Plus ça change

Gay Marriage is nothing new. Almost 100 years ago in 1916 when Romaine Brooks became so famously involved with Natalie Barney she accepted the fact that the love of her life had been lovers with her good friend–Elisabeth de Gramont, duchesse de Clermont-Tonnerre, since 1909.

Brooks and Barney had only been passionately involved for 18 months when Gramont reached the breaking point. Natalie made no distinction between the two great loves of her life.  A lesbian crisis worthy of a Wagnerian opera occurred.  Lily wrote Natalie a scathing letter, ending their relationship, and left Paris for Evian during a lull in the fighting.

Frantic, Natalie drafted a marriage proposal and pursued Lily hundreds of miles to get it signed. It is probably not the first gay marriage contract in history but it is certainly among the most startling and original between two lesbians.

Romaine and Natalie stayed together, although we don’t know how or when they solemnized their private vows.  Romaine’s 1920 portrait of Natalie is one of the greatest wedding presents ever given by one lesbian to another.  All three women accepted the fact that their marriages would not be monogamous. They would have to live independent lives.  Nonetheless, their love for each other was so great, and Natalie’s sexual allure so magnetic, that all three remained loving partners for the rest of their lives until Lily’s death in 1954.

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Romaine Brooks painted this portrait of Natalie Barney in 1920, in the year after Natalie and Elisabeth de Gramont returned from their wedding trip to America. Romaine’s portrait of Lily de Gramont, painted around 1923, hung in Natalie’s house for the rest of their lives. Brooks and Barney were also together for life from the moment they met in 1916.

As we celebrate this 4th of July, Independence Day 2015, many people, gay and straight will be taking a page from this extraordinary playbook for pursuing life, liberty and happiness, understanding that a stable household is best achieved in a family made up of those you love and who love you.

When your heart is breaking

Life is full of heartbreaks. Recently a close friend was in the hospital with a broken hip. She had a much-loved animal companion named Harry who was a cat of many dispositions. He was older than my old friend, who was in her late 80s. He had developed cancer and was thin as a rail, losing his grip on things, and suffering from a number of other serious conditions. While my friend was recovering, Harry developed a serious mouth abscess. This added to his many woes and he was no longer able to eat or defecate. A close friend was looking after him and reported his condition daily.

Key Biscayne beach
Key Biscayne beach

My friend had hoped to be able to see him before he passed, to take him home to her country home and bury him where he had been happiest. Alas, it was not to be, and he had to be put out of his misery.

One of life’s lessons.
At times like this there is almost nothing one can offer by way of comfort.

I wrote a poem almost 35 years ago when I lost my long-haired German Shepherd. I had to put her to sleep because of deteriorating hip problems and skin conditions. She was 13, had hematomas in her ears as many shepherds get as they age, and suffered from numerous other problems. I did not want her to suffer. I felt guilty about it, I still mourn her loss, and I am at times overwhelmed with sadness.

The lesson is, with each loss of a companion the heart is cracked open, and that is how the light gets in. Or so the poet Leonard Cohen thinks. So do I. My heart grew bigger and more open because of Salaza. I hope that my friend’s does as well.