We live on a tree-lined street, with kids and a dog and a story that is more or less typical. Our yard is large for a Minneapolis city lot. In the front is a patch of weeds, the frequent stage for our sons, Luke and Ryan, to play tag, ride bikes and build snow forts. The fenced-in backyard, which actually has vegetation that can be classified as grass, is reserved for our golden retriever Molly and the havoc she wreaks on our boys’ games of baseball, soccer and football. Each fall I decide to improve the landscape by sowing some seed and spreading several handfuls of fertilizer. But I’m reminded of the futility of those plans each spring when the snow-pack melts and the games begin.
My parents never had a decent lawn until all five of their children were raised. I can happily wait for Molly to stop chasing our boys and their friends around the backyard. Meanwhile, I cherish the squeals of delight, the barking and the laughter that accompany these times. I also cherish that throughout the past nine years, several children, not just ours, have learned a variety of rugged sports in our yard, and that over the years these same children have regularly traipsed into our playroom to watch the Vikings or the Twins on TV.
And I’m amused — amused because I hated watching sports as a kid. I preferred bike riding, hiking and rock climbing to a baseball diamond or a football field.
And I’m amused because we’re a gay couple. Our house has two dads. Both of us are Notre Dame graduates.
My partner, Greg Marita ‘84, supervises other attorneys handling the legal cases of low-income senior citizens. He arranges his part-time work schedule so that two days a week he can take the boys to school, occasionally volunteer in their classrooms and spend the afternoon with them when they get off the bus. I work part time for the state of Minnesota in the areas of energy conservation and renewable energy. On Wednesdays I’m home with the boys and volunteer in their classrooms. On Fridays I write — I’m currently finishing a novel, The History Between Us.
We live on a tree-lined street that hugs a hill west of downtown. Our English-looking cottage is set back from the road. First-time visitors never believe that two gay men live inside. Our furniture is early Salvation Army. The boys and their friends still jump on the living-room couches while listening to favorite CDs. We no longer try hanging photos, maps or mementos on the family room walls; they get knocked off by Nerf footballs, basketballs and flying pillows. But the boys are merely our excuses for what the house looks like. Neither Greg nor I inherited the interior decorating and fashion genes that gay men are infamous for. Whether decor or attire, Greg and I are in great need of “Queer Eye for the Gay Couple.”
Several of our neighbors act as aunts and uncles for Luke and Ryan. My partner is a popular homilist at our Catholic church in south Minneapolis. We are celebrated as a family there, not labeled deviants. We have many, many friends. Although our extended families live in other states, we see them frequently.
Our lives couldn’t be much better.
When I graduated from Notre Dame in 1983 I didn’t have a vision of my future. I didn’t know what kind of person I’d marry, what kind of work I’d do. I never imagined I’d be living on the plains of Minnesota, a world away from my hometown of Lookout Mountain, Georgia.
I certainly didn’t know I was gay.
Many gay men and lesbian women tell me they knew they weren’t straight by the age of 12. Some repressed this self-awareness, some thought they would change. Others hid it, hoping no one would guess. A few revealed their sexual orientation to a chosen few as early as high school; some revealed it unapologetically to the world. I savor “coming out” stories. They often involve long periods of self-hatred and heartbreaking losses of some friendships. How family members react is normally where the drama lies. My favorite tales culminate in family and community acceptance. Unfortunately a number of stories include being disowned by parents, brutal attacks — some fatal —by strangers, and suicide.
My story is different because I was unaware of my sexual orientation all through college. Everywhere I went—dorm dances and parties, football games or the dining halls—I was always hoping I’d find the right girl. Not having a special person to spend time with, to listen to music with and study with made me feel lonely, that my college experience was somehow incomplete. But it was the early 1980s, and many Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s students were not dating. Like most of my group of friends, I occasionally took out a woman I had a crush on. I went to dances, and I loved flirting with the opposite sex.
Homosexuality was a topic I only thought of in passing. For instance, I remember reading an article in The Observer about a WNDU disc jockey who was fired for broadcasting the time and place of a gay student group meeting. And I was guilty of making fun of the young men in a dorm that had a reputation for housing gay students. Father Malloy, who moved into Sorin College the same year I did, used to talk about the gay students he had met when working on his Ph.D. thesis. But mostly I didn’t think about me or anyone else being gay. Even my making fun of the other men’s dorm was more out of campus rivalry than a fear of my own being gay.
