In December of 2014, I’d recently come home from my third year at university for the holidays. My mother and I were running some errands. I was texting my girlfriend. We’d been dating since… I don’t even know how to finish that sentence. We’d been “together” since the previous spring, but hadn’t given it the “relationship” label til November. There had been a lot of personal issues for us to work through before making things official. Anyway, less than a month later, I found myself standing next to my mother as she scanned her produce at the checkout counter, trying to carry on a natural conversation with her while also texting my girlfriend, who would be going on a trip with her homophobic parents over the holiday and was terrified of them finding out she isn’t entirely straight. Another close friend was at very real risk of officially being kicked out of her home. Since her fundamentalist parents found out a few months prior that she was dating a girl, she’d been trying (with no avail) to score points with them in any way possible. She was one of many friends also at risk for losing their money for school if their parents found out they weren’t straight. Speaking of school, it had been an especially rough environment for me that term because the administrators had recently proven themselves to be blatantly homophobic, sparking pushback from LGBT+ and allied students, professors, and alumni. While all protesting activities were peaceful and not in any way disruptive of regular campus activity, the administrators didn’t see it that way, and the mounting tension was unavoidable for those of us directly impacted.
Along came December. I left this environment – where my friends were at risk of being kicked out of their homes and having their education taken away, where school administrators allegedly wanted to prepare us for a career yet fought for the right of businesses to not hire us – and came home completely unprepared to face my LGBT-affirming parents.
It sounds ridiculous, right? After spending all my nearly 21 years of life in a family that’s fully supportive of the LGBT+ community, where I had attended same-sex weddings of friends and witnessed the support and affirmation they received, where I literally used to sit next to a lesbian couple at church, it had taken only four months of exposure to systemic homophobia to make me fear for my own acceptance.
What if it’s okay for other people, but would be different since I’m her daughter? What if she thinks I’m just prejudiced against men since I was raped? What if she doesn’t understand that this is a legitimate relationship, not just “experimentation?” What if she assumes I’m sex-crazed or something?
My mother had literally had a crush on a woman she met the previous summer, and I still worried she’d be upset.
You see, before I went to college, I was never exposed to any real homophobia. I mean, except for some super trashy protesters I’d sometimes run into on the street, or the occasional news story about Westboro Baptist Church or some other messed up group that I figured just served as an outlier – after all, that’s why they’re on the news, right? My parents never expressed any expectations about my relationships, and made a special point of not mentioning marriage, stating they “never expected me to do anything the traditional way,” since they’d done the whole elope-and-flee-the-country thing. I was raised primarily by my mother and her family, most of whom were totally unfazed by same-sex relationships, so as a child I never viewed it any differently than male/female ones. Before college, I thought homophobia was a scraggly old white guy on a street corner with a Bible, occasionally shouting at people only to be ignored or told to shut up by whoever passed by. Sometimes it was a tiny church a-la that town in Footloose, which still isn’t much of a threat even though Scraggly Bible Man probably goes there. Before college, I never knew people like that had any real power over people like me. I now knew the world’s perspective toward me was not what I’d always thought, and a realisation like that changes everything. What other misconceptions did I have about the world? Even worse, what other misconceptions did I have about myself? I once walked down the wrong street at home and was hit in the back of the head with a sign by a protestor who shouted that I can’t be a Christian unless I procreate with a husband. I’d never even thought about it before now because of how ridiculous they all sounded, but suddenly I found myself thinking back to that moment and wondering, “what if she was right?” Nothing felt true anymore. Nothing felt secure or trustworthy. Nothing other than my girlfriend, anyway.
So, there I stood, next to my mother at the grocery counter, thinking about where I would go and how I would finish school if she reacted poorly, wondering if I even wanted to finish school at this point, and feeling progressively more nauseous with every moment that passed with me still lying by omission to the woman I claimed to respect more than anyone in the world. Finally, I opened my mouth and let out a, “canipleasetalktoyou.”
“Yes?” she raised an eyebrow at me as she passed her money to the cashier.
“I mean, if that’s okay. It’s totally okay if it’s not okay.”
“Of course it’s okay…” She squinted at me. I squirmed a little. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah. It’s nothing urgent, I promise.” She looked skeptical, so I stood up a little taller, applied the most confident smile I could muster, and said, “I just want to communicate with you.”
“Ooookay… Did you want to talk right now? Or… at home? I still have to stop at the bank-”
Public place!!!! my mind screamed, Always have potential conflicts where there are witnesses!!!!
“Can we grab coffee?” She looked at her watch and frowned.
“I suppose, yeah. After the bank, though? They’ll be closing soon.” I nodded.
Half an hour later, we sat face-to-face in a coffee shop a few blocks from our house. I had coffee. Mum had tea. I’d bought it for her. I figured it was the least I could do before dropping the bomb of the century. What if this ruins our relationship forever? What if she decides she can never trust me again? Aaand there’s the nausea again. Breathe.
“So…” she began, “Are you okay?” She was sitting back in her chair, legs crossed, entirely relaxed. I was the exact opposite.
“Yes… I’m okay. I just…” I paused for a few minutes to gather my thoughts. She waited. “I suppose I don’t exactly know what to say, other than… I haven’t been completely honest with you these past few months.”
“Okay?” Why does she look so casual?? What is she thinking??
