A Cage for a Gift

David, my Ex, had pulled up into my driveway, and Louie was already sitting in the passenger seat, ready to spend time with his other daddy. David had given me a hug, and we stood a few feet away from each other as the evening darkened. I could see the silhouette of Louie’s cocked ears as he listened to the two of us talk.

“How was St. Louis?” I asked him.

He made a face. “Guess what my brother got me for Christmas?”

“Which one?”


“I don’t know, what?”

“He got me a DVD of The Birdcage. Can you believe it?”

“Jesus.” Then I laughed. I did believe it. We had spent an awkward Christmas with his family in St. Louis a few years ago. David has four brothers, most of them married and living in the suburbs with their kids. We had stayed at his fraternal twin’s place in a sub-development a few minutes outside of the city. He and his wife had successful corporate positions, a minivan, one son and another on the way. I wanted to like the little toddler more than I did. There was an entire room full of his toys and he still whined all weekend.

The parents and all the brothers and their families and various cousins and siblings descended upon the house that weekend. There were kids riding big wheels around the basement and screaming. In the middle of it all his brothers smoked cigars and shot pool. David had a cocktail in one hand and a cigarette in the other. Everyone, even the children, seemed drunk to me. I was just bitter, because I was trying to stay sober. I wasn’t sure what to do with myself. I couldn’t take the noise and the smoke. I wandered back upstairs, past the dining table where Uncle Tony sat with his “roommate”, the man he’d lived with for twenty-five years. They wore matching gold necklaces and they blow-dried their hair. The remains of the Christmas dinner lay before them on the table. I nodded at them and then wandered upstairs, where I hid in a bedroom with a book.

I couldn’t wait to get the hell out of St. Louis. The city itself, with beautiful old brick buildings, seemed half-abandoned. The suburbs were full of strip malls and chain stores. In the morning we drove the rental car back to the airport, listening to a popular morning radio show. The deejays were telling fag jokes and making prank calls to gay sex clubs listed in the San Francisco phone book. We ended up flying stand-by that morning, and I asked God in a rare moment of prayer to get us seats, as a winter storm was approaching. He must have been listening.

I couldn’t stop laughing as we stood together in the driveway. He was embarrassed about the DVD. He held the car’s door open with one hand and toed the ground. Apart from Uncle Tony, he was the only gay person in the family. But nobody ever called Uncle Tony gay. David was also the only one in the entire family who had left St. Louis. I kept laughing, out of commiseration with David and the ongoing failure of his family to understand him. But my laughter grew hostile. Of course, I thought to myself. Of course he’d get a copy of The Birdcage. Had I been feeling fair I would have seen it merely as an example of how people everywhere don’t understand their families. I would have seen it as just another Christmas present destined for the returns counter. But I saw more. It was more than a ridiculous DVD. It was a symbol of everything that was wrong, an emblem of the polls released earlier that day; the polls that showed what straight people thought of gay marriage. It seemed to me the perfect example of how clueless and offensive straight people could be, and once again I gave up hope for them.

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