Gay, newly married, and home – hopefully

picture-71“What would your neighbors think if they knew you guys got married?” my friend asked shortly after Ethan and I returned last fall from our honeymoon. I told her I wasn’t sure. As far as I know, we’re one of only a few same-sex couples on our Jamaica Plain street, and the only ones who are legally married. I’m curious, though, because how our neighbors view us will play a major role in whether we choose to stay in our little corner of Hyde Square and someday raise a family here.

Without exception, our neighbors are friendly and respectful. They make small talk when we see them on the street, give a wave when we walk by. Even the tough-looking group that hangs on the corner acknowledges us with a quick “What’s up?” — as if simply living on their street entitles us to a grudging respect.

But I admit that this crew makes me nervous. I irrationally wonder whether they will notice our matching wedding bands and mutter a homophobic slur the next time we walk by. That they’ll decide that if we’re allowed to marry, they’re entitled to reveal their true feelings for us. As if by making it legal, we’ve upset some delicate, unspoken equilibrium.

The Caribbean woman who lives across the street is our block’s sort of elder statesman. She presides over the neighborhood from a chair on her porch, and she watches out for us: sending a granddaughter over to remind us to move our car on street-cleaning days, collecting our mail when we’re away.

In August, with the invitations out and the registries set up, her house became a drop-off for the flood of wedding gifts that began arriving via UPS while Ethan and I were at work.

“I told her all this stuff is on the wedding registry,” Ethan said to me one night, returning to the house with a giant box in his arms.

“She didn’t understand, she asked who I was marrying. I had to explain to her that it was you.”

“And what did she say then?” I asked.

“Nothing. She changed the subject.”

I think that most of our neighbors know we’re a couple. And while I don’t expect to engage them in long discussions about the struggle for gay equality or dispense advice on romantic dinner spots, the fact that most of them have never acknowledged our relationship creates an inevitable distance and makes me wonder whether we’ll ever truly be part of this close-knit community. If they knew we were married, would they be more or less likely to support us in a time of need?

Ethan and I will adopt kids someday, and have had long, difficult conversations about where to raise them. We’re committed to Jamaica Plain and to our vibrant street. It’s alive with children, but will our kids be welcome here? And will Ethan and I be accepted as parents? Neighbors who are pleasant if slightly distant are one thing. But if our kids have trouble making friends on our street because their parents are gay, the equation will change dramatically.

When I’m feeling level-headed and hopeful, I believe that, married or not, our neighbors will ultimately respect and accept us because we’re good people doing our part for the street. But the more paranoid part of me worries that with gay marriage constantly in the news, Ethan and I are bound to face a backlash.

One recent afternoon my doorbell rang. “Do you want to buy some candy?” asked a youngster. “We’re selling it because of budget cuts at school.”

There’s one you won’t hear in Newton, I thought to myself.

It was pouring rain, and I was about to invite the shivering kid into the house while I dug up some money. Then I thought about my neighbors. I wondered what might cross their minds if they saw the gay guy opening his door to a 10-year-old boy. I knew how unfair it was for me to assume they might think the worst, but it was a chance I wasn’t willing to take. The stakes were too high.

I hated myself for it, but I left the kid standing there in the rain, in clear sight of anyone who might walk by.

As I opened the door to hand him money for candy I didn’t want, I saw my neighbor sitting on her porch across the street. As she had so many times before, she looked at me, smiled, and waved. I did the same. Just a narrow street separating us, yet I felt we were miles apart.

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