“I have to tell you something. And I want to you know that if I didn’t love you so much, I wouldn’t share this with you…”
I don’t remember who responded first. In my memory, it is as if my parents spoke simultaneously, when they said – in reference to the third college I was already attending – “Oh, we thought you were going to tell us you wanted to change schools again.” As if that would have been the most devastating news I could have shared. No, nothing that important.
I grew up in a very religious family, one where there was no discussion of homosexuality and one where we didn’t know anyone who was gay. Because of that and because of the conflicts I had had with my father, I didn’t know exactly what to expect. My worst fears and expectations never materialized. At that moment – well, after the statement about changing schools – my parents said exactly the right things. They told me that their biggest concern was that I was happy and they would love me and accept me for whomever I was. Truly, I couldn’t have asked for anything more supportive than that.
To this day, I don’t know the full story of what my parents’ feelings and reactions were. Each of them has shared a little bit with me about the other’s reaction, but I’ve never asked in detail. I’m sure for them that it was a shock, something they probably didn’t see coming, and something that they had to struggle with in order to arrive at a full understanding.
For both my parents, with their strong roots in the Christian faith, praying and soul-searching was probably necessary. For my father, a consummate perfectionist and the type of person who spends a half-dozen years researching cars before finally buying a new one, a lot of reading and research was necessary for him to understand what all this really meant.
Life continued much as before, occasionally with some questions from my parents. Over the months and years, my relationship with my father strengthened, connections that had been missing in my teenage years finally started to form. My suspicion is that my coming out helped my father reach a “love him or lose him” realization. If I was going to be a part of his life, it would be as who I was, not who he might have wanted me to be. I don’t know this for a fact, but I suspect it.
Eventually, I met my first boyfriend. I suffered my first heartbreak. And eventually, I healed and moved on to the next relationship. Along the way, my parents were always welcoming and supportive, even if there was sometimes an awkwardness in the room. Eventually, that awkwardness faded and it got to the point where the men in my life – finally, Tawn – were welcomed into the family unconditionally.
The coming out process continued, of course. It never does end. My parents spilled the beans to my sister – sort of a funny story there – and then my mother outed me to the family through her weekly family letter. In it, she rather bluntly explained that if anyone in the family had a problem with me being gay, that they should recognize that it was their own problem, not mine.
Needless to say, there were problems and different family members approached the news with different levels of acceptance. Over the past fifteen or so years, we have all worked together to learn and grow and understand each other better.
It was at our wedding reception this summer, with my grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins and immediate family in attendance, that I realized that we – the whole family – had finally made it fully out of the closet and past the field of detritus that is often scattered outside one’s closet door.
Along the journey I’ve been very fortunate. I’ve only had one friend who ended the friendship after I came out. And there has never been anyone who has reacted negatively to my face. Traveling and working abroad, I’m more guarded about what I say and to whom I say it. But at home in the US, when asked if I’m married, I can answer honestly, proudly, and comfortably that, yes, I am married to my husband.
As I read the article in the NY Times about these young people coming out, I’m filled with so much admiration for them, for their bravery. I’m also filled with a little jealousy, wishing that I hadn’t spent nearly twenty what I consider to be wasted years staying in the closet. I say “wasted” because those were years in which I never felt okay about myself, never accepted the wholeness of who I was, and always lacked the confidence to embrace myself.
But mostly, I recall what Harvey Milk, the openly gay San Francisco City Supervisor who was assassinated in 1978, said:
“…I ask my gay sisters and brothers to make the commitment to fight. For themselves, for their freedom, for their country… Gay people, we will not win our rights by staying silently in our closets… We are coming out. We are coming out to fight the lies, the myths, the distortions. We are coming out to tell the truths about gays, for I am tired of the conspiracy of silence, so I’m going to talk about it. And I want you to talk about it. You must come out.”
I know that coming out is still a difficult journey for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered and questioning people. Not a month goes by free of headlines about brutality towards someone just because of their sexual orientation. There are families far less accepting than mine, workplaces far more hostile. The journey to the closet door is unique for each of us. Ultimately, I hope that for each of us, the journey doesn’t end there.
Thank you for letting me share this story with you.
A few days later, my parents wrote sent an email responding to my coming out story. You can read it here.