Arlene knows her son’s wedding wouldn’t be about her, but it would be a great opportunity for her to showcase her cooking skills. The forty-seven year old, five-foot-four office manager feels she missed her calling as a caterer or chef. Friends make requests for her buttermilk dipped, cast iron skillet fried chicken, and her son Akim returns to his home in upstate New York from her Bronx apartment with a suitcase filled with his mom’s signature mac and cheese, made with Monterey Jack, mild and sharp cheddar, American and Asiago cheeses; barbecue chicken and other tasty goodies. As she watched her only child grow, she, like millions of mothers worldwide, fantasized about his wedding and her role in it.
“I like to plan. I could’ve been an event planner,” Arlene says. She would most definitely be involved in all the wedding details from helping to set the date, the engagement announcement and party, of course the food, and especially dealing with the major hurdle of dealing with disapproving family members—“the haters.” The not-secret secret of Akim and other relatives’ homosexuality is widely frowned upon in Arlene’s strict Southern Baptist family. No blatant homophobic comments have ever been made within her earshot, but subtle comments have made it clear it was a hostile environment. The solution to that problem: those relatives wouldn’t be invited to the wedding. The supporters would get to witness the wedding ceremony of Akim and his partner Ty and later enjoy Arlene’s lip-smacking goodness of soul food with a twist. Fans of candied yams would surely be just as satisfied with her sweet potato soufflé seasoned with just a hint of brown sugar. The delicious smells of roasted and barbecued pork, chicken and other meats would also fill the tent in Arlene’s cousin’s huge house and backyard in New Rochelle, if they couldn’t find a venue that allowed gay marriage to be held on their grounds. The house is located in a historic district and is registered. Even though her cousin’s grown children never took advantage of the location for their weddings, Arlene always saw the potential.
Before wowing the guests with her savory foods, Arlene would first surprise everyone upon arrival. “I would wear a fabulous, long weave.” Everybody knows Arlene’s apprehension about hair weaves. They’re expensive, can damage hair and sometimes don’t look right, but her boy’s special occasion is worth the risk. Her gorgeous hair would be the perfect accessory to her mother-of-the-groom dress that both Akim and Ty, his live-in partner of over a year, would help her select at either Macy’s or Lord & Taylor. It would also match the color and theme of the wedding—most likely selected by the creative Ty. Ty, twenty-five, and Arlene are alike and she’s adopted him as a second son, which helps him fill the void of being estranged from his own mom. On Akim and Ty’s wedding day, Arlene already knows she’ll be shuffling between the boys’ dressing rooms. The grooming stickler would make sure their bowties were straightened, hair brushed, skin moisturized. Akim, standing at 5’9”, inherited his mom’s big, brown twinkling eyes and round cheeks. He also got her sensitivity and would probably cry with her over the emotional weight of the occasion.
There would be more tears during Chuck’s champagne toast. Arlene’s younger brother, also gay and a California resident, “would be there with bells on.” Although the ceremony would be non-denominational, there would be some touches of a traditional wedding, like Chuck giving away his nephew in place of Akim’s late father and too-emotional-to-walk down the aisle mother, and all the guests lining up on the dance floor to do the electric slide. Arlene would have to talk Akim into playing only one set of techno music. Although his favorite, the loud thumping beats would not be appropriate for a wedding.
Arlene admits that her son coming out at nineteen threw her for a loop because only two years before he’d declared he was bisexual. She’d even hoped that his close friend Joanna was his girlfriend and not just his girl friend. She briefly mourned the thought of not becoming a grandmother on top of never becoming an auntie. Chuck, her only sibling, stayed true to his word of never having kids. Akim, however, did mention he’d like to adopt one day.
Arlene feels Akim is too young for marriage at just twenty-one. There’s more maturing and schooling that need to be done. When he’s older and ready, she’ll support and plan his wedding just as she would for a daughter or a heterosexual son. Until then, she’ll continue to tweak her soul food with a twist menu, mother and guide both Akim and Ty, and fantasize about becoming a grandmother, all the while grateful that in June 2011, New York became the fifth state, but sixth jurisdiction (after Washington, D.C. ) to legalize gay marriage. Had she herself grown up and raised her son in the South where her family roots are planted—mother’s side from South Carolina, father’s side from West Virginia—her motherly dreams of her baby’s happily ever after love story, albeit revised, wouldn’t be feasible.