Being Edith Bunker

By jennifer j. rose

Darkness fell early that winter afternoon some 25 years ago as I ended a conference with a divorce client, an ordinary, overweight, frazzled, 30-something schoolteacher, the mother of two small children. Rising from the chair to leave, she pulled on her coat, and then abruptly sat down again, stammering, “Remember how you told me to tell you the truth about everything?”

“Well, yeah.” I was in a hurry to close up the office, but her language and nervousness told me that this appointment wasn’t going to end as I’d planned.

“Valerie and I are in a relationship.”

I reached for a Marlboro, forgetting that business about not smoking in front of nonsmoking clients. Her husband’s lawyer was the meanest, toughest lawyer in the valley, the kind who took no prisoners, custody was in issue, these were prominent people in the community, and now I had this to deal with. I tried to remain cool, but she had to know that the news came as a surprise to me. The look on my face told it all. Theory and rights were one thing, interesting intellectual exercises and debating points, but this was real. No matter how much I considered myself the very incarnation of Maude Finley, in reality, I was her cousin Edith Bunker.

We tried the case, and sexual orientation never came up. No one cared. It just wasn’t an issue. Despite preparation for every contingency, I was anxious, more nervous than my client was.

Flash forward a few years, and another divorce client came to the office, asking that I draft a will leaving everything to her best friend. The next week the client’s best friend came in, and asked that I draft a similar will, leaving everything to her best friend. Not until a year or so later, when the two came to the office together about a joint business venture, telling me they were more than just best friends and business partners, did I put it all together. Sometimes I can be so naïve. I could have served those clients better had they not left it up to me to intuit their real relationship.

As I approach Edith Bunker’s age, I know that I am she. When I’ve used “alternative lifestyle” and “sexual preference” to address sexual orientation, thinking I’m using a polite or acceptable term, I’ve been set straight by those in the know that sexual orientation is neither an alternative nor a preference. And I still depend upon gay and lesbian friends—and particularly those I’ve met through the ABA—to clue me in.

jennifer j. rose, jjrose@jjrose.com, is the editor-in-chief of GPSolo and resides in Morelia, Michoacán, Mexico.

Copyright 2006

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