So it’s National Coming Out Day. And I guess its like a lot of folks say, you come out over and over. I can confess now that it took awhile to be absolutely sure I had a firm sense of who I was where I fit in the world. Still, I was out to friends, teachers, etc in high school. I wasn’t shy about expressing who I am. The job where I met my husband, I had brought female friends with me to office picnics and Xmas parties rather than come alone. I’m certain that some folks assumed these these ladies were romantic partners, which didn’t bother me.
The one significant place in my life where I hadn’t been open? My parents.
I’d had the perfect opening at sixteen. My mother confronted me about the true nature of my relationship with my then girlfriend. I didn’t have the proverbial balls. I knew that I’d be in trouble for having sex at that age, my mother didn’t like my girlfriend much even just as someone I was friends with. I was embarrassed because the relationship was abusive and it wasn’t something I was ready to fess up to. I didn’t know what to do or say about any of that. Add to that, my father was (still is) a devout Christian and goodness knows he might have put in a call to his church so they could all pray the gay away. Gratefully, I didn’t fear for getting kicked out of home or anything. Still, I am tremendously in awe of the kids who are brave enough to come out at that age, because I’ll say it without reservation: I was not.
The thing is, eventually I broke up with that first girlfriend. Then I started dating a boy. Then I left for college, and my not so close relationship with my parents grew even more distant.There were lots of things I didn’t tell my parents. Lots. I once hit heavy turbulence over the ocean on my way to London, and thought to myself that perhaps I ought to have told someone in my family I where was going just in case the worst occurred. My family just isn’t close-knit and I rarely discussed any of my relationships save the two guys I ended up marrying. I look back on that and wonder if it was a cop-out, and maybe it was, but I also truly never had a long-term relationship with another woman that rated mentioning to Mom. Nothing crossed a holiday where we might visit family. No chance for “Oh, you like that? My girlfriend gave it to me,” even. Nada.
I finally came out to my parents a little over a month ago for an odd reason. I’m working on a project (they know I write gay romance) that has a military theme, and of course with that comes the subject matter of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. My father actually responded somewhat positively at first about the book, wanted to hear about the research I’d been doing. He’s former Army, so it was nice to have something to talk to him about. We have so little in common. A month later though, he called me back demanding to know why did I insist on writing this story?? (It was a story I’d been asked to write, but the thing is I was insisting because I loved the premise, and very much liked the person who asked me to write it. If you’re an author, you know you can’t do a book you’re not passionate about. There’s too much time and effort involved to do otherwise.)
So. There I am in the cat food aisle at the grocery store. My battery is about to die. It was 8am on a Saturday. I had to get home and make breakfast for my kids, and I’m confronted by my father wanting this explanation. He proceeded to spit out a bunch of stuff about why he thought DADT shouldn’t have been repealed. How he’d prayed about the idea of homosexuals serving in the military. Fear-based, ignorance driven stuff, stemming from the horrifying notion that 30 years ago, he could have been camping out in a pup tent and the guy he was smished into that tent with might have reached out and grabbed him in an inappropriate way. I tried to stay calm, because I knew he was speaking from the same place of just not getting it that so many folks are, but wow. It was like how a pot all of a sudden boils over. Fast and furious anger. I interrupted him so I could rebut his argument, and that was when my phone gave the beep and died.
“FUCK!” *queue a funny look from the lady nearby in greeting cards*
So there I was, in the pet food aisle at the grocery store, with a dead phone and anger rising and no place to put it. I wound up having to go home, charge my phone, play with my kids, talk to my husband (explain why yes, at 34 I do think I need to tell my parents I’m bisexual, because if I’m gonna have an argument with my dad about DADT, doing it as a member of the LGBT community is different than doing it as a straight ally, blah, blah…), and wait until the next day before I called my father again, which I did from the front seat of my car while I nervously chugged a giant cup of Starbux. I don’t remember exactly what I said. I laid out a bunch of reasons why I was so passionate about DADT. That I felt it destroyed lives, that it wasn’t executed in a fair manner, that people were singled out. That it forced people to lie and that said lying potentially damaged unit cohesiveness (that’s my opinion as a civilian, I also read similar opinions in interviews with people who had been deployed). The final shoe? I reminded him that when I was in college he’d tried to get me to consider joining the military and that because I’ve had relationships with women, that law would have applied to me.
Eventually he got to the part where he told me I’d given him some things to think about and he still loved me. I was ready to pull out individual examples and if necessary, get into the biblical throwdown, but it didn’t come to that.
Granted, my father hasn’t spoken to me in about a month since. This is kind of significant since he used to make a point of touching base me every week. I’m doing my best to let it go.
My mom? She was pissed to find out that I actually HAD considered joining the military (I decided to save that argument for another time). I’m not sure she was as okay with the rest of it as she tried to pretend–she made an awkward joke about not wanting me to “go gay” toward the end of the conversation, but hell. Coulda been worse.
Eventually, the whole thing really was funny. At least to me. I couldn’t have anticipated that Saturday morning at the grocery store would have up-ended things as it did. It was an unexpected opportunity for honesty, and honesty is good. I don’t know how things will pan out with my dad, but I’m going to let that be his issue, not mine.
The thing is, I do know that there was relatively little risk for me. I may have lost my relationship with my dad. That wasn’t so great to begin with, so while that hurts I know I’ll deal. I have a home, a network, and all that. I’m good. I’m grateful.
If, however, you happen to be a young person who is wrestling with coming out, or who bravely has, and you’re having a hard time with things, I’m gonna go ahead and plunk down the Trevor Project number and whatnot below. And for my part? Know you’re loved. You’re perfect the way you are, and it SO does get better. Trust me, if it didn’t I’d still be lying naked on my bed, weeping copiously and listening to Nirvana in the dark. *shudder* Eventually time takes the sting away and we all manage to make friends. Most of the assholes grow up. Mostly.
- The Trevor Project website: Toll free: 1-866-488 7386