really close to them, anyway. I didn't visit Rock Island much after my parents moved to Indiana in 1995, just brief Christmas visits, and after 2000, I didn't visit at all. I sent them birthday card with a check in it every year, and that's about it.
In the spring of 2008, when I was living in Dayton, I got Katie's wedding announcement in the mail. I almost threw it out. I usually boycott heterosexual weddings.
Katie was marrying a Roman Catholic boy named Steve!
I had to see this! How would my Nazarene relatives react? Would they grit their teeth and go into a Catholic church? Would they wait outside? Would they disown Katie and refuse to talk to her again?
I emailed Katie.
"That's one of the things that brought us together," she said. "Arguing about religion. We can get into some heated debates, let me tell you! But we also have a lot in common. Nazarenes and Catholics both have really strict rules."
"How did you meet?"
"He was the barista in the coffee shop I used to go to. Af first I tried to save his soul, but then we started talking about the differences between Nazarene and Catholic beliefs. Of course, he was cute in his uniform, too. "
A Nazarene and a Catholic -- two of the more homophobic denominations. I wondered how welcome I would be at their wedding.
Time to out myself.
Two nights before the wedding, all of Katie's relatives had dinner at a restaurant in downtown Kankakee, so they could meet Steve.
Steve was in his 30s, tall, husky, bearded -- with a huge bulge in his jeans!
I made a point of hugging him "hello," and sitting next to him to tell stories of West Hollywood, Florida, and New York. Without using the g-word, of course.
"How is Yuri?" Katie asked. "You haven't brought him around the house since I was a kid."
Now was my chance! "Oh, he's fine. He's been with Michael for several years now."
Don't ask, don't tell! My sister-in-law glared at me. "Boomer has always been liberal, with lots of different kinds of friends."
"Yes...um...it fits in very nicely with my research on gay communities."
Now my mother was glaring at me. "Oh, Boomer is always doing some kind of research. That's why he's never had time to get married and raise a family."
"That, and the fact that I can't get married in the State of Ohio. It's illegal. But I date a lot, and I've had my share of long-term..."
Enraged, I excused myself and went to the bathroom. Steve followed, and stood next to me at the urinal. I was too nervous to sneak a peek.
"Don't let it bother you," he said. "My parents still insist on calling my brother's partner his 'roommate,' and they've been together for ten years. But he's invited to all of the family functions. That's something, right?"
I reddened. No need to out myself -- Steve already knew. Everyone already knew. They may not use the g-word, but at least I was invited to all of the family functions. And so were Lane and Yuri.
By the way, no one had a problem with Steve being Catholic. I guess having a gay relative makes you tolerant.
And no, I never saw him like this.