Heidi Isern

writer. thinker. whiskey drinker.

My Family’s Gay Indian Montana Wedding

“In my wildest dreams, I never thought I’d be going to a gay wedding,” said my uncle.

“I didn’t even know what gay meant as a kid,” said my dad.

“In college the term gay just meant being happy. We’d say we had a gay ol’ time.” My uncle chuckled. “Well, guess we’re about to have another one.”

We all loaded ourselves in trucks to go to a garden spot outside Bozeman where my cousin Kate was getting married. Kate met Piali, the love of her life, while living abroad in Mumbai.

Now, it was time to come home.

For us, it didn’t matter who Kate married as long as she smiled every day. But that was us, a rowdy, chock full o’ love type family, comfortable with affection. Others in our state weren’t as understanding. It was cowboy culture out here, and not the Brokeback Mountain type.

When Kate first contacted wedding venues, many refused, not willing to support a union between two women.

Even Louise the cake maker almost turned us down. She felt uncomfortable participating in a gay wedding. However, after some soul-searching she finally agreed to make the requisite white frosted layers. She drew the line, however, at providing a ‘bride with bride’ cake topper.

Montana, my homeland, isn’t as accepting as San Francisco, the rainbow colored city where I currently reside. At least, not yet. However, being in Montana is a lot better than being in India, where being gay is illegal. Kate and and Piali had to hide their relationship from their housekeeper and colleagues. Too many horrendous stories of being ‘found out’ had occurred. Extortion. Jail. Torture. And always, the knowledge that people do not accept you as you are.

For years Kate wrote two Christmas letters. One was the facts of her life, career, travel, etc., for public consumption. Then she wrote another card,“For those that know me” and revealed her personal life, which recently included her wedding plans.

People flew from all over the world to celebrate. It was a blend of east and west with Hindu fires dancing in the Big Sky wind.

Despite its poetic beauty, it still was a confusing celebration, even to us accepting types.

“Who gives away who?” my brother asked as we waited for the ceremony to start.

“No one is giving away anyone,” said a svelte cowgirl from the row behind us. “These two are coming together on their own accord.”

At dinner a new development perplexed my father. “I thought Piali was the Hindu vegetarian sort and then she goes and bites into a steak.”

“Well, nothing’s sacred anymore, not even the cows,” said my uncle.

“Perhaps everything is just on a spectrum,” said my mother. “Sexuality, religion, and Montana beef.”

We laughed and cried as the wedding speeches started. Piali’s siblings thanked Kate for bringing extra happiness to their life. My family thanked Piali for doing the same. Suddenly, there was no more confusion.

This wedding stopped being different than other weddings we had been to. It started being the same — all about bringing people together, eating a huge meal and dancing to cheesy music.

When the DJ started, everyone danced with everyone, hands in the air, hands around waists, and hands outstretched to others others. The only place hands weren’t were in pockets, unsure of what to do.

Watching people dance reminded me of something my San Francisco friend Jackie said, “Why do I have to be labeled as gay or straight or even bi? Why can’t I just be a person? And be allowed to love another person? No labels. Just love.”

For people outside of San Francisco, doing without labels is hard. If you open up my grandma’s pantry, everything is labeled from the canned corn to the raspberry jam. For strict recipe followers, the idea of mixing unfamiliar ingredients is hard to get used to. But perhaps the best meals come from a little improv fusion. In fact, this is how the many famous restaurants get started. Diners just need to come in with an open mind.

Piali and Kate hope to create a new life in the United States, finding warm acceptance for the rings they wear on their left hands. Being here will be better than living a secret life in India, but still not easy. Just because gay marriage is now legal doesn’t mean that the door of acceptance has been flung open across the country. It’s more like there are a few of us prying a door open with its hinges groaning, uncertain if it should open or not.

I do not expect this personal post to ignite pride rallies in remote mountain towns. But I do hope it provides a little perspective on love.

We all crave love. It’s fundamental to the human existence. True love, as we all know, is hard to find. We search for years to uncover the perfect alchemy of passion, support, understanding, and humor. Why would anyone would want to put restrictions on this search and tell us the type of person we are supposed to love? It’s damn hard enough as is.

As we get older we realize that life is no wedding-cake walk. Terrible things happen. People die, jobs are lost, and places are bombed…sometimes for no reason other than hate. We need to be continually looking to ways to open up that creaking door so that more love can enter, soothing our hearts.

Opening the door is not about mere ‘tolerance.’ I loathe the word ‘tolerance’. Tolerance implies that there is something I don’t like but must put up with. Opening the door is about letting go of rigid ideas and expanding our definition of love. It shouldn’t matter where it goes or how it flows. It just matters that we encourage love in all forms.

Somewhere during the wedding eating, dancing and laughing, my aunt shared a quote from John Steinbeck that summed up how we feel about our home, our family, and our love for one another.

“I’m in love with Montana. For other states I have admiration, respect, recognition, even some affection. But with Montana it is love. And it’s difficult to analyze love when you’re in it.”

Ah love! Don’t analyze it. Don’t restrict it. Don’t compromise it. Just let it flow.

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