By: Tanya Dodd-Hise
It was incredibly thrilling and exciting to be engaged, trying to decide to which state we would go to marry, whether to invite anybody or not, indoor vs. outdoor, season, date. On top of that, there was a constant buzz because we were planning a same-sex, legal wedding in a state that recognizes us as equal persons. We had so much support from our friends in the community, and even from some surprising people who we’d known our whole lives –many of them straight and/or conservative. Eventually we decided that we would travel to Connecticut, and we found a wonderful, quaint –and, most importantly –LGBT-friendly bed & breakfast that would take care of all the details for us. We decided that we wanted to marry on the anniversary of our first date the year before – July 18th – so we would only have one date to always remember. The wonderful owner of the inn spent many phone calls with me making arrangements: flowers, cake, colors, hair and makeup for Erikka, photography, video, the officiant, and our stay at the inn. We spent months making the arrangements, picking our clothes ever so carefully, booking air and train travel, and we created a wonderful trip that we would never forget. Ultimately, we invited a few of Erikka’s friends from college, Holly (of course – she was responsible for our meeting in the first place), one of my sorority sisters, and Erikka’s parents; they were all coming! We would have seven or eight guests, which was more than we had originally anticipated, and felt so honored and special that each was taking time and money to travel and share our special day.
I, however, went through many moments of sadness and depression, usually privately, over the fact that I would not have any family whatsoever at my wedding. My boys would not be there with us because the oldest was living with his dad, the youngest wasn’t keenly aware of the depths of our relationship, and we were in the middle of a custody suit and didn’t want to stir that pot by trying to take either of them across the country for our big, gay wedding. My father had stepped out of my life a few years before, and I let it happen because I had grown very weary over many years of being the only one to put forth an effort towards a father/daughter relationship. My mother, who had previously been living at my house, had a huge blow-up with me just before I got engaged, moved out abruptly, and had spoken very little to me since. She and I had never been best friends, or very close, but she had lived at my home for three years while I took care of her through breast cancer, surgery, chemo, and the aftermath. It was only when she found out that Erikka and I were dating that she decided that I was evil, not a good mother, and on a direct path to hell. Once she left my house, she never came back, refusing to step foot in a place where she knew that such sick things go on. I would, at times, receive emails from her, and upon seeing them have hope that she wanted to talk or make amends – but they were typically fraught with hellfire & brimstone and declarations that she couldn’t believe that I was doing this to HER. Yes, my happiness with a woman was destroying my mother to the point that she was about to have a nervous breakdown and was to the point of seeing a counselor to “deal” with it.
Something that you have to understand was that this wasn’t the first time that my mother had been like this. When I was eighteen and began dating an African American (that I met at church, no less), my mother couldn’t deal with it and told me that if I didn’t break it off then she would disown me, because it was sinful and not in God’s plan for people of different races to be together. I am very thankful that, over time and with some education, her viewpoint has changed on THAT platform. After my first divorce, I wanted desperately to come out, but knew that if I did I would reap terrible, awful consequences – mostly from my mother. After my second divorce, I DID come out, loud and proud, and lost pretty much everything that I had. I lost my job, I lost most of my friends, my mother was disgusted with me, my church shunned me, I lost my apartment, and I lost my car. It was so difficult to be a single mom of a young boy, lose everything, and have to rely on other people with no real moral support. So what did I do? I went back into the closet for ten years or so, going back to church, getting remarried, having another child, and trying to be everything that everyone else wanted me to be. Religion had held such a grip on me for most of my life, and it wasn’t until my early thirties that I began to start researching some of the teachings that had been so ingrained in me regarding homosexuality and all of the underlying hate and intolerance that the church has towards those like me. By the time that I came out again when I began dating Erikka, I was thirty-eight and a very different person than I had been on previous attempts. I was stronger – stronger in my faith, stronger in my belief system, stronger in my relationship with a God who I was confident did not hate me. I’m not going to say that I didn’t care when my mother totally rejected me and my relationship, but I didn’t let it dictate my decisions any longer. But this time I wasn’t scared. This time I knew that it was right, that SHE was right for me. THIS time, I had no guilt or fear of a God who would smite me and send me to an eternal, fiery hell because of who I love.
So while the upcoming nuptials were so exciting and I looked forward to them every day in anticipation, there was always present with me the reality that on the happiest day of my life, I would be figuratively an orphan. But you know what? God knew what I needed, and on THAT day, I DID have a family. Holly was my family. Michelle was my family. Erikka’s parents became my parents that day. And once again I gained more strength, more blessings, and became even stronger for it.