Yesterday was my mother’s birthday, so I called, and we had a virtually normal conversation for thirty-one minutes. Followed by three minutes and forty-seven seconds of infuriating weirdness and a fairly uncomfortable silence.
Until I was seventeen, I thought my mother was this open-minded, accepting, non-judgmental person. Then she decided I was a lesbian, and subjected me to an overnight train trip from Melbourne to Sydney in which she explained at length, no doubt to the delight of the entire carriage, all the reasons why she had not brought me up that way. According to her, her gay male friends were fine, but narcissistic. In her steel-trap mind, lesbianism was not about loving women, but about hating men.
At this point, though she had made her mind up, I had not. Sure, I liked girls. But at seventeen I did not feel the need to rule anything in or out. And I certainly didn’t hate anybody.
Cut to now. I’ve been out’n’proud for nearly eighteen years. It hasn’t all been easy, and at times I’m sure I was a caricature of myself. I did some damage. I got better.
My mother lives with her father and takes in strays. At the moment her project is the daughter of a family friend, who is now working with my grandfather and helping around the house. Or something like that. The three minutes of weirdness started with my mother telling me how this woman had come out to my granddad and how terrible it is that the girl’s mother is uncomfortable with her being a lesbian. Hello? Fuck that. My mother has never been able to look my girlfriend in the eye. She uses me for street cred: my daughter is a lesbian and I’m ever-so-together about that. She needles and she picks and she judges. She wonders why I can’t just find a nice Jewish lawyer and give her some grandkids.
“Tell her about the Glum,” says my granddad in the background. “You tell her,” says my mother, who is trying to bridge the monster gap that has grown between me and the old man these last few years. My skin prickles and I sense that this conversation is not going to build any bridges. The phone is thrust into his hand.
“Oh Hi. Carmen* and I were talking the other day and she said, they shouldn’t call it Gay and Lesbian, they should call it Gay and Glum. Even at the wedding the other day, the lesbians there were all Glum. Aha ha.”
Right. Where am I supposed to go with that exactly? Hate yourself, much?
“I’ll give you back to your mother.” Ok, bye. Whatever.
“So, what do you think GLUM stands for?” she says.
“I have no idea.” All I can think is fuck you. Fuck you. Fuck you.
“Your dinner must be nearly ready.”
“It is, and I’m starving.”
Silence. Fuck you. The end.
So, Carmen*, whoever you are, I’m sorry that you and your friends are so goddamn glum. I’m not. And that’s probably because I don’t spend a lot of time with people who feed off conflict, negativity, and self-loathing.
This morning there will be a text message on my phone. It will say “Pinch, punch, first of the month. Happy November. Love you xR”. I will delete it as I do every month, and go back to my cordial detente in which I don’t call, don’t reply to emails, and don’t answer the phone when I know it is you. Happy Birthday. Leave me alone. I’m happiest when I forget you exist.