I’m interrupting my 30-day letter writing challenge (which was actually put on hiatus in favor of sleep over the weekend, anyway) in honor of National Coming Out Day. While I missed the assignment from my beloved editors at Our Big Gayborhood to write about our coming out experiences, I thought I’d throw something together here.
Truth be told, my coming out story is really rather dull. I had been desperately in love with my high school sweetheart (yes, a guy) for five years. We had plans to marry after college graduation and I thought the rest of my life was sewn up, nice and tidy. The problem was that I had been skirt-chasing (or, well, in my case “butch-chasing”) for several years. I had known since the age of 4 that I was bisexual at the very least and by the time said love and I began dating, I was very open about the fact that I was set on having at least one experience with a woman in my lifetime. I didn’t have any idea that one experience—the first one—would actually turn into a lifetime as she and I have reunited after 26 years. It took me a while to let him go. As I said, I loved him very much. In the end, I realized that I wasn’t going to be able to quell my feelings for women and I had to say goodbye. It was the biggest heartbreak of my life and it took me a full 20 years to finally find some peace with my decision.
The night we broke up, I called my parents from my little rented attic room in Upper Montclair, NJ. I was lying on the floor and I talked to my dad first. That in itself is unusual because my mother is usually on the receiving end of big news. Perhaps that is why, to this day, my father always hands the phone to my mom as soon as I say hello. At any rate, I told him that J and I had broken up. I remember very clearly my father saying, “Well. It must be something really big for you two to have broken up.” And I said, “Yes, dad…I’m gay.” There was a pause. Not a long one. No dramatic inhalation of breath, no sighing, no noise of any kind—and then he said, “Sweetheart, you are our daughter and we love you. No matter what. Now here’s your mother.” That’s my dad. Ever the pragmatist. Mom? She had a tougher time. She accepted it well enough but spent years psychoanalyzing what she might have done wrong during her pregnancy to cause me to be gay. Something she drank? Her time spent working on Rubella vaccines? That spinster aunt of hers? I would just shake my head and smile. Whatever she needed to do to get through it.
What I didn’t count on was the academic way she would approach the news. My mother is a voracious reader and if there is something she needs to know, she’ll head to the bookstore and come home with everything written on the subject. The first time I came home to visit after telling them, my mother had an entire bookshelf dedicated to lesbian studies. That, in itself, was okay. What was not okay was the fact that she had also bought Joann Lulan’s Joy of Lesbian Sex. Really, I thought I would die. I mean seriously, did she have to know everything? Mortification doesn’t begin to cover what I was feeling at the time.
Now, lo these many years later, I have to come out every single day. Much has been said lately about femme invisibility and I am here to attest to the fact that it is indeed alive and well. Because I don’t “look” like what folks expect dykes to look like, I wind up having to explain myself any time I talk about my partner or my son’s mama or the way he was conceived or why I leave the father lines blank on his school forms. I am far more comfortable in skirts than jeans, I love big jewelry, and I don’t leave the house without makeup. While I might get picked up on a well-honed gaydar, I am usually ignored at lesbian bars because even those like me think I must either be trolling for a girl to satisfy my husband’s threesome fantasies or I’m a (and I loathe this term) fag hag.
I’ve thought about dyking it up a bit. I’ve considered a tattoo of some kind to let folks know without my ever having to say anything. I’ve thought perhaps subtle pink triangle earrings might do the trick. The fact is, I am who I am and I am really okay with having to come out to folks all the time. I’m lucky that way, because I am evidently “inoffensive” in their eyes, it doesn’t seem to be a big deal. My partner, on the other hand, is clearly lesbian (well, once folks get over the gender confusion issue) and because she is so butch she tends to make folks uncomfortable, which in turn, makes every day a fresh new hell. I wish that on this day of coming out, people would realize that we don’t intend to make them angry just because we’re gay. Hey, we let you live your lives as you so choose, why get your panties in a twist because we happen to love persons of the same gender? What did we ever do to you? Did we throw rocks because you were straight? Did we yell at you and call you names? Do we stare at you with contempt and disgust? Did a gang of gay men tie one of you up to a fence, beat you to a pulp, and leave you for dead?
No. We quietly live our lives in much the same way you live yours. We may be a bit more flamboyant at times in celebration of the fact that we can (or at least have been until recently) be out and proud without too much threat of violence, but we’re parents and homemakers and job-holders and taxpayers and…you get the picture. We live right next door to you and likely you’ve never even realized it. Today, as I do so many other days, I am here to say, “I’m a lesbian.” And I’m okay.