I never consciously questioned my sexual preference until I was writing in my journal about a sleepwalking incident the year after graduating from Notre Dame. I had joined the Holy Cross Associates, a year-long volunteer program that stressed service, community and simple living. My housemates in Colorado Springs quickly grew accustomed to my lifelong habit of sleepwalking and sleeptalking. According to them, I’d stumble out of the bedroom, mumbling incoherently about whatever dream had prompted me to roam about the house. Awakened by the others’ laughter, I’d return to my room, embarrassed.
One night I dreamed that the closet in my bedroom was crashing toward my bed. I scrambled to prevent it from crushing me. Pushing desperately against it with all my strength, I called to my roommate for help. I became increasingly panicked by his refusal to join me in preventing the walls from falling in on me. When I finally realized I was sleepwalking, and I was bracing my arms against a closet wall that wouldn’t fall even in an earthquake, I climbed back into bed and pulled the sheets over my head. I was awake for an hour, dreading the razzing I would endure about my latest episode.
As I wrestled with the incident in my journal the next night, a fear swept over me. What did the closet represent? Could the image be a subconscious message that I was gay? After all, I had never gone on more than one or two dates with the girls I had crushes on. The young women usually became close friends, not romantic interests. The idea was terrifying. I was a down-to-earth guy. A former high school wrestling champion. A committed Catholic. The only images I had of homosexuals were from television news coverage of shirtless, effeminate men in California chanting in the streets. I couldn’t comprehend how that could be my future. It sounded lonely. I didn’t want to feel isolated — I wanted to be married, to be surrounded by friends, to be respected for who I was.
Giving voice to any of these thoughts, even in the privacy of my journal, was too scary. But during the first two years after my graduation I can recall two men I was attracted to. One was a volunteer for a few weeks at my workplace. I walked part way home with him one day, while he walked his bike, his shirt off, abdominal muscles showing. I wanted him to touch me, but I didn’t want him to know that I wanted him to touch me. Nothing happened, and I have no idea whether he was gay or not.
Another interest of mine used to invite me over on weekends to sit on his porch and have a beer. I looked forward to those times all week, and I don’t even like beer. I felt cheated when he invited another friend, not me, to go skiing or hiking. Both of these attractions frightened me, so I told myself that my interest in good-looking men was because I wanted to be as attractive to women as they were. I imagined their sex lives and worried that I wouldn’t be able to perform as well. I didn’t believe I could be gay — gays were effeminate and abnormal in a bad way. I was neither. I was a person who struggled every day to live out the Gospels.
So I continued wishing for the perfect woman, someone with a love of the outdoors, a deep spirituality, a great sense of humor, a passion for social justice. For a short while I dated a young woman who met those criteria. She lived a couple of hours away in Fort Collins, so I didn’t get to see her often. When we were together we experimented sexually. I enjoyed it enough that I thought maybe I was growing into being straight. She even told me that I kissed her better than anyone else had. But after our third weekend together, the passion had faded for me.
She had a picture of an old boyfriend of hers. Instead of being jealous of the guy, I asked her questions about him. I found him attractive. I knew something wasn’t right about this situation. I told her I didn’t think we should get together anymore because she wanted to pursue sex faster than I did. But I was coming closer to having to admit that I was gay.
I met Greg on a trip to Notre Dame in fall 1985, two years after my closet dream and a couple months before starting to date my short-lived girlfriend. We were both having lunch at Moreau Seminary and were introduced by a mutual friend who knew we each had been Holy Cross Associates. Greg was humorous, warm and intelligent. He asked me many questions about my volunteer experience and my work with homeless people in Colorado Springs. He talked about his belief in God, his own volunteer experience and his family. I had never felt so comfortable with a person so quickly. The next year his graduate studies were going to bring him to Colorado Springs. I looked forward to continuing our conversations there.