“No- not that I’ve been lying to you or anything! I just… I suppose I haven’t known how to bring it up. And it’s very hard but I just feel like I need to.” I paused to gather my thoughts again and let my eyes wander to the coffee in front of me, seeking any level of relief from my own shame and discomfort.
“Are you pregnant?” My head shot up. I stared at her. What? She shrugged and took a sip of her tea, casually leaning back in her chair. “If you are, I’d rather know now so I have time to prepare for a baby, you know? Also you shouldn’t be drinking that,” she nodded toward my coffee.
“I uh… That’s not…” I shook my head and straightened up in my chair, honestly more thrown off by her casual attitude than the question itself. “No- okay, look… For the past few months, I’ve been in a relationship.”
“And I just want you to know, right now, I’m the happiest I’ve ever been. I feel like I’m actually able to be myself, you know? There aren’t these… awful expectations I’ve been living with for so many years. I think I’ve finally figured out better who I am, and I think I’m actually seeing that reflected in my relationship. You know what I mean?”
“It sounds like this person’s really good for you then,” she said, nodding and taking another sip of her tea, “I think if there’s anything I’ve learned from bad relationships, it’s that you have to figure out who you are on your own before getting involved with another person. That way you don’t end up giving up things that are most central to who you really are.” I nodded and took a breath.
“Yes. It’s good. It’s really good. That’s exactly how I feel. But… it’s not exactly a… conventional relationship, I suppose, which is why I haven’t said anything. But I really just want you to be okay with us, because I know a lot of people aren’t, and I think they must just not understand. And I’m hoping you’ll be able to understand, at least eventually if not right away-“
“Are you fucking a professor?”
“What?” I think I just shat out my stomach. It wasn’t even an accusation, just a question. She still had the most nonchalant look about her, too. Incredible.
“That’s the only thing I can think of that people would probably disapprove of,” she shrugged, “Especially if you’re pregnant.”
“No- mum,” I sat forward, resting my arms on the table and looking her in the eye, “I’m not pregnant. I’m… so unbelievably not pregnant. At all. Seriously.”
“Okay.” I sat back again, took a breath and looked away for a moment before continuing.
“I have a girlfriend.”
“Uh huh.” I looked up at her. She looked back expectantly, and perhaps a bit confused. “And…”
“And….” What is she looking for me to say?
“And…” she furrowed her eyebrows in confusion. “She’s… a female professor then?”
“What? Mum, no. I’m not with a professor.”
“So… There’s not some kind of, like, age boundary thing, or…?”
“So… What’s the issue then?” I sat back and stared at her. This was not how this conversation was supposed to go. She took another sip of her tea before asking, “Well… who is she? Have I met her?”
I told her that yes, she had met her, and told her who it was. She laughed.
“What’s so funny?”
“Well you’re not exactly shocking the shit train, love.” I stared at her. “What, you think I thought you were straight? Sweetheart, please.” She laughed again, and after a moment I began laughing, too. “You had me worried, though. I thought there was something seriously wrong. Why the coffee date?”
I explained to her everything that had been going on at school. I explained how many of my close friends are currently at risk for being kicked out of their homes because of their gender or sexuality. I told her about my friend who had been through “ex-gay” therapy as a teenager and had all the tell-tale signs of PTSD. I told her about my girlfriend’s family, who very probably would disown her entirely if they knew about us. She listened calmly for the most part, nodding occasionally and asking for clarification when she needed it. When I finished letting everything out, she stared at me for a moment, let out a long breath, and said, “That is… some of the absolute most ridiculous bullshit I’ve ever heard.” She asked more questions. I answered them. She became progressively more horrified at the bigotry I’d been exposed to, and even more horrified when she realised, as I had, that this isn’t something that occurs in isolation. We sat for a while talking about this, and I can’t even describe how validating it felt to witness someone having the same confused and appalled reactions to the hatred my friends had grown up experiencing. By the end of the conversation, she understood completely why I’d been so afraid to “come out.”
When we got home, it was time for supper. Before we got out of the car, I turned to her and opened my mouth to ask her not to say anything to my dad just yet. Before I even said anything, she looked over and said, “By the way, don’t worry about your dad. He’s been asking me if you’re gay since like, September. Next time he asks, I’ll just tell him he should’ve put money on it while he had the chance.” She winked at me and left me in the parked car with my mouth hanging open.
Ever wish you had a camera to look into like on The Office?
Now, in October of 2015, my girlfriend and I are still together, and we are “out” to both our families. As it turned out she did not get disowned (for which we are still praising God), although it has been quite hard for them to wrap their heads around the idea. The change we have seen in their attitudes since first finding out about our relationship has been astronomical, and can’t reasonably be attributed to anything other than divine intervention. We’ve met each other’s extended families multiple times, all of whom have received us with nothing short of celebration. The past year has been an amazing (albeit unexpected) journey, and we’re eagerly planning for our future together.
If anyone has actually stuck through this post to the end, I thank you tremendously. If you are gay, bisexual, asexual, transgender, or any other part of that glorious acronym and have not yet had the opportunity to come out to those closest to you for whatever reason, I want you to know that you are brave, you are strong, and you are valued. There are people who love and support you. Finally, if you are straight and someone has chosen to come out to you today, listen to them, thank them, love them, and most importantly, celebrate them. I think we could all use something to celebrate anyway.