3 min

Family fix-ups

My cousin must have thought I was desperate

Credit: Mia Hansen

My family’s attempt to set me up on a blind date started out cool enough, when my mother phoned me with “an urgent message.”

“Anita wants to know if you’re dating anyone,” my mother asked, using the third person as a clever distancing device to ask me more than she really wanted to know herself.

“No, I’m single, mom.” I could have added that if I ever did get a boyfriend, I’d have told her long ago. In fact, I would’ve told everybody. Fireworks and free cake all around.

Anita is a cousin who lives in St Catharines. Apparently she knows this guy from her work who’s gay. Naturally, this makes us perfect for each other.

As it stands, I don’t have boyfriends anymore, I only run into the old ones. In a perfect world, running into your ex would be no more common than a whale sighting. Something to be enjoyed from a distance, and rarely. Not twice a week. Not when my hair is sticking to my sweaty face and my back is hunched over from lugging six packed grocery bags (from No Frills, no less) while he is bouncing off to brunch with his new beau. An ingenious way for fate to ensure I never forget just how single I am and just how single I am likely remain for the rest of my life. It wouldn’t be that bad, except it’s happened so much this summer. But I can deal with it. Last summer was bad for smog, two summers ago it was aphids. Things could be worse.

As for my cousin playing man-cupid for me, I’m confused. Most of my extended family strikes me as pious, religious and judgmental. They espouse family values. They don’t just go to church, they “worship.” (I haven’t prayed in 10 years, since humouring the young Elder Tyler and his cute friend, Elder Josh, on the bus after they promised me something about inner-burning in the bosom.)

When my aunts and uncles discovered I was gay, things changed between me and them. A great dividing rift opened, and one side was going straight to hell. Family reunions stopped being fun; there’s that uneasy feeling you get when you know that everybody in the room will go home that night and pray for your soul. Worse, what if they weren’t praying for me? Why the hell not? Would it mean I’m past redemption, never to find Jesus and reject my homosexuality by breaking out into a lively stanza of “He’s Still Working On Me?”

But I don’t like the idea of my cousin wanting to set me up. I like her, but we’re hardly close. Does she assume that because I’m gay, I must be desperate for a date? That without an organized network of charitable supporters

hooking us up, gay men would remain isolated and hopeless? “He’s gay! You’re gay! What could be more perfect?” That might be how it works in the Niagara region, in Smallville, but for a Toronto urbanite?

I decided it might just work. I scratch my cousin’s telephone number down and beforeI hang up with my mother, I promise her I’ll call Anita, not because I actually want to, but only “as a show of courtesy.”

“Fill me in on the details,” my mother says a little too cheerily and, I suspect, instantly regretting it. This was the same woman who, when I was a teen, prohibited girls inside my bedroom unless I kept the bedroom door wide open. Meanwhile, all the boys in Turkey could have piled in my room with the door shut and bolted. Perhaps mom was trying to discourage me from hanging out with only girls and give my own sex a chance. Which of course I eventually did, but in a way that probably has not satisfied my mother.

As for calling Anita, I had never telephoned any of my cousins before. How is one is supposed to make this kind of phone call without sounding like a desperate fuck? “Hey cuz, long time no speak. How are the kids? Oh, by the way, I’m a big loser who can’t find his own date. Set me up, hmmm?”

I dial Anita’s number, praying I get her answering machine. (Okay, sometimes I do pray.) She picks up on the first ring. We make brief small talk. Then she tells me a bit about him. It sounds good, till she says he’s in theatre.

“He’s a bit campy, I guess.”

Ah, but I knew that without having to ask. In small towns, only the campiest (or the angriest) are out of the closet. It had taken me 26 years to escape the Niagara region, where the only gay guys my age I’d met wore yellow denim, purple bandanas and every September staffed the pink triangle outreach table at school. But beggars can’t be choosers. I tell her to give the guy my number and e-mail address.

That was two months ago, and I still haven’t heard from Mr Niagara Region. Or maybe Anita didn’t pass on my number, fearful she might be aiding and abetting my quick journey to hell.

But good. I don’t need aunt Rose, uncle John, cousin Anita and the rest of the puritanical clan to know about my love life. What was I thinking? If something went wrong in the relationship, the knowledge of our indiscretions could spread like a diseased potato crop. Then they’d be praying for both of us.

* Jeremy Parkes is a regular contributor to Xtra.