I didn’t see Greg again until a year later, after my girlfriend had come and gone. I had no idea that Greg was gay. I still didn’t know anyone openly gay. But since meeting Greg I had read that a person’s sexual orientation fell somewhere on a continuum and that very few people were strictly at either end—completely homosexual or completely heterosexual. Rather, the article suggested, most people lay somewhere in the middle. This construct allowed me to accept that part of me was gay. But I continued to believe, or at least hope, that most of me was straight.
In Colorado Springs, Greg and I bumped into each other at a talk on centering prayer. I can admit now my heart jumped when I saw him. A few days later we hiked in the foothills of Pike’s Peak, talking about the nature of God, social justice, our families and our futures. I told him I was planning to leave my community of Mennonites and Catholics doing social justice work to take a long bike trip. He wasn’t sure if he wanted to stay in his graduate program or return home to Milwaukee to be closer to his family.
Greg and I went on four or five of these hikes. We also saw each other at Notre Dame parties and were part of a group who played volleyball together every other week. On Thanksgiving we both worked at the soup kitchen. In December he said he’d decided to return to Wisconsin and wanted to say goodbye. We met at Poor Richard’s, a bohemian café in downtown Colorado Springs, and there I admitted I was struggling with my sexuality. I told him how I’d been at a party dancing when I noticed that a young man was leaning against a post, staring at me. The handsome man had told me he admired my dancing skills. After we’d talked longer, he’d propositioned me.
I told Greg I was attracted to the other man, but I was scared about the possibility of being gay. Greg listened intently. Then he floored me by telling me he had been struggling with his sexuality as well. A tingling rose inside me, a recognition of someone else normal struggling with this unknown secret—and a recognition that I’d been attracted to Greg all along.
I couldn’t sleep that night. I was obsessed with Greg and our conversation, and by morning I knew I wanted to explore my affectional preference with him. I had to see him again, soon. I called him in the morning and he agreed to meet that night. This time we talked until sunrise. Kissing Greg was exhilarating. Still, Greg was leaving town in a couple of days. Neither one of us was sure we were gay. So we said goodbye.
Greg moved to Wisconsin a few days before Christmas. I was dying to talk to him. But I knew he had come out to at least one of his parents in a letter before returning home. I didn’t want his parents to identify me as gay. I finally called him, and we began writing. Greg decided to accompany me on the bicycle trip. We planned to leave from my Georgia hometown in May and spend the summer heading north to Boston and then points west. He took two jobs to save the money to pay for his half of the bicycle trip.
As Greg settled into his busy work life, he told his parents about me and how he wanted me to visit. His parents are good conversationalists and liberal Democrats. They had the language to talk to him about being gay. I’m sure his parents had many unrevealed concerns and feelings, but their stated issues with Greg’s and my relationship were more “parents-meet-potential-in-law” questions. Greg’s father was pleased to learn I was Catholic. His mother seemed concerned that I’d spent time in jail for civil disobedience. She was relieved to hear that Greg didn’t see civil disobedience as part of his future. (I was disappointed.)
As soon as Greg picked me up at the train station that March day in 1987, I felt disengaged. What was I doing in Milwaukee? What were we doing? I wanted the two of us to be alone. Instead we headed for his parents’ house. We had no time to be alone, to find out who we were as a couple. Greg worked his two jobs during my visit, and when he was home we were surrounded by his close-knit family—including five siblings and numerous cousins. Greg had not felt comfortable telling them about us. I wanted them to know. He could put his arms around them, but not me. I felt cheated and uncomfortable; clandestine dating wasn’t fun.
After that visit I moved back to my parents’ house on Lookout Mountain to prepare for our bike trip. My mom and dad were glad that Greg was going with me because they thought I’d be safer traveling with another person. My dad had talked briefly with Greg once when he called and told me Greg seemed like a good guy. They didn’t know who he was to me.
I cried when I told them. We were at dinner. I was extremely nervous, and I don’t remember how the conversation began except that I cried. I wasn’t afraid of being rejected. I always knew that wouldn’t happen with my parents. But I cried because I wanted more than to not be rejected. I wanted to be accepted, and I wanted Greg to be accepted as much as if he were a girlfriend I was bringing home. I wanted them to say the rest of the world could go to hell, we’re happy for you and we’re sticking with you.
