Today is National Coming Out Day. This is the day we queers are encouraged to come out to the people in our lives about our sexual orientation.
I’ve been thinking this morning about the first time I came out, the first and most difficult time, to my parents. It wasn’t anything I’d planned to do, it wasn’t anything I wanted to discuss with them at all. My confession to them came in a blur of tears and heartbreak.
It was a Saturday or Sunday, in the early spring of my senior year in high school. I’d driven into town to see my girlfriend, who was couch surfing at the apartment of a mutual friend, a guy in his 20s. She’d left home because of a conflict with her parents over me. I remember being at the door of the apartment, hesitating for a moment. I knew she was there, even though we hadn’t spoken in a few days and I was desperate to see her and find out what was going on. I knocked on the door and my best friend, G, who was also taking refuge in the apartment, answered but wouldn’t open the door. When I asked to see my girlfriend, G told me, no, she didn’t want to talk to me. I got angry, why was my best friend preventing me from talking to the girl I loved? I remember feeling desperate to talk to my girlfriend, to find out why she was avoiding me but all G would tell me was that I should let her go, that she needed to move on and that I wasn’t helping at all by showing up there.
I finally left, angry and sad and confused and betrayed. I was sure if I could only talk to her, she and I could work it out. I sat in the parking lot for a few minutes, hoping to see her running out of the building, running to me. She didn’t. I drove away, crying my eyes out. I don’t know how I made it home without driving off the road. I gulped for air and sobbed loudly at the indifferent landscape I was speeding past. I tried to keep my eyes clear and at one point, wiped so vigorously that one of my soft contacts came out. Then I really was driving half-blind. I later found the contact folded up in the crook of my seat.
Arriving home, I tried to slip into the house unnoticed. Unfortunately, my mom caught sight of me and the mass of swollen red eyes and skin smeared with tears and snot did not go unnoticed. My mom pulled me into the family room where my dad was sitting and asked what was wrong. I remember that my siblings were not at home, so I was spared a full family confessional. It all came tumbling out in a rush. So I didn’t so much as come out to my parents, I told them my girlfriend had apparently broken up with me and babbled about my love for her and the friend who wouldn’t let me see her and who knows what else.
I remember feeling so relieved that I could spill my guts to them about the break up that it didn’t occur to me at first that I’d basically told them I was a lesbian. They comforted me and walked me to my room where I wallowed in my misery with the help of songs I associated with my girlfriend. My mom came back at some point to talk to me some more. She wanted to make me feel better, she told me that she’d also had ‘feelings’ about other girls when she was my age but that she’d grown out of that phase. She was sure that’s what was happening with me, a phase, something I’d outgrow, eventually finding the right man, the same way she had.
I don’t remember how I responded to that. I probably didn’t say much. She was just trying to help, after all. I knew damn well it wasn’t a phase, I didn’t have just ‘feelings’ for my girlfriend, I was in love with her. When I was with her, kissing her, making love to her, it felt right, I felt like I’d found my calling.
My mom returned a little while later — apparently my dad felt ill-equipped to handle this crisis — and told me they’d found someone I could talk to, a doctor who could help me sort things out. She assured me that they wouldn’t interfere, wouldn’t ask about the sessions, wouldn’t talk to the doctor about them.
A few days later I drove myself to her office, I don’t remember her name but I remember she was a psychiatrist. By this time, I’d calmed down a lot. I was still heartbroken and pissed at my friend. Still wanted desperately to talk to my girlfriend and hear directly from her that she no longer wanted to be involved with me. I don’t remember much about the therapy session except the premise she opened with. She told me that my parents had explained to her that I was having a ‘sexual identity crisis’. At that point, I shut down on the process. I participated minimally, answered questions briefly, didn’t offer much of my own. I was angry with my parents. They’d promised not to interfere, but they’d poisoned the whole enterprise from the beginning. One thing I’d been able to clarify for myself was that I was definitely a lesbian. This was no phase. I’d suffered an emotional shock on top of the pressures I was feeling as a senior, gearing up for college and life after high school. I probably would have benefited from having someone to talk to about the relationship, the break up, the other stresses in my life but I never went back for a second visit. I was done.
I was pretty angry at my parents for a long time after that. That was just one way they showed me that they didn’t approve of who I was and what I was doing. I finished out my senior year and went on to a local college. I lived on campus and eventually found new love, more than once. I was mostly estranged from my parents for years, not able to get over the bitterness I felt over how they’d handled that vulnerable moment when I came out to them and bared my broken heart. I’m happy to say that after several years of strained relations with my parents, we were able to reconnect and form new, adult relationships. We’ve talked about that day and how they handled things and they’ve apologized. I’m now a parent and know it’s not an easy job, especially when your child is a miserable, crying mass in your arms. You’ll do anything you can to make your child happy and whole again. I know they were only trying to do what they thought was right in order to help me and I’ve forgiven them.
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