It’s not often that you get the opportunity to spend an evening in the company of royalty. And this past weekend I had just such an opportunity. Hubby and I were invited to sixtieth birthday dinner party at the Queens’ house and as a result of hierarchy, for a brief four hours, I was demoted to the royal status of Princess. But I didn’t mind my royal demotion as the guest list was far too impressive for me to be bothered by it. After all how many people get the chance to be in the company of a Dutch Baroness, a lesbian couple who has been together for well over 6 decades and other gay couples who have been together longer than I am old? It truly was a fabulous evening and a night that I once again got to appreciate how far we have come in terms of gay rights.
Last Friday night hubby, I and the matriarch of the family were invited to the birthday dinner of hubby’s uncle’s life partner. Like all queer event’s the guest list was well thought out, the house immaculately decorated with elaborate bouquets of freshly picked flowers from their French style garden. The large dinner table was dressed to perfection with the good China and silverware being proudly displayed in such a manner that it would have made any ambassador’s wife green with envy. Upon arrival and as the customary introductions were made I soon came to the realization that this evening was going to be very interesting one.
You see, amongst the quests was a Dutch Baroness. Dressed in a little black number which perfectly showcased her beautiful legs and with her stately shoulders draped with a shawl that accentuating a striking and expensive looking necklace, she had an air of mystique about her. She came to South Africa 25 years ago, leaving her family behind in a town called Enschede which borders with Germany. It became apparent that her relationship with her family was tense and she had rejected her royal heritage. She was curiously stingy with details and even though, on the surface, she had a bounty of tails to tell about her past, I did get the sense that she was guarding some sort of secret.
As luck would have it I was seated next to the Baroness during dinner and I was determined to learn her secret. The only problem was I could only understand about half of what she was saying. She would shift between languages with such ease I came to realize that she thought she was continuously speaking the same language, but she wasn’t. She would start a conversation in Dutch, move to English, then to French and end in German. With my Dutch and French being as rusty as a dirty old nail I struggled, but with great effort I still tried to follow and interrogate her best I could.
Never in my live had I met a woman of Nobel heritage with such a potty mouth. The breath of her curse word repertoire far exceeded my own and she even taught me a new Dutch curse word – “neuken”. Suffice to say I was immediately impressed and liked her a whole lot more! The only curse word she didn’t like and had an enormous problem if used by women of any age is “cunt”. She explained that she just can’t understand why women would speak badly of their own women parts in such a distasteful way. And I have to agree she did make an excellent point! But the Baroness wasn’t the only interesting person at the party; there was also the other queer royalty.
I cannot imagine what it must have been like to be gay in the 1930’s and 1940’s. It was a very different world back then and far less tolerant. Yet, there were gay folk who managed to find life partners and live full productive and happy lives, albeit in secret. One such couple was seated across from me, a lesbian couple in their mid to late eighties who have been together just over 60 years. They met in their early twenties, fell in love and have been together ever since. The only children they have ever had were their dogs, one of which escorted them to this dinner. Speaking to them was like going back in time.
They and another couple, who have been together 25 years, reminisced over a time where being gay was illegal, how they had to meet in secret and how getting married always seemed like a dream they thought would be forever unattainable. They spoke about how the police raided suspected gay parties, barged into houses of their gay friends and to the extend they sometimes had to go to conceal their relationships. As we spoke I noticed a glimmer of envy in their eyes, as I could tell they looked at us, the younger generation, and wonder if we realized how profoundly lucky we are. I could see in the older lady’s eyes that she wondered if we would use our freedom and opportunities wisely. After all we, the younger generation, have achieved our freedom and the civil rights we have today due to the battles they started fighting when we were only a twinkle in our parents’ eyes.
There are days that I forget how lucky I am. Lucky that I can be openly gay. Lucky that I could marry the man I love. Lucky that we can have children and lucky that my human rights are acknowledged and protected. Some days I forget that not all generations were so fortunate, and some days I forget that in other countries in the world there are gay folk who still live in fear and in secret. It is nice to sometimes just receiving a small dose of a reality check that puts your life in perspective. In this case it was fully achieved by our gay Royalty. They lived with discrimination, intolerance and ignorance and yet they survived. They have been together many decades and they are still in love.
Driving home that night I had allot to think about. I thought about the Baroness and the secret she hides and whether I will ever uncover her true past. I tried to imagine what my life would have been like had I lived in the 1940’s and whether my husband and I would have been strong enough, in that period, to sustain our relationship. I thought about how brave the two frail old ladies must have been to have been a relationship during a time it wasn’t accepted and I tried to imagine them 50 years younger. That evening I decided to never let a day go by without acknowledging and protecting all the blessing I have: my accepting family, friends, my marriage and my civil rights. Because far too often in life we take the small things for granted, and in life more times than not, it is the small things that matter!
Till next time.