Two Spirits

In which our gay friends add something special…

The severely handicapped child I care for lives in a family of constant change. Members of this large African-American/White/Shinnecock clan come and go depending on issues relating to jail time, rehab, the foster care system and more naturally, birth and death. They love this child exactly as he is, never mourning what he could have been, or hoping he will “improve.” His uncle Lyle is like all the men in the family who make a living by auto repair, carpentry and house painting as well as by doing seasonal yard work. I noticed he is the only family member to pop into the patient’s room during my working hours just to say hi. Eventually it hit me. Lyle is gay.

The single reason I thought that was because he conversed with me and called me by my name, behaviors that other family members, however polite, do not. A few weeks after that light-bulb moment I saw him in the family room with his cool, pretty boyfriend taking romantic selfies and I knew I was right.

In Native American cultures before they were subjected to Christianity it was acceptable to be of “two spirits” and embody both masculine and feminine qualities. The Navajo and other western tribes had special functions for them, usually as sort of social workers or lawyers, to resolve differences and facilitate harmony. The following experiences in my life made me think that at those moments, a “two-spirit” person like Lyle was just what was needed.

Mr. Darcy is a man who believes that the exquisite and classic pairings of Mac’ n’ cheese, hot dogs and French fries, pizza and coke, spaghetti and meatballs, and fish and chips cannot be improved upon. Exceptions have been made for food served at family style restaurants such as Chili’s whereupon more exotic fare like burritos and guacamole are occasionally enjoyed. But one time it came to pass that we were given a gift certificate for a restaurant with tablecloths.

While reading the menu I noticed Mr. Darcy becoming agitated. He said he didn’t know what half the stuff on the menu was. Chicken paillard? Gnocchi? What the heck is hoisin emulsion, or panko? Why would anyone screw up mashed potatoes with goat cheese? What are carmelized shallots? Why stuff anything with figs? And “chutney” does not sound like normal American food, such as veal parmesan or lasagna.

Our nice gay waiter was trying to take our order and quickly noticed Mr. Darcy’s mood, and probably also noticed the callused, rough hands of a man who has spent most of his life working outside. He down-shifted his daily special spiel to an understandable pace, calmly explaining unknown concepts such as “risotto.” Without being condescending he put Mr. Darcy at ease and helped him make a good choice that he really enjoyed.
Later I thanked him privately for his sensitivity and tact. His intuition and grace saved the evening.

Another situation occurred during the wake of a young woman in our neighborhood, the niece of a dear friend, who lost her life in a sudden act of violence. She had been a senior in high school and the funeral home was packed with family, classmates, town officials and reporters. I was impressed to notice that her young friends went into the lobby if they were overcome with grief, out of respect to the family. The girls huddled together crying and I did not see any boys with them.

This was a culturally mixed crowd and I saw a young Haitian-American pair come in. The girl was dressed very conservatively and the boy was clearly gay. Something about the way his eyeglass frames matched his feathered earring informed that feeling, as well as his lyrical and elegant walking style.
They sat in the back, near me and I heard her praying in both Creole and English. She was bent over in grief, tears gushing forth every few minutes. The boy kept his arm around her. He is like a Bounty paper towel; I thought somewhat ludicrously, he is both strong and absorbent. While the other girls could barely keep it together, their shared grief increasing the intensity and drama of it, the Haitian girl was kept calmer by the boy’s influence.
The whole time I was there he kept her close and I did not see any straight boys acting like that. Perhaps they were afraid of their own emotions.

Other, happier occasions involved trying on clothes in stores. As an older woman one is required to walk a fine line of not looking frumpy or worse, trying to look “young.” Frequently I have been advised by gay male salespersons on how pull off a look with accessories, (less is more!) or how to wear a particular style. Hint: if you wear a bohemian style skirt, wear a plain shirt, in other words, don’t overdo any style.

The events described showed how something special was needed and was provided in just the right way. With Pride Month upon us I would like to express my gratitude to all people of the rainbow and especially those of the Two Spirits.

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