(Masterpieces of American Literature)

“Territory,” the opening story in Family Dancing, revolves around the first meeting between the two most important people in Neil Campbell’s life: his mother, Barbara, and his lover, Wayne. Although the action revolves around Barbara and Wayne’s meeting, the most richly detailed and emotionally powerful relationship in the story, as in much of Leavitt’s work, is between mother and son. Barbara has been a devoted mother, PTA member, volunteer at school, and active member of the Coalition of Parents of Lesbians and Gays. Neil’s father is “a distant sort,” often away on business and emotionally absent even when home, so it is Barbara to whom Neil feels emotionally bound.

Neil is flooded with memories as his lover’s arrival forces him to reconcile the boy his mother knew with the man whom Wayne loves. As he nervously awaits the visit, he remembers the day he “came out” to his mother and “felt himself shrunk to an embarrassed adolescent, hating her sympathy, not wanting her to touch him.” He also recalls the Gay Pride parade his mother attended to show her support, succeeding only in embarrassing Neil and inflicting pain upon herself.

The story revolves around simple events: Wayne’s introduction to Barbara, their first dinner together, and a trip to a theater. The meaning, however, lies not in the events themselves but rather, as is the case in the fiction of Henry James, in the small gestures. When Wayne takes...

(The entire section is 454 words.)


(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

After a two-year absence from home, Neil Campbell, a twenty-three-year-old homosexual, visits his mother with his current lover, Wayne. Mrs. Campbell, a beautiful, sophisticated, and politically committed woman, generously welcomes Neil and his lover, but the visit soon proves painful for both mother and son. Mrs. Campbell tries to maintain her normal schedule: playing music with her friends, caring for her three Airedales, and running errands, but her nonchalance soon dissolves into doubt and recrimination as lines are drawn between her and Neil. Neil’s return sparks for him uncomfortable memories of his early sexual awakening and unresolved anger at his mother concerning how understanding she has always been about his sexual inclinations. He is embarrassed at how “she located and got in touch with an organization called the Coalition of Parents of Lesbians and Gays. Within a year she was president of it. . . . He winced at the thought that she knew all his sexual secrets and vowed to move to the East Coast to escape her.”

Wayne, Neil’s twenty-eight-year-old lover, is charming and natural; he gets along well with Mrs. Campbell. It is Wayne who reaches across the dinner table to take Neil’s hand in plain sight of his mother, and later that evening, when Mrs. Campbell finds them in the garden where they have gone to make love, it is Wayne who “starts laughing” after being discovered. Wayne’s ease with the situation, however, soon ends. The next day, when the three are returning from the dog groomer, one of the Airedales urinates on Wayne, and Mrs. Campbell responds by saying, “I’m sorry, Wayne. . . . It goes with the territory” using the word that effectively draws the boundaries between her lifestyle...

(The entire section is 709 words.)