I’m gay—a fact that came as a complete surprise to me, courtesy of a girl who sat next to me in my sophomore year history class. If I may set the scene: It was late March, and our classroom was ice cold. While the weather had not yet reached above 60 degrees, the school had turned the A/C all the way up.
The girl nudged me.
“You must be freezing!” she said, laughing.
“Uh. Yeah.” The mesh shirt/halter top combo I’d worn had not been a good choice, and also, weather.com had obviously not accounted for Everest-cold indoor temps.
“Here, take my coat.” I sized her up: Was she serious? But she was being genuinely benevolent, and I got the impression this wasn’t out of the ordinary for her.
“It’s OK. I’m wearing a sweater anyway.” She pulled the peacoat off her chair and handed it to me.
As l took notes in the frigid room, I got lost in the ghost of her warmth inside the coat’s neck and the smell of her Sephora spray deodorant. The look on my face must have screamed “Jackpot!” I felt as giddy as if my crush had given me his jacket to wear. It suddenly dawned on me that this wasn’t a comparison—it was the truth. I had a crush on a girl.
June of that year was wicked hot. The heat may have factored into how hectic and urgent I felt on the night I came out to my mom: Like the crush feelings way back in March, the temperature and weather aggravated my feelings to a tipping point. Since March, I’d identified as bi, but this wasn’t accurate: I’d convinced myself to like guys to assimilate, but I rarely found boys attractive. Instead, I fell in love with girls all the time, none of whom knew I wasn’t straight. While closeted, I felt a lot like Humbert Humbert in the book Lolita: stifled around my crushes, sweaty and awkward, deceiving everybody. I felt like a creep. I was sick of it.
When I thought about telling my mom I was queer, I couldn’t have been more scared—even though my mom is a relaxed and open person, and I knew she wouldn’t react with hatred or disgust. Growing up, she always made an effort to be open about sexuality, and, if I asked about love, to include the possibility of having a husband or a wife. Up in my room, I still had the fear sweats. I read Arabelle’s Rookie piece on coming out, I felt so close to some kind of resolution about myself. Her writing solidified my reasons for wanting to come out; I ached for the kind of life that the closet couldn’t hold. I was ready to leave. The night I told her I was queer, she was watching a Lifetime movie. I did a Tina Belcher groan for about five minutes before finally coming out with it: “IthinkI’mgayandIwantedyoutoknow!” I said it so fast I almost couldn’t keep up with myself.
My mom noticed how shaky and panicked I was and told me to calm down. “I don’t know why you’re so upset,” she said. “I’ll support you and love you no matter what. Now let me finish my movie.”
I didn’t feel like there was anything more to say, so I got up, gave her a hug, and left.
Parental acceptance isn’t always as flexible as we need it to be, though. There have been times where my mom has been unwittingly hurtful to me and my identity, and I really wanted her to be more understanding. “Why would you want to identify like that?” she asks me. I don’t know how to answer. There is always more left to say, but the two other conversations that I’ve had with my mom about queerness have been terse, each ending just as abruptly as the first one. When we talk about my sexuality, I can always tell that the discussion could, at any moment, break out into a fight. My mom looks fidgety and takes deep breaths, as if what I’m saying to her is turning her stomach. She asks me why I bring up the topic at all, and why I don’t wait until I’m dating someone of the same gender to identify as gay. I know she’s trying to understand, but the questions she asks make me feel like I’m on the defensive. The back-and-forth challenges and questions we pose to each other—”Why does this make you so uncomfortable?” is a popular one, for my part— always feel like the tremor before a landscape-dismantling wave. I wish this wasn’t an issue—that she could understand me without my having to explain my identity to her.
These conversation have stopped being interesting or valuable to me. They’re not going anywhere. I’ve always valued my mom’s opinion, because for the most part, her view is wise and kind, but talking to her about my queerness makes me sad. I know my mom loves me, but she also grew up in a different era, and 40 years of preconceptions don’t evolve immediately. Plus, my mom is a human being: It can be heartbreaking to learn that your parents are not always flawless and flexibly loving entities, but it’s also freeing, because you learn that you trust your own brain as an autonomous force unto itself. You know what’s best for you now. Sometimes, that includes not discussing your sexuality with your family (especially if you don’t feel safe doing so—and if that’s the case, Krista wrote a helpful piece about privacy and protecting yourself here).
Wanting to please and be accepted by your parents is understandable, but it’s crucial to accept yourself regardless of whether or not they can, which I remind myself of when my mom challenges my sexuality. I am not wrong just because someone I respect and love tells me I am, and as long as I know this, I can be comfortable and free. My parents have become vastly more educated on LGBTQ+ issues than they were when I came out to them. There are still topics that they bristle at, but I’m tired of being the teacher; I’ve realized there are some things I can’t change. My parents’ opinions don’t have to play a role in my romantic life. Similarly, my sexuality and dating life shouldn’t be a thorn in my parents’ side, but that’s for them to learn. I don’t have to wait for my parents to catch up in order to be happy—both as their daughter and as myself. ♦