My parents listened attentively, concerned by my tears. They asked questions instead of yelling. But my father is a southern, Republican Catholic. He couldn’t help but think it was wrong. He blamed it on the liberal people I’d worked with in Colorado. My mother, who was an Episcopalian at the time (and probably canceled out my father’s vote every election), came up to my room afterwards and told me they would love me no matter who I was.
Greg would soon be arriving so we could prepare for our bike trip. I wanted Mom and Dad to meet this wonderful man; I was excited and apprehensive. My dad impressed me by introducing himself to Greg immediately upon returning home from work. Greg is a tall, blond, blue-eyed all-American-looking guy. His deep-seated kindness and genuine curiosity about others draws people to him. If I were going to bring a gay boyfriend home, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to find someone less threatening to my parents. I could tell they liked Greg, but they weren’t comfortable, and often there were awkward silences at dinner.
Greg and I spent two weeks training for our long trek. We pored over maps and collected phone numbers of friends we might visit along the way. We were eager to get on the way. But the day before we were to embark, I had a horrible sore throat and was feeling tired. A visit to the doctor’s office revealed that I not only had strep throat, I also had mono.
Greg stayed at my parents’ house for another week to see if I would improve. Finally he took a bus back to Milwaukee. I languished in bed, feeling that I would never have enough energy to walk around the block again, much less ride a bike up the Eastern Seaboard.
Six long weeks later I had improved enough that my doctor said I could attempt the bike trip. By this time we had decided to avoid the southern summer heat and start our trip from Greg’s parents’ house. I took a Trailways bus to Milwaukee, and we trained for a week before leaving. But two nights before our trip, Greg told me he’d decided he wasn’t gay after all.
I was angry and hurt. Even though I was still telling Greg I wasn’t sure about being with him in the long run, I didn’t expect him to bail on me then. I told him we should still try to attempt the bike trip as friends. Groundless and exhausted from my illness, I rode with Greg along two sides of Lake Michigan, camping along the way. Eventually we pedaled to the Notre Dame campus, where we stayed a couple nights before parting ways, vowing to stay friends.
Later that year we tried to live as friends in the same apartment in Milwaukee while I wrote for small newspapers and Greg worked at a mutual fund investment company. Although we both claimed a platonic relationship, neither of us was willing to let the other go emotionally. I knew then that if we were both gay, I wanted Greg to be the person I spent the rest of my life with. I realize now my biggest fear wasn’t being gay, it was being gay and alone. For Greg, the former high school prom king, student body president and football player, the struggle was equally difficult. But he is a person who processes thoughts internally, so his swings in navigating our relationship and his sexuality often caught me off guard.
I started going to a counselor to talk about my sexual orientation. Based on our conversations, I decided to move into my own apartment and stop seeing Greg. I didn’t want to hurt anymore. Even after Greg called and said he knew he was gay for sure and wanted to resume our relationship, I feared he would just change his mind again. I was proud of resisting him, not for religious reasons but for healthy personal growth reasons. Once again, it was a pseudo-sleep-walking episode that proved to be a pivotal point in my understanding of my relationship yearnings.
I awoke one night, a quote circling in my head. I had to write it down; I felt like I’d been visited by an angel. “Actions do not exhibit what willpower wants, but what willpower is.” I don’t know the source of the quote—divine or subconscious—but my restlessness of the past months seemed to dissolve after I wrote the words. I realized I was demonstrating willpower by staying away from Greg, but life without Greg wasn’t what I wanted. Since I hadn’t reached that conclusion consciously, my subconscious made it loud and clear. I called Greg, and soon we were seeing each other again. Our relationship began to feel more comfortable and gentle.
When Greg accepted a scholarship to attend law school at Marquette, I was deciding between a fellowship at Duke and the University of Minnesota to study public policy. I chose Minnesota both to be closer to Greg and because the state was known for its progressive politics. I figured Minneapolis would be a more comfortable place to come out than at a private university in the Bible Belt.
Before Greg I had never been in a long-term relationship. The give and take of courting was difficult for me. I often wanted to be more open about our relationship, and we fought over whom it was safe to tell. Then Greg would grow more comfortable with being gay and I’d be the one who wanted to be more secretive.
