This Is Us

Sharing this from my love. Just part of our story so far. I’m so excited to move forward with you.

exagorazo

I’m a day late, but I’ve been wanting to write a post for a while.

It’s been three years since I walked through the doors of Monte Nido for the first time, and I hardly recognize my life now. I am happy. I just graduated college. I consider myself (for the most part) recovered from my eating disorder. I’m more alive than I have ever been, and I have so much hope for my future.

However, there’s a part of my life that I’ve intentionally kept hidden from many people over the past few years. The longer I’ve kept silent, the heavier it’s become to carry. Now that I’ve finally graduated from college, there’s something that I want to share with you all.

This is Liv. We’ve been in a relationship since November 30, 2014.

15056393_10154648995294400_4719175721941240720_n Liv’s trip out to visit me in SF in November 2016

Being with Liv makes…

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National Coming-Out Day: My “Coming-Out” Story

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.”

“Okay.”

“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…?”

“No.”

“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.

14 August 2015.

I’ve been in a relationship for the better part of a year now. Actually, if you count the months we spent awkwardly try to distance ourselves from the idea of a relationship while still going on dates and absolutely being a couple in every way apart from our own identification of the scenario, we’d have passed our one-year mark this past May. It’s super cheesy, but she really is the best thing to ever happen to me. We support each other. We uplift each other. We trust each other (which is a huge deal for both of us – we’re still getting used to it). She’s helped me to improve myself and my circumstances far beyond what I’d ever thought possible, and I’d like to think I’ve done the same for her. There’s something to be said for loving someone even when you’ve seen them hit rock bottom.

Anyway, we’ve managed to keep our relationship pretty quiet for the past year. Most of my family and friends from home know at this point, but my school is a different story, and we only recently came out to her extended family members. Everyone who does know, including the pastor of our church, has been nothing short of supportive and excited for us.

Which invariably leads people to ask me why I haven’t yet told my grandmother.

I know she suspects it. She recently asked my cousin if there was something deeper than friendship going on between me and the girl who has now stayed at my house for extended periods on three separate occasions in the past six months. The two of us have treated her to a nice dinner. We’ve gone on trips together and my grandmother has seen the photos on Facebook. We’re not subtle about it, really. It’s not as though we have anything to hide.

My grandmother, by the way, is 100% affirming of same-sex couples. She would be absolutely ecstatic. She would immediately contact all her gay friends and start planning the wedding that day. She would probably find her voice in the context of LGBT+ issues and be more outspoken in defense of marriage equality and other issues of human rights. So it does seem a bit curious to people who know her that I’m not yet comfortable informing her of my current relationship.

Here’s the thing. 1) supporting gay rights doesn’t mean you aren’t toxic as hell about it, and 2) I’m done being defined by someone who has spent the entirety of my lifetime doing nothing but try to turn me into the perfect version of whatever it is she views me to be.

I’ve spent my entire life being put into various boxes at her convenience. It’s not just me – it’s everyone. It’s the fetishism and objectification and the defining of people by whatever outstanding traits make them different from her.

It’s my grandmother calling me at age 12 and asking if I wanted to join her at a “Black funeral” – a Black woman on a committee with her had passed away, and she thought I would appreciate the “cultural experience.” It’s me not knowing the names of her gay neighbours for over three years, having heard them only referred to collectively as “the boys” (After finally walking over and introducing myself without her, I now know they’re called John and Eric). They’re her favourite dinner dates, you know. Even after finding out they’re both straight-passing businessmen, she’s always so excited to see them becuase perhaps they’ll finally offer up all the recipes and decorating advice she insists they’ve been hiding from her. It’s her attending their marriage ceremony solely for the purpose of checking off another box on her list of “cultural experiences” and giving a fantastical retelling of the whole ordeal, assuring us “oh, don’t worry, it’s not like they kissed or anything of that nature.” It’s her leasing an apartment to a gay man and then literally calling Comcast to verify the license plate of a van outside his door because she was “curious” – I shit you not – whether it was a scheduled appointment or “more of a ‘social call,’ you know.”

Appropriative, exploitative bullshit aside, it’s my grandmother defining my father by his previous career in medicine (which he left due to deeply personal and traumatic reasons) and defining his brother by his addictions and mental illnesses. One is reminded almost daily of a painful period in his life while the other is glorified as a victim of circumstance. It’s her taking my seven-year-old cousin to the aquarium, seeing she enjoyed it, and deciding for her that she’s going to be a marine biologist, then continually bombarding her with and articles and figurines related to the field, pressuring her into signing up for various programs. It’s her doing the very same with me when I began casually playing music, age 9.

I suppose I’m just not ready to be receiving rainbow outfits and books of lesbian Kama Sutra from my grandmother.

After being defined by my grandmother for nearly 22 years (her “first-born” – which honestly carries a creepy amount of weight in her family; that’s another story), I’m done. I’m tired of being boxed in. I’m tired of seeing other people be boxed in. I’ve spent my entire life that way. I’ve been in abusive relationships. I’ve been through traumatic shit. I’ve spent so much time putting up with being shuffled around and put into convenient categories and labeled by other people (often for clinical reasons, at that), I still have next to no idea who I actually am.

