I’ve always felt fundamentally different. Looking back, there were signs. In sixth grade, my friends would rank the cutest guys in class, debating if Mike’s eyes made up for that zit on his chin (no), if Paul’s hair made up for his lack of personality (yes); I didn’t know or care either way. One year, the swimsuit edition of a popular sports magazine went missing from my parent’s bedroom; neither of my brothers knew anything about it. No one knew it was me sneaking peaks at night, under the covers with a flashlight.
A part of me knew I liked girls. But an enormous part of me believed the implicit messages I had received about homosexuality: it’s a terrible thing, that no one important had ever been gay, gay people are severely beaten and left to die (this was shortly after Matthew Shepherd). I did everything I could to become straight.
I tried to date boys but something just felt wrong. The first time a boy kissed me, I laughed. In his face. As he was kissing me. I felt nothing.
I came out to myself gradually, over my sophomore year in college: “I might be gay,” then “maybe I’m bi” and eventually, “I’m a lesbian.” I confided in a good friend, V, whom I knew would be supportive. V was there to tell me there’s nothing innately wrong with me, which I really needed to hear. Coincidentally, V was also one-half of a duo that founded a gay-straight student alliance, the Allies Program, in which I became active.
Through Allies, I surrounded myself with an accepting environment that allowed me the breathing room to figure out and to come to terms with myself.
But it was still a well-kept secret until my twenty-first birthday. My mom and aunts came to town to celebrate; we were having a drink on a patio on State Street when an especially conservative aunt asked if I was involved in any extra-curriculars. “I’m co-president of the gay-straight alliance.” She was shocked, asking, “So you…support…that lifestyle?”
“It’s not a lifestyle, and yes.”
This upset me. It was confirmation that my family would not accept my true self. The previous Christmas, we changed the lyrics to “Deck the Halls” because, “gay doesn’t mean happy anymore.” My mother knew I was angry. After repeated phone calls I wasn’t talking. Finally, I came out to her, in an email. When we spoke the next night, she said, “I love you, but I hope one day you’ll be straight again.”
Mom didn’t get her wish, but she’s coming around.
She and Dad are joining their local PFLAG chapter. One day soon I’m hoping to tell them about my girlfriend, and eventually introduce them. We’ve agreed that I won’t come out to the extended family, because they’re very conservative, religious, and anti-gay. And they’ve accepted the trade-off: that the family will have a diminished role in my life. I’m not coming home for Christmases if I can’t bring my partner; As long as “I” is the subject of the previous sentence, I’m the one in control, it’s on my terms.
Now, I feel freer. I no longer worry about who knows or may know. I’m still active in Allies, so that maybe I can be someone else’s V, but more importantly, to help make the world a more welcoming place for us all.