4 min

Like mother, like daughter

A kink in the family tree

Credit: Suzy Malik

On Thanksgiving weekend I found myself in church. It was an unusual experience for me. The night before I had attended the Mr Black Eagle contest. It was far too early on Sunday morning when I found myself driving my elderly father to Kitchener to attend a special Harvest Sunday service that my late mother instituted at their church.

My mother died last Easter. She was the most important person in the world to me, the one who really was there for me no matter what.

My father got out of the hospital a month later, having suffered complications of his own. I moved him to Chester Village nursing home, located on Broadview at Danforth. I visited him during Pride. I had him over to my place for summer parties and, more recently, a Thanksgiving potluck. But he has essentially disappeared from his own social circle, which revolved around the church back home.

When I asked if he’d like me to take him back to Kitchener to see friends he asked to be there for Harvest Sunday. Since I couldn’t politely just drop him off and pick him up later, I resigned myself to suffering through church, something I haven’t done since the Metropolitan Community Church bought their first church up the street from my old place in the mid 1980s.

The rest of the congregation greeted my father warmly and it was nice to see how much he’d been missed. We sat in my parents’ regular pew. The service was about as exciting as I remembered from my childhood.

As a kid I developed stomachaches every Sunday to get out of service. As an adult I’m not a Christian, but I did discover Leviticus in a synagogue while at my best friend’s wedding in Chicago four years ago. The stuff about the blood was fascinating – rules against drinking blood, cutting, tattooing and marking one’s body in the image of another god. Leviticus also contains all the rules about sex with one’s brother’s wife and so on. In other words, it’s the bent bit of the Bible.

While everyone prayed and sang songs from the hymnbook I politely held the Bible in my hand, scanning the

United version of what I call “Lascivious” for details of blood sacrifice and declarations that menstruating women are unclean.

The whole experience made me think of the leather community. The bars we gather at are a place of worship. We worship idols among us; those who win our title contests are our heroes for the year. We gather together for support, organize as a community, educate and socialize. We fundraise, both for our own organizations and for charities.

To me, Leviticus highlights the big difference between church and the leather community: We do the things it specifically commands we not do. I have tasted my lover’s blood. I think there is still something to learn from that book, something I’m missing out on.

During luncheon following the service, we were divided into groups and set to work on a project. My father hadn’t warned me about this. There were questions we were to ponder; the answers would be brought to the group later.

Why were we here? What did we like about this particular church? What would we like to see in the future? How can we encourage new members? What skills do we each bring? On it went. I put my two cents in because I was there, and because I have experience building community, albeit in a very different environment.

I learned a lot about my mother that day. I always knew she was very active in the church. She knew I was active in the queer, SM and leather communities. Neither of us was much interested in attending each other’s events.

I slipped out to take some photos of the sanctuary (which in my world would be the dungeon) to add to the collection of snapshots I took of my father and his friends for him to enjoy when back at the home. I picked up the flower arrangement from in front of the altar that was supplied by the Chancel Committee in memory of my mother that we had been invited to take. I was heading toward the car with the flowers when I ran into the minister outside having a smoke.

We had already spoken at the luncheon where he had introduced himself to my father and I. We learned he had preached for two six-year terms at the Toronto church where my parents were married. When he spoke I watched his hands and for me, they spoke more about his nature than his words.

Talking to him one on one was different. He noticed my Toolbox belt buckle and told me he was part of Affirm, the 20-year-old organization for queers and their friends within the United Church. He told me that he himself had spent time at the Toolbox before it closed up this past summer.

I told him the story of the slide show of my world travels that I prepared as a fundraiser at my parents’ church. I told him how my mother had asked me to edit out photos from the Michigan Women’s Music Festival, Pride in New York City, protests from the early days of ACT UP, etc.

I didn’t, and got a lot of support from those in attendance for my willingness to be out to them. At the time, my mother wanted to disown me. My father said then that if anyone were to ask how I was doing and if I was happy he’d say, “No, she’s not happy. She’s gay.”

There are so many things I wish I could tell my mother. I miss her terribly. But this one’s delightful. “Mom, guess what! You have a gay minister at your church. All right, he says he’s bi. Well, so am I. But I’m very queer and he sure didn’t miss the first opportunity that I created to come out to me.”

A couple of weeks have passed since my day in church and I’m home in Toronto, looking forward to the big beauty pageant that is Mr Leatherman Toronto. I’m looking forward to the gathering of the clan, the outfits, the friends from near and far, the sexual charge and the love. I’m looking forward to it in the same way as I imagine my father looked forward to being at church for the Harvest Sunday service.

It’s been a difficult year, and these days I welcome comforting arms around me more than ever. And if those arms are big and muscular and smell of leather, all the better. Let me join in worship for our temporary idols, those who share with us their hearts as we give of ourselves. Amen.