[This is the third in The Tyee's Love on the Edge series.]
"I have a right to be happy, don't I?" Brady* says.
Across the table, I nod. "Of course."
I haven't seen him in years, and just hours ago on my way to the bank I caught a glimpse of something familiar -- the 6'1", 190-pound, dark and handsome Brady, a friend of mine from out of province. While in Victoria visiting family, he decided to spend a day in Nanaimo.
"I forgot you lived here," he said. "It's been so long."
At the table, we drink coffee and share a salad. "You're not wearing your wedding ring."
He looks down at his hand, then back at me. "Well, you know, marriage is tough."
And for Brady, it probably is. Very tough -- after all, he is married to a woman.
Brady and I met when I was still in high school. He frequented the restaurant I worked at and was friends with my friend David.* In October 2000, David, who is "very gay," invited me to a party at his apartment.
"Is it going to be a bunch of fags and me?" I asked.
David laughed. "A bunch of fags, Brady and you."
"He's not a fag, if you ask him," David replied.
Until this point, I had known Brady for a year and had no idea he was gay. "Are you sure? Or do you just have a thing for him and hope he's gay?"
David shook his head. "I shouldn't have told you. No one knows. Hush hush."
'One of them'
Months later, Brady confided in me. He told me he didn't want anyone to know, he didn't want to be treated like "one of them."
In 1969, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau decriminalized homosexuality. Since then, homosexuals have been fighting to be treated as equals: they want to get married.
In 2005, the same-sex marriage controversy climaxed when the House of Commons made Canada the third country to legalize same-sex marriage, passing Bill C-38 by a vote of 158 to 133.
Then–prime minister Paul Martin, under attack by opposition and religious groups for initiating legalization of same-sex marriage in all Canadian provinces and territories, said the "vote is about the Charter of Rights. We're a nation of minorities and in a nation of minorities it is important that you don't cherry-pick rights. A right is a right and that is what this vote is all about."
"I was relieved," Brady tells me. "It gives people the chance to love who they want to love and marry who they want to marry. That doesn't mean it will be easy, though."
The legalization of gay marriage provides options that Brady didn't have when he got married two years ago. Brady met his wife, Laura*, at a church barbecue and they immediately became friends. Brady's parents weren't shy -- at 27 he should be thinking about settling down and starting a family -- and they really liked Laura.
"My family is Christian, my wife's family is Christian. They have strong beliefs," Brady says. He lowers his voice and leans towards me. "I rejoined the church a few years ago because I too have strong beliefs. I believe in being a good person and that God loves all his people. Even gays."
In the know
"Do they know?" I ask.
Brady laughs, sips his coffee, then shakes his head. "Of course not. And they wouldn't accept it either."
I'm not so sure -- Brady's parents, whom I met several years ago at a birthday barbecue for him, are warm, friendly, and love their son.
"I heard them talk [about Bill C-38]. I know how they feel about [homosexuality]: 'It's abnormal. It's perverted, a sin.'" Brady tells me that his entire family strongly opposes same-sex marriage because it threatens the "traditional definition of marriage" and goes against everything that is 'natural.' He recalls a family event where the topic came up. "They're not rude or vulgar about it. They don't say 'fag' or 'queer' – but they don't think homosexuals can or should have families. If you can't procreate, you can't marry."
Brady reaches into his pocket and pulls out his wallet. He opens it on the table. "My father thinks [homosexuals] can't parent because [homosexuals] don't know their [gender] roles, they don't fit into a family."
He smiles and pulls a picture out of his wallet. "If only he knew," he says and shows me a picture of his 19-month-old child. "He thinks I'm a great father."
At this point, Brady gets uncomfortable. He looks out the window, checks his watch, fidgets with the silverware, looks out the window again. "Hey," I say as I hold the picture. "[Your child] is gorgeous. Congratulations." I hand the picture back to him and he tucks it back into his wallet.
"When I heard you got married, I was surprised." I look at him across the table, bite back a smile, and whisper, "I was like 'That silly homo, what's he doing with a girl?'"
Thankfully, my attempt to get a laugh out of him is successful. Brady doesn't fit the stereotype of a gay male. Rather, he fits the stereotype of what is male -- he likes cars, sports, beer, and working out. He started questioning his sexuality in high school. He played sports, was popular, and "always had girls hanging around." He had a few girlfriends, but they never worked out. "I thought it was that our personalities just didn't mesh," he says. "Now I know it was because they had the wrong body parts."
No one has ever questioned his "maleness" or his sexuality – except for himself. "I've always been a man, but I've always been [gay]. It's nice to talk to someone who knows."
"Your wife? I ask, thinking the obvious. "How can she not know?"
He shakes his head. "Our marriage is a fraud." He stares into his coffee and turns the cup with his fingertips. "She really loves me. I can feel it. It makes it worse. Reminds me everyday that while I love her, I don't love her the way I should. The way she thinks I do."
We don't talk for a few minutes. The waitress refills our coffee and we order cheesecake. "Do you think it looks like we're on a date?" Brady asks. He tells me about his child, who is "growing amazingly fast", and how incredible fatherhood is. "It changes everything. [My child] matters more to me than anything ever could. We're actually expecting another."
I don't react.
"I know," he says. "It's the right thing to do."
"What's the right thing to do?"
I know what he means. He means the right thing to do is to preserve the "traditional definition of marriage" even if it means denying himself. I beg to differ. But, as he reminds me, I am not in his shoes and I don't know what it's like. I tell him I do know – I like men just as much as he does. "And let me tell you," I say. "It's not easy." Baptized and raised Christian, Brady struggled for most of his life with his feelings and desires. Preserving the "traditional definition of marriage" is key to the argument against same-sex marriage.
Homosexual relationships and marriages are a threat to the culturally constructed notion of marriage -- that marriage is intended for procreation, is a life-long commitment, and is "one man, one woman."
"Divorce, adultery, and infertility threaten the traditional definition more than gays getting married," I say. "Maybe divorce should be illegal."
"I suppose," Brady says. He shifts in his seat, frustrated. "But I can't change the way people feel -- the way people would react if they knew -- I don't want to lose my family."
"I wish I didn't know," I say. Other than myself, there are only three people Brady has confided in. "You should be crazy in love and married to a man."
"I have a right to be happy, don't I?" he says.
"If I go, I'm going to be that man that abandoned his wife and child. Children. I know that if I stay, I'm abandoning a part of myself. I love [my child] and my wife is wonderful. I know I'm lying to her and to my family … "
We don't discuss it any further. Brady and I finish our visit, hug, and promise to keep in touch, thankful that we stumbled into each other. He heads back to Victoria. In a few days, he'll fly home to his wife and child, where his public life presides, his inner life remains a secret.
* Names have been changed.
Jodi A. Shaw is the associate editor of The Navigator at Malaspina University College in Nanaimo.