The context for this case occurs within the family dynamic between an openly gay man and his family in the United States. The man and his family are white, upper-class individuals from the Northeast. His family spans several generations, including members who are over the age of 75. The man is in his 50s.
Devon was the manifestation of success. He was happy, wealthy, and well-liked by his friends and colleagues. He was kind, unconditionally selfless, and brilliant, a thoroughly excellent man.
Devon’s impressive character was infallible since his youth. He was one of the brightest students in his high school class and attended top tier schools for both his undergraduate and legal studies. His warm personality allowed him to make many incredible relationships throughout his life, including one with another brilliant and kind man named Charles. Devon and Charles were perfect opposites – Devon was intellectually gifted and driven by practicality, while Charles was boundlessly creative, completing several artistic fellowships before establishing his own design firm. The two fell in love and saw their lives blossom together.
Despite their mutual success and love for each other, Devon and Charles’ relationship wasn’t immediately accepted by either of their families. The two began dating in the early 90’s, a time when homosexuality still had yet to be widely embraced by American society. Gay marriage hadn’t been legalized and there were little legal protections against sexuality-based discrimination or hate crimes. Both Devon and Charles’ families isolated the men. There was a period in which neither man was invited to their families’ gatherings – they were kept from the weddings of their siblings, baptisms of their nieces and nephews, and family reunions.
There was much pain on both sides. Devon and Charles loved each other and couldn’t sacrifice their partnership, but they cared deeply about their families and wanted those they loved to respect their relationship. Their families still loved Devon and Charles separately, but couldn’t permit a homosexual relationship within their familial circle.
Devon and Charles continued to see their lives flourish with each other. Devon made partner at his law firm and Charles’ design firm was attracting increasingly impressive clientele. The two enjoyed their lives together and as homosexual acceptance began gaining traction in the 2000s and 2010s – becoming legalized in 2015 – their families began to open their arms to their sons and their relationship. The acceptance of their relationship was a gradual process, but the pair eventually became integral members in each other’s families, becoming loving uncles to several nieces and nephews and devoted sons-in-law and brothers-in-law. They received love, but their relationship remained a sensitive subject for certain family members, including Devon’s mother, Georgia.
Georgia was a respectable woman. She was independent, intelligent, and successful in her own right. She had four children, Devon being her oldest. She was well-known in her community and widely respected. During her young-adult years, she was the beautiful, educated wife of a wealthy lawyer, and something of a socialite in her town. Shortly after the birth of her fourth child, her husband was diagnosed with cancer and passed shortly thereafter. Georgia handled her husband’s death as best as anyone could – she worked hard to make sure her children felt supported and were well cared for. All four of her children would go on to be successful, respected, and well-educated themselves, and for that Georgia was incredibly proud.
Georgia loved her children, but she was also notably self-interested. Her reputation was important to her – she was proud of the life she had led and the challenges she had overcome. She wanted others to appreciate her legacy, especially her family.
Devon and Georgia enjoyed a close bond that dated back to Devon’s childhood. Devon was the only child old enough to accurately remember his father, and thus shared a unique connection with his mother that none of his other siblings had. Devon was the spitting image of his late father, right down to his successful legal career. Though their connection was interrupted when Devon and Charles first came out with their relationship, the mother and son eventually rediscovered their ties after years of hesitant diplomacy from both sides, and their closeness was revived. Georgia considered Devon a continuation of her husband’s legacy, and Devon was proud to keep alive the memory of his father for his mother.
One summer, Devon and Charles announced that they had decided to officially marry and they wanted only their families to be present. Almost everyone’s face was drawn up in a teary smile as they exchanged their vows after nearly 30 years of being together. Despite the general cheeriness, there were some stony expressions in the crowd, one of them belonging to Georgia.
After the ceremony, the grooms and their families gathered for a sunny reception full of love and laughter. While the families mingled and swapped sweet stories about the grooms’ relationship, Georgia sat, motionless, barely concealing her frown and offering nothing to the conversation except for half-hearted laughter. She was noticeably uncomfortable.
Devon approached his mother. Though he was mildly discomforted by her display of discontent, he sat with her, made small talk, and tried to brighten her dampened mood. She seemed reluctant to engage and remained removed from the conversation before finally admitting that the ceremony had been difficult for her to watch.
Devon, though he never expected Georgia to bless his relationship entirely, was taken aback by his mother’s comment. After all that he’d proved himself to be, as a professional, a son, and a devoted family man and husband, his mother still couldn’t bring herself to approve of a relationship that had endured and thrived for nearly three decades.
As you consider this case, discuss:
What aspects of Georgia’s life or values make it difficult for her to accept Devon’s relationship with Charles?
Why is it challenging for Devon and Georgia to be culturally empathetic towards each other?
How can Devon maintain saliency within his identity as a gay man even as he crosses cultural borders, specifically when dealing with Georgia?
How could Georgia’s comment impact Devon’s cultural identity as a gay man?
What are the distinct cultural misunderstandings that may have led to Georgia’s remarks on Devon’s wedding day? Which is the most impactful?
Signorile, Michelangelo. “A Journey through Our Gay Century.” Advocate, no. 802/803, Jan. 2000, p. 26.
Wetzel, Janice Wood. “Human Rights in the 20th Century: Weren’t Gays and Lesbians Human?” Journal of Gay & Lesbian Social Services, vol. 23, no. 1 / 2, Apr. 2001, pp. 15-32. EBSCOhost, doi: 10.1300/J041v13n01_03.