It is a weekday ritual that starts at 5:20 a.m. and often ends at 11 p.m., when Jacquie Bodle, a GS-7 at the Veterans Administration, falls asleep on the living-room sofa. In the mornings, Bodle, 46, finds the bathroom while Ann Bemis, 44 an administrative assistant at a small Washington newspaper, descends into the kitchen, hits the switch on the automatic coffee maker and feeds Charlie, the pet cat.
The two women sit and sip their morning java, listening to traffic reports on the radio while waiting to join their four-woman carpool on the 30-mile commute up I-95 into workaday Washington. And when they return to their brick-and-shingle townhouse in Dumfries, Va., they fill their evenings reading books, watching popular television programs or drinking beer and talking with the neighbors. Both are avid Redskins fans.
Jacquie Bodle and Ann Bemis are homosexual lovers who live together. In many ways, the events in their daily lives are as average and routine as those of their heterosexual married neighbors. They fight the rush-hour traffic, worry about making mortgage payments, and shake their heads at the rising food prices. But being a gay couple adds an extra dimension to their lives.
The rules heterosexual couples have followed don't always apply. Bemis, who had been married for 19 years and was the mother of three teen-age children when she and Bodle met, said the straight rules do not fit her homosexual lifestyle, one usually based on equality from the very beginning.
"When I decided to get a divorce and live with Jacquie, all of a sudden I was out of the subservient role to my husband, his business and my children," said Bemis, a tall, heavyset woman with silver hair. They met in a small immigrant coummunity near Milwaukee. Bemis followed Bodle to Washington four days later. They have been together now for about four years.
Bodle, a tomboy who once prided herself on being able to "outfish, outride, any male when I was young," was openly gay as a teen-ager. She never married and at an early age she was her own boss. Bemis said she had long been attracted to women, but never had a homosexual experience until she met Bodle.
"Jacquie helped me open up my horizons," Bemis said. "I no longer had to relate in a way that everybody else comes first. I don't mean that selfishly. But when we were together, she helped me understand that it was okay to let my thoughts, my expressions come out, something I was not able to do as someone's wife."
Bodle, who has been in several gay relationships before, and Bemis, who once led a heterosexual married life, are charting their relationship's course based on many years of experience. Many younger gay couples are unable to do that. Instead, they enter a relationship with little understanding of what they want it to be and few role models to emulate, according to those who counsel gay men and women.
Many of the older gay couples socialize in circles of their own peers, not the singles gay bars and clubs that younger gays frequent.
The Rev. Larry Uhrig, 36, pastor of the gay Metropolitan Community Church here, said some young gay couples try either to duplicate what mom and pop have or, if the home environment was negative, to do the opposite.
"Gay men especially have been conditioned as men to hide or not to express their innermost feelings and desires," said Uhrig, an Alexandria native who for four years has lived with Alan Fox, 29, who from 1976 to 1979 was an administrative secretary to colonels in the office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
"Gay couples come to counseling looking for the magic formula to make their relationships perfect," Uhrig said. "But the only magic is to trust each other, be honest, communicate, and discuss what each wants from the relationship."
Bodle, short and feisty, and Bemis, somewhat unassuming, say that in their relationship, there is no husband's role, no wife's role. It is give and take, they say, a division of responsibilities on the basis of likes and dislikes and who does what best.
But gay relationships were not always like that. In the 1940s and '50s, Bodle said, gay role models were straight role models -- you were either the dominant male or the passive female.
An Air Force colonel's only child, Bodle says that the increasing freedom for gays today is an offshoot of the 1960s, when many of society's traditional codes of behavior were challenged.
The ripples from those challenges still are being felt today, and are reflected in the increasing numbers of unmarried adults living together and buying property, insurance, cars and furniture.
This more relaxed atmosphere has benefited gays and, together with the city's laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual preference, has made the District of Columbia the focal point for the metropolitian Washington gay community.
Based on the widely accepted Kinsey Institute research on monosexuals, approximately 10 percent of the U.S. population is monosexual. Translating percentages into numbers, approximate4ly a quarter of a million men and women in the Washington area and some 60,000 in the District are gay.
Other studies speculate that a little less than half of them live with their lovers in relationships lasting from three months to five years or more. But one gay man interviewed said he has lived with his lover for 31 years.
Even though gay couples have reached a level where they can live more openly in the manner of heterosexual couples in Washington, there are other barriers they still have to overcome.
Ray Melrose, a slender black man who quit his job to run the D.C. Coalition of Black Gays, is openly gay to his family and friends. But his lover, a contract administrator with a private consulting firm, is not. When the dinner and cocktail invitations come to Melrose's lover, the lover sometimes agonizes over how to handle the situation.
"Should I bring Ray and risk a prospective client's anti-gay attitudes?" said Melrose's lover, who, like many interviewed, asked not to be identified. "Should I mislead people and bring a female friend, or should I take the easy route and go alone? It causes strains on the relationship sometimes because you cannot include your lover like straights, who bring their wives or husbands."
Another hurdle is how to deal with familes who don't know.
Melrose said that when his lover's mother came to visit, the gay literature went into the closet, along with the 11-by-14-inch photograph of them being affectionate with one another, and other signs they imaged might be clues to their relationship. Melrose said his family already knows of his gay relationship.His mother calls his lover her son-in-law.
"When our gay friends came over, I introduced my lover's mother, and immediately, they froze," said Melrose, who punctuates his statements with hand gestures.
"Then we began to use a whole different kind of language that makes sense to his mother, but means something entirely different to us. We played the pronoun game, referring to our gay friends using pronouns not names, and talked of people in the third person 'they,' which has no gender. His mother never picked up on it."
But Bodle and Bemis don't have those problems. They are openly gay at work, at home and among their families.
Bodle says they go to office parties together. Straight couples in their neighborhood of predominantly young military families invite them over for beer. A neighbor's son cuts their post-stamp-sized yard.
Although their lives may seem average, Bemis and Bodle and other gays interviewed said that being gay colors how they look at their lives and influences where they go to shop, what kinds of entertainment they choose, where to take vacations and where to go for medical advice.
"My everyday decisions are made on the basis of being gay," said Bodle, a federal bureaucrat who says that if all the gays in government stopped working tomorrow, the government would have to shut down. "I have a gay doctor, a gay dentist, my florist is gay, I go a gay bars and restaurants, my pastor is gay and I would never knowingly patronize any business that was anti-gay."
Six months from now, after more than four years of living together, Bemis and Bodle plan a "Holy Union" ceremony that Uhrig will perform at the Metropolitan Community Church.
It is a ceremony not for society's sanction, but for themselves, they say, and is a chance for them to reaffirm their commitment to each other in a celebration with family and friends. It is, Bemis explained, to say to the world that I am a part of a couple, [that] we have a right to exist and to be just like any other couple."
Adds Bodle: "I'm looking forward to growing old with Annie. Most of my dreams have been realized, and I would be quite comfortable living with her for the rest of my life."