I do know one thing: In the past year, I’ve finally begun to see myself as a real person. I’m finally starting to accept my complexities and idiosyncrasies – for better or worse – and understand what they mean. I’m finally free from the affiliations and labels and I’m finally, for the first time in my life, able to hear the words of my grandmother and my father and all the toxic people in my life and convince myself their words and actions do not (for the most part) give them any sort of superiority or control over me.

I’m finally a person. I’m finally my own person. I’m just not ready to go back to being treated as anything less.

It’s not about leaving things behind.

Somewhere amid all the chaos of which my life has consisted for so many years I’ve become an expert at in-betweening. So much so, in fact, that the idea of being completely anything often seems completely foreign to me. I’m finding that’s not so much the case anymore.

I’ve become violently apathetic about school and spend my time looking toward future internships and job opportunities. My girlfriend and I regularly discuss furnishing our future apartment or travelling to this-or-that city. Our relationship is deepening rather quickly and she’s already met some of my friends and family. My parents adore her.

I spend a lot of time thinking about the events of two years ago – I had a therapist who liked to call it “the rape.” “Let’s talk about the rape,” she’d say. I stopped seeing her after a short amount of time. The way she either ignored or didn’t notice my extreme discomfort in talking to her reminded me too much of “the rape.”

I think about what happened then, and I think about moving forward from it. I think about how it’s unbelievable to me that just last year I could hardly function and was almost taken or admitted to hospital several times, yet somehow I’m now in the best relationship I could imagine and am actively looking toward my future – something that’s never happened for me before. I picture myself having children one day. Owning a house. Being properly employed in a field I love. These things were all unimaginable to me, and it’s slightly terrifying to now see that they could actually happen.

Moving forward is such a complicated thing. I constantly find myself thinking, “I need to move on from this. I’ve got to move past it.” It feels absolutely pathetic that two years after the fact I still have such vivid nightmares. It’s so difficult to remind myself that in many ways, I have moved on. I’ve narrowed my field of study and taken courses on triggering subject matter because they’re important to me. I’ve stopped seeing a trauma therapist and no longer spend long periods of time in dissociative states. I’m more capable of articulating my thoughts and emotions on trauma-related things than ever before. I’m living an entirely normal life, away at school, with great friends and a wonderful relationship, and I’m doing my psychology courses just like everyone else. In some ways, though, actually being present in my life is unnerving because I’m there to notice PTSD symptoms when they do come up, even though it’s not as severe as it was only a year ago.

I’m learning right now that I need to re-learn how to be content in the in-between. I’m not completely recovered, but I’m certainly not as traumatised as I once was. I need to let myself experience both sides of it. Is it shameful that I’m still living with the repercussions of something that happened so long ago? I don’t know, but whatever the case, that’s where I’m at. Is it wrong that I don’t think a day will come when I never think about it again? Some people might think so, but others would probably say it’s alright that we never forget the experiences that deeply change us – and experiences do change us. For better or for worse (or, perhaps largely for some combination of the two), they change us. Moving forward, as I’m constantly trying to remind myself, isn’t about leaving things behind. It’s about learning to carry them with you in ways that are hopefully more meaningful than they are heavy. Moving forward is, in itself, a change. For my own sanity, and for the support of those who have been through similar things (and most likely been told by several non-survivors that a bad day means they’re “giving him power” over them), I refuse to continue seeing that change as anything less than a personal transformation and an important part of healing.

“Ignore him.”

“He’s just trying to get a rise out of you,” they say.

“He’s a harmless creep. You are better than that. Ignore him.”

I have more important things to do. I am obedient and focus on my own life as he breathes down my neck.

I am 13.

He follows me to my house.

Again, again, again.

“It’s simply because he hasn’t anything better to do.”

“He’s just bored and immature. Ignore him.”

The school finally relents and grants me a campus-sanctioned restraining order.

“Maybe now,” they say, “you will finally be able to ignore him.”

When the breath on my neck soon becomes a hand, I ignore him.

“He’s just a creep. He’s harmless.”

I’m ignoring an awful lot these days.

I’m ignoring my mind as it reels with the gruesome things he’s said to me.

I’m ignoring my back as it cries out to me when it’s pushed against the ground.

Soon enough I’m ignoring the rest of my body as his hands move over it relentlessly.

“He doesn’t even know what those words mean.”

I wonder how that could be when I know it so well.

“Don’t react to him,” they said when he shouted obscenities at me through the hallway. “He’s just bored.”

Don’t react to him, I think as he acts on the obscenities he’s threatened me with for so long. He’s just bored.

I know the rules by now.

Pick a spot on the ceiling and stare at it. Don’t look at his eyes – they’ll be stuck with you forever, and that means he’s won.

Soon, I am bored too.

He’s just a harmless creep, I think years later as I watch the news and see he’s wanted by police.

Ignore him.

You are not my missing piece.

My cousin, Cat, has always been nearly everything I aspire toward. She’s beautiful, strong, compassionate, and fiercely independent. Last Friday, she and her fiancé, Chris, were married. I was originally supposed to go home for the wedding, but a combination of circumstances made this impossible. My own disappointment over this is another matter entirely. On with the blog post.

Mum called after the reception ended. I spoke briefly with a handful of family members and offered repeated congratulations and apologies to the bride and groom. Mum got back on the phone and said, “I don’t want to make you feel any worse for not being here, but I MUST tell you about Cat’s vows.”

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