In 1982 Eugene, lesbians were feeling our feminist oats, surging toward equality, and coming out in droves. Back home, my family avoided my queerness as much as I asserted it.
That was the year my blatantly heterosexual sister was getting married. My kid sib Judi — that’s Judi with an i, topped with a smiley face for a dot — inherited Mom and Dad’s lack of appreciation for my lifestyle.
“You’d better not show up in some damned tuxedo,” my sister snapped. “Why do you always have to make a statement?”
Well, duh! My gene-pool cohort was about to have her socially approved gender-normative relationship regaled with a big family wedding, opulent gifts, and a Hawaiian honeymoon. I couldn’t even get my sexual orientation acknowledged, let alone celebrated. Wasn’t a statement in order?
Judi wouldn’t have any of it. “This is my wedding. If you can’t dress like a girl, don’t come.”
I had half a mind to argue that girls can be firefighters, and come to her wedding in bright yellow Kevlar. But no way she’d let her dykey gender-bender big sister ruin her nuptials. And no way I’d let her keep my lesbian face out of her wedding album. I wouldn’t miss my sister’s wedding no matter what. Even if I had to go in total drag.
Which I did.
Luckily a flaming queen friend of mine had just the thing. He brought over a flouncy, pink, voile-on-chiffon number with matching pink pumps — a leftover from his early Diana Ross phase. I’d never learned to walk in heels. Under the queen’s professional instruction, I minced across the room, concentrating to keep my balance. One look at big beefy me teetering around in this get-up would make my sister wish I had shown up in a tux.
I arrived early on Judi’s wedding day and wobbled down the hotel hallway to join my family. Their suite door was propped open, hair spray fumes escaping in gusts.
“Oh, Sal!” My mom hugged me. Not a word about my out-of-character wardrobe choice. I guess I looked normal in her eyes, or else she was too distraught to really see me. “Your sister needs help,” Mom nodded toward the bathroom.
Dad paced and checked his watch. “She won’t let us near her.”
Judi flung open the door and stomped out in a cloud of big hair and yards of white satin. The fitted bodice flopped forward from the waistline of her bridal dress. “I can’t get this friggin’ zipper up!”
Mom turned toward me and rolled her eyes.
“I’ll do it.” I followed Judi into the bathroom, my silly shoes clicking on the polished terra cotta.
My sister gathered up her skirts and flopped onto the toilet seat. “Everything’s wrong!” Mascara tears streaked her carefully tanned cheeks. “My dress is wrecked. I look hideous.”
True, but my god, what about me? In my over-the-top pink chiffon and teetering high heels I looked like cotton candy on toe shoes.
“It’s OK.” I wrung out a washcloth and set to work. I daubed the mascara drips from her dress, tidied her make-up and fixed the zipper. “See? All better.” I helped her up for a look in the mirror, our faces close. “You’re beautiful.”
Our eyes met for minute — the two sisters. What difference did it make what anyone was wearing?
“Come on girls.” Our dad tried to sound chipper, but Judi’s hissy fit had done him in. “The limo’s waiting.”
I escorted my sister out of the bathroom. “Ta-dah!”
Judi, confident in her feminine perfection, hiked up her gown to show her wedding garter. Dad snapped a picture of us standing there like that — me in that comical dress with a big plastered-on smile, Judi trying to look like she hadn’t been crying her eyes out.
I still have a copy of that photo, in case the original didn’t make it into her wedding album.
Award-winning columnist Sally Sheklow enjoys her chosen family in Eugene.