National Commentary

Johnny’s World: Привет: Part 1

When you merge your life with someone else’s, there are all sorts of things you must learn and change – either about yourself or the one who is lucky enough to have you. You have to befriend their friends. You have to learn what toilet paper they like. You have to learn about their mood swings, family history, and even feign sharing their interests, like in gadgets or Birkin bags.

In addition to getting to know your spouse, you also have an enormous circle of new cousins, grandmothers, uncles who aren’t actually related, and assorted nannies from childhood that you will have to become acquainted with and call inappropriate nicknames. You are now family. It’s sort of like meeting a stranger at the grocery store whom you must immediately call Baba.

I am a painfully antisocial and socially awkward, despite the way I’m perceived. So it came as quite a shock when I learned I would actually have to meet, spend time with, and impress strangers related to my husband by blood or marriage. There is nothing more terrifying than going into a room to be judged by the resident matriarch of the family or sitting at lunch with the genius uncle that everyone looks up to. My husband is a very family-oriented person. He calls both his grandmothers almost weekly and talks to his immediate family more than once a day. I, however, am more of an I’ll-call-you-when-I-call-you sort of person.

With our marriage vows in the last moments of 2011 came my responsibility to become an upstanding Voronov and a social butterfly flittering around this Soviet, Russian, Ukrainian, Jewish, Communist, Non-Communist, glamorous family so that they understand that I am a nice goy and that I won’t shame the established name they’ve created over generations. I also needed to convince a bunch of them that I didn’t turn the star grandbaby into a gay man for my own amusement.

Meeting the parents was a pretty incredible journey for me. I find my in-laws inspiring and energetic, and I am proud of them. After news of my husband’s marriage hit front page from Beijing to Kansas City, I was stuck in a way, to meet the rest of the brood as soon as possible. My husband was not only coming out of the closet as a gay man with me, he was also coming out as married and most of the extended family learned about us through gossip and news rather than a wedding announcement or phone call. Start your engines.

The first major meeting was with Klukluka, my mother-in-law’s mother. Despite my proficient Russian language skills, I still can’t pronounce her nickname properly so I call her Kooks. The first thing she said to me was, “It’s an honor to have you in my house.” I could get used to this. We sat and had lunch and I, trying to be polite, ate my strawberries with a fork and knife. Apparently Kooks gnaws right in, but she felt obliged to also eat strawberries with a fork and knife. I learned that despite the usual gushing propaganda that Mama Lilya, my mother-in-law, told me happened as soon as we left Kook’s house, the fork and knife to eat strawberries was the hit. “I didn’t know what he was doing and I didn’t want to offend him by eating with my fingers so I ate my strawberries the same way.”

This weekend I will finish the family tree tour by meeting Baba No. 2, Baba Lyuba. I have been told that she doesn’t understand the whole gay thing, that she may think it’s a bit like bronchitis, and that I should only speak Russian with her so she can at least say I am adequate as a human being. My husband has also started to weed out my most flamboyant clothing options so as not to offend her with color or purses.

While both daunting and awkward, meeting the family is a right of passage and tradition that has made this devoted anti-socialite step out of his box.

More to come…