Greg had come to visit me or I had visited Greg so often during our first year of graduate school that my gay classmates were not surprised when I showed up at the first gay and lesbian meeting—with a bag over my head. Although Greg was guarded about his relationship with me at law school, he had slowly come out to the people most important in his life, his siblings and his cousins. “We always joked that you were the guest who came and didn’t leave,” his cousin Sarah told me. “And now we’re glad you didn’t leave.”
Accepting myself as a gay man has occurred over a long time and included many gradual steps. Each time I came out to a friend I felt better about myself, even if their reaction was not positive. Some of the steps were not so small, but they all made me feel more at peace with the orientation God gave me.
The first event that changed the way others treated us was the sudden death of Jad, my oldest brother, in January 1991. The tragedy was compounded by my mother’s fight against an aggressive form of lymphoma. She was too sick to attend her first child’s funeral, and we all thought we’d be attending her funeral soon as well. My grief and fear were so intense that the first couple of days I found it difficult to breathe. But the support from Greg, family and long-time friends made me stronger. Several months after my brother’s death my mother’s cancer went into remission.
Afterward I noticed a marked change in the way my parents treated Greg. Both told me how lucky I was to have found him. They started joking more with him. I believe my brother’s death and mother’s illness dramatically brought home the reality that we never know how long anyone will be living, so they decided to accept their remaining children and their children’s chosen partners while we were still living.
The second major event was Greg’s and my commitment ceremony in October 1993. More than 200 people attended. We introduced the different groups of people that were important to us—our families, including Greg’s 85-year-old grandmother, high school friends and church friends. More than 30 of the guests were Notre Dame graduates. Almost every neighbor from our block was there. Many of my co-workers were there, although for most of them the invitation was the first time I’d indicated I was gay. Both of our mothers gave readings. I had never heard my mother speak publicly before. Since she suffered from emphysema I knew she was afraid of running out of breath. As I sat next to her, I heard her breath catch a few times before she climbed to the podium. But I can still remember the strength and conviction with which she read a poem about self love. Our fathers, who have always been the leaders in their respective Catholic parishes, both stood and thanked all of the attendees for their support of Greg and me. This was my southern, Republican Catholic father. It was very moving.
Perhaps even more moving were the vows of my partner: “I promise that if you die first, you will die in my arms. And if I die first, I will die reaching for your hand.”
We didn’t plan for the event without a lot of anxiety. We worried that the Spanish-speaking caterer would discover what the party was about, abandon us, and we’d have to take the guests out for pizza. We were concerned that some individual or group who did not approve of the ceremony would disrupt it. We feared that Greg’s liberal dad would get in a political argument with my conservative dad. Although our invitations requested no gifts, we did receive a beautiful serving bowl, along with a note that said the giver could not condone what we were doing.
Despite all of our pre-ceremony angst (and a big fight), the day ended up a heartfelt celebration of our lives together. Our parents got along famously. The caterer was late but served good Mexican food. Afterward I no longer felt cheated. I had what my college and high school friends had—public validation of my relationship. Greg’s mom took me aside and insisted I quit calling her Mrs. Marita. She began sending us a Christmas card addressed to the two of us rather than two separate ones.
One of our vows at our commitment ceremony was to integrate children into our lives. From our earliest conversations in the foothills of the Rockies, Greg and I had discussed the desire to raise children. Greg and I both thought we would be good parents. For Greg, perhaps the greatest sadness of accepting his sexual orientation was thinking that he would never get to raise children. Although it was the early 1990s and we had never even read about a gay couple adopting children, we decided that was the avenue we wanted to pursue.
The February following our commitment ceremony we applied to an adoption agency. Our neighbors and parents wrote letters of recommendation to birthmothers. Twice birthmothers chose us over straight couples to be the adoptive parents of their unborn child, and both times the birthmothers’ families decided to keep the baby instead. It was a stressful time. But in June 1994 our agency identified a 6-month-old boy who was living in an orphanage overseas.
In November, only 13 months after our commitment ceremony and a mere nine months after first applying, Greg and I, accompanied by my parents, picked up 11-month-old Luke at the Atlanta airport, gate D-4. Luke literally reached for us when he saw us, as though we were always meant to be together. We hugged and kissed him for what seemed hours. The woman who escorted him cried when she left. Luke hugged us and started sucking his thumb.
