Monday, September 9, 2013

The Sunday Read

By Renée Bess

     Every Sunday I greedily guard enough time to read one feature in particular of the New York Times’ “Style” section. I don’t waste more than a moment scanning the postage stamp size photos that fill the “On the Street” page or the “After Hours” section, although I’ll own my penchant for glancing at the pictures in search of revelers of color. I’ve read the Sunday New York Times since I was a teenager, and I’m happy to report that the photos in the two aforementioned pages portray much more racial diversity than they did forty years ago.
     What kept me glued to the “Styles” section then was the same feature that keeps me glued to it now, the parade of marriage and wedding announcements. During my adolescence, I’d read the blurbs and then fantasize how the text might describe my own nuptials. Don’t scoff. If you were an African-American child who grew up in an integrated neighborhood, went to racially integrated public schools, and had parents who modeled a sense of self-worth, you had the audacity to believe you were equal to the people whose wedding announcements you read every week. I used to scan some of those notices and replace the bride’s name with my own.
  “Renée Bess, the daughter of …and the late…married XYZ yesterday at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church…”
      After I earned my college degree and started a career, I did get married. Neither the New York Times nor the Philadelphia Inquirer reported my wedding. That turned out to be a good thing because the marriage ended before the ink would have dried on the newspapers’ pages.
    A short while after I came out joyously to myself and somewhat traumatically to my family, I stopped reading the “Style” section of the Sunday N.Y. Times. I no longer related to its content. Although I’d found my truth and discovered my soul mate, I knew the Times would never publish a small article about this new union of mine.
     Now, three and a half decades later, once again I look forward to perusing the “Styles” section. I set aside time and space to spread the newspaper’s pages and carefully examine the three or four pages filled with accounts of various couples’ weddings. Why do I do this? After all, these are descriptions of events about people I’ve never met. Yet, each time I read about the marriages of same-gender couples, I feel that I’ve known their struggles and triumphs. I’ve participated in their decisions to get married.
     Each Sunday I grin broadly and count the number of male and female duos who’ve cast aside the old unjust civil rights-robbing prohibitions and claimed their right to be joined in matrimony. I clap my hands each time I read about people who’ve been committed to each other for twenty years or more. Many of them are well past fifty years of age. I know their joy. I feel their pride. My smiles acknowledge our shared history of traveling with the proper legal documents to ensure our rights to visit our partners should they need hospital care; of protecting our wishes vis-à-vis who can make certain decisions should that be necessary; of proving that we are in a loving relationship with one another.
     Thank you, New York Times, for offering me an opportunity to smile each Sunday. Thank you for reporting the celebrations of our love in a most public and normal way. Our marriages deserve to be announced in the same few inches of newsprint as all other unions. One day soon, all of us in every state will be able to marry legally, and all newspapers that print wedding announcements will be inclusive of ours. It’s simply a matter of time and fairness.

Renée Bess is a Philadelphia native, and she and her partner reside in a northwest suburb of that city. Renée taught Spanish and French in a city high school for quite a few years. At the age of six, she was captivated by the plot of Dr. Dan The Bandage Man. She subsequently became enamoured of Nancy Drew, the Hardy boys and years later, Celie and Shug. Books became a necessary part of Renée's life, and writing became the natural corollary. She expects that there are more stories eager to come tumbling forth.

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  1. Your blog have me child, Renee. Tonie and I also scan our own little Spokesman Review every day for the wedding licenses issued, and you described the experience perfectly.


    1. Have me child indeed. Damn autocorrect. I meant, your blog GAVE ME CHILLS!

    2. Thanks for your comment, Kate. And thanks for explaining "have me child." I didn't know if that meant you'd given birth after reading my blog or if you were using an expression borrowed from a West Indian patois. At any rate, isn't it great to be able to see "us" in the wedding announcements?

  2. Darling, once again your sentiments echo my own. As a child, I too, would devour the wedding notices of strangers and compose my own announcement as I was designing my gown – for that was the dream I aspired to, back in the day. What else could represent the ultimate success for fine, upstanding middle-class girls like us? Then I abandoned my guilty pleasure because it bore no relevance to my life. Now I’ve come full circle, and I admit to a vicarious thrill in reading about the nuptials of “couples like us.” I know exactly what you mean when you say “I feel their joy; I share their pride.” One of these days it will be our turn, and I can hardly wait.

  3. Hi Katie D.

    As you know, one of the joys of writing is learning that one's words ring true with a reader. I'm so glad you recognized your own experiences as you read this blog. Regarding marriage equality, I'm confident that all of us who wish to be legally wed will have our turn to do so, whether or not the event is published in the New York Times.

  4. Fabulous essay. Thank you for writing it and sharing it with us. BTW, did you know that OPI nail polish has Butterfly Moment modeled by Mariah Carey? All best, Sandra de Helen

  5. Thanks, Sandra. No, I didn't know that OPI had a nail polish named Butterfly Moment.