In honor of Pride Month, I thought I would tell a personal story. In times like these, I think visibility in all minority communities is vital and there’s no time like the present.
Let me start by saying, I’m a proud lesbian. I am not scared to say that, but that was not always the case. I’ve been out since I was 14 years old or rather, I was outed by my sister. That was in 1998 when the world was a very different place regarding LGBTQ issues. It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. This is a little bit of my coming out story.
It was the summer before my sophomore year of high school. Little did I know it would be the summer that forever changed my life. I was working at a summer camp as a junior counselor when I met a girl who worked there too. She was a couple years older than me, but we had instant chemistry. It made me wildly uncomfortable at first, but there was no denying the feelings we had for each other. We started dating, though initially I was terrified and mandated that absolutely no one could know. That didn’t take long to fade though. We were young. It was fun. It was real. And it was great to acknowledge what I had known for a long time. (Yes, I knew when I was very young that I liked women.) The longer we dated, naturally, the more comfortable I became. One day I let my guard down and decided to tell my sister. As the words left my mouth I had two things in mind: 1.) She’s my sister. She’ll have my back. 2.) I’m not doing anything wrong. After all, I had had “boyfriends” and my family never had a problem with it. In fact, they encouraged it. (Thinking back to how much they encouraged it, they must have known I was gay.)
I would grow to regret that thought process.
About a week after I came out to my sister, I came home from camp to find my room thrashed. It looked like a scene out of a movie where the mob tosses someone’s room when they’re looking for something or trying to send a message. My dresser drawers were pulled out, clothes strewn about, desk was a mess, papers on the floor. All that was missing was a busted lamp and a horse head in my bed.
It took me a minute to process what the hell had happened. Initially I was angry, but that anger was quickly overcome by fear. I rushed to my dresser to see if the letters from my girlfriend were still there, but they were gone. My stomach dropped, adrenaline rushed, and I knew in that moment, my sister had told my mom.
I took a few minutes to steady myself. I contemplated acting as if I didn’t notice my room was in shambles, but knew that wouldn’t go over well, nor would it solve anything. Even in my 14 year old mind, I had deduced the only way to deal with this was head on. So I took a breath, put on the bravest face I could, and walked downstairs to confront my worst nightmare. I entered the kitchen to see my mom and aunt ready and waiting. My mom threw the letters on the table and looked at me with a combination of anger and disgust, “Are you gay?” she asked in a tone I didn’t recognize. I felt like crying while at the same time wanting to scream at her, but a cooler head prevailed and I confidently responded, “Yes.”
Funny how one word, one event can change the trajectory of an entire life. One word led to years of pain, sadness, and discord, but I refused to lie about who I was. All because of a simple, “Yes.” It led to me moving out when I was 15, getting thrown out of high school, and facing physical altercations on more than a few occasions. Coming out even led to the moment my mother uttered the words, “I’d rather have a dead daughter than a gay daughter.” Words, I’m happy to say, she did later regret. Heartache not withstanding, that moment became a defining moment of my life because I had a choice and I chose to stand up. Coming out at a young age and persevering in the face of tremendous adversity led to me being the person I am today. Stronger, braver, kinder, more honest, more compassionate, and more resilient. And for that, I will always be grateful.
It’s been 19 years since I came out. I’m married now to my wonderful partner of 13 years and we have a beautiful life together. My family never really came around, but I never let that stop me from living my life my way and being genuinely happy. I used to think about my coming out experience and how terrible it was quite frequently, but I don’t think of it that often anymore. However, with Pride Month in our midst, it reminds me of what it took to get to this point, how far we’ve come, and yet how far we still have to go.
Coming out and being out is still an act of courage, even in the year 2017. But I promise, it’s worth it. Happy Pride Month.