Before climbing back into my parents’ car we needed to change Luke’s diaper. We took him behind some of the waiting seats and nervously emptied the contents of our diaper bag. Evidently two men changing a diaper appears odd because a male security guard asked us if we needed any help. Wasn’t that obvious? Of course we did.
We arrived back on Lookout Mountain at about 2 a.m.. Greg and I rested four hours that first night. Every time Luke made a noise or his covers rustled we thought we should do something, so one or the other or both of us were constantly creeping to the side of the crib. We also were afraid we might break him, so as often as not we crept away without touching him.
When we returned with Luke to Minneapolis, we proudly held him up at church for everyone to see as our priest announced his arrival. Greg and I both devoted hours to watching Luke crawl around the house, shepherding small cups one of his grandmothers had given him, and pulling himself up to explore the book case. He took long naps. He slept a long time at night. Our friends were jealous. We thought he was so wonderful that one night we considered waking him back up just so we could play with him.
Our second son, Ryan, arrived in February 1997, only a few days after his first birthday. Two boys in diapers was a lot of work, but the extra care needed increased our contentment. Luke and Ryan changed our lives in many ways. Our names changed from Chris and Greg to Daddy Chris and Daddy Greg. We were outed—identified as gay—everywhere we went. In the grocery store, on the plane, on the train, at the park. Everyone knew we were a gay couple. I feared our notoriety would invite scorn, verbal assault and more. But almost 10 years after we adopted our older son, we have encountered curiosity and support almost exclusively. After observing our attention to Luke, our parenting skills, our son’s engaging curiosity and loving personality, many people told us they had changed their views about there being a problem with gay couples’ parenting children.
I have long realized that one of the things I want most for myself, and now for my partner and my kids, is a strong sense of community. Community can be both serendipitous and intentional. We find community as the Marita-Davis family, in our neighborhood, in our church and in our reflection group made up of mostly Notre Dame graduates. A significant number of our closest friends continue to be from the Notre Dame family. To me Notre Dame’s greatest strength is the community it promotes on campus and among its graduates.
Yet it has been the Notre Dame family from which I have most feared rejection. When I heard about the University administration’s refusal to allow a gay and lesbian student group to meet on the campus, I felt sad and estranged. I cannot help but feel at times that I have been cast as a second-class person, and that’s painful.
But then our family celebrates birthdays with one Notre Dame couple and their three children, one of whom is our godson. This summer we will go camping with my former roommate, his Notre Dame wife and their three children, one of whom is also a godson of Greg’s and mine. We visit other Notre Dame couples and share our lives with them during reflection group meetings. Some of the greatest people in the world have gone to Notre Dame.
Maybe one of our sons will live under the Golden Dome. Perhaps Ryan, with his penchant for constructing superhero costumes out of construction paper and snakes out of recycled materials, will be an engineering student. Maybe Luke, with his ability to sense where everyone is on the soccer field and his unwavering energy, will land a spot on Notre Dame’s soccer team. If either one does attend, I’d rest assured that we’ve helped them develop the tools to be at peace with their birth, their adoption, their two gay fathers.
They are now at an age when their adoption is the bigger issue. Still, though, Luke was once taunted on the school bus for having two gay dads. Once the boys each taunted us: “Daddy Chris is gay! Daddy Greg is gay!”—not even knowing what “gay” meant. So we told them what “gay” means in simple terms: It’s when two men or two women love each other. Then we taught them about the history of discrimination against all kinds of people. We’ve told them it’s wrong and that we don’t understand these people.
I hope each of our sons will be comfortable enough to talk to us about any future name-calling incidents. And we’ve helped them understand that they didn’t do anything to cause the discrimination or harassment. Our boys have developed excellent interpersonal skills, both because their lives require it and because they’re surrounded by so much support. Both of their teachers consider them the leaders of their respective classes. If they decided to attend Notre Dame one day, the University would be lucky to have them.
Christopher Temple Davis, a 1983 Notre Dame graduate, lives with his partner, Greg Marita, a 1984 ND graduate, and their two sons, Luke and Ryan, in Minneapolis. Chris is currently searching for an agent to represent his new novel.