What They Don’t Teach You
Nobody teaches you how to come out to your family or shows you the outline to that conversation. The truth? I’ve never had it. I’ve never told my parents to their faces that I’m gay. We’ve never sat down in that “family meeting” sort of setting while I confessed my deepest truths, choking back tears, and waiting for their sympathetic hugs that said they’d suspected all along. I actually have no idea how my family reacted. Were they completely shocked and ready to disown me? Or was it just as obvious to them as it had been to me all those years?
I’ve never told my parents that I’ve known since the sixth grade that I was attracted to women. They don’t know how exposed I felt as I tried to shake off the realization in a middle school hallway, when a classmate teasingly asked me if I always pulled my hair back and dressed the way I did, because I was gay. I’ve never told them that I spent the following ten years suppressing those feelings, falling into a dark depression, or that the only thing I remember about high school are nights spent crying into my best friend’s shoulder, telling her I didn’t want to go on living a life I couldn’t make sense of. I’ve never told them that I’ve wasted too many moments wishing, hoping, and praying to a God that I don’t believe in to make me straight.
I’ve never told them how scary and freeing of a revelation it was for me when I finally admitted, if only to myself, that I was in fact a lesbian. They have no idea how liberating those words were to say out loud for the first time, or that I wish someone else was sitting on that kitchen floor with me to hear them and comfort me. I’ve never told them that life before that moment doesn’t exist in my mind or that the months after were some of the hardest of my life. They don’t know that I spent days on edge with my insides constantly shaking and feeling as if they were going to explode unless I told someone, anyone. I’ve never told my family that my loneliest moments were those I spent believing I had absolutely nobody in my life I could safely tell without my entire world turning upside down.
The only girl I’ve ever dated had been one of my best friends for close to a decade before we started to call it something more. Instead of officially coming out to my parents on my own terms, I simply shifted the label of a relationship with a woman they had already met years before. They badgered me for weeks, asking me again and again for the name of the man who was making me so visibly happy. I was able to brush it off for a while until I finally broke and said her name was Nicole. I told them that we had been dating, that we were moving in together, and that I was madly in love with her. And that was it; I never brought up our romantic relationship again. I think I probably even ran out the door as soon as the words left my mouth. I was 21 and a coward.
I’ve never told my parents that the only person I ever saw myself marrying and having children with was a woman. I’ve never told them that the girlhood dreams of planning and throwing a posh wedding, or painting and decorating a nursery, before her never even crossed my mind. Shopping around for that white dress with my mother, and asking my father to walk me down the aisle and give me away to another woman, are things I find myself worrying about instead of actually allowing myself to feel excitement for. I don’t know how to tell them that these milestones are very real dreams of mine that will still happen someday—just not in the traditional ways they’re used to. They don’t know that I had plans to make all of that a reality one Christmas, or that I got drunk alone that December instead.
But it’s not just the hard stuff; there are the small, exciting things I want to tell them about, too. I want to tell them how nervous I was when I asked a girl out for the first time, or how much it meant to me when one surprised me with tickets to the New York Philharmonic. I want to show them pictures of Pride Parades my friends and I go to and celebrate in, and share with them our ideas of how we’re going to make this world a better, more equal place. I want to act on that urge I sometimes get to call my mom up and tell her about this really great girl I met, or about another one who let me down. I want to brag about always being the romantic one in the relationship and have them see just how damn good of a girlfriend I am.
I want them to know that there is a huge difference to me between them being aware of my sexual orientation, and it being something that I actually feel comfortable talking about in everyday conversation. I want them to know that it’s really only been since I’ve moved to New York City that I’ve felt comfortable talking about these things with anyone. And even then the initial conversation goes something like:
“So, do you have a boyfriend?”
A few weeks and two beers later:
“What about him, Bridge? You should totally go mingle.”
“Oh...not really my type…her though...yup!”
I want them to know how big of a step that is for me, even if it is still done delicately.
I know it’s my own fault for never bringing this up, but they just don’t teach you how to do these things.
Nobody ever taught me how to keep a broken heart to myself because it wasn’t asked about or thought as important as if it had been a man who had broken it. Nobody taught me how to be okay coming home to an empty two-bedroom apartment, how to sleep soundly on pillows her scent lingered on, or convinced me of the words: “someday a woman will walk into your life that will make you forget her.” Nobody ever taught me how to censor my conversations when I come home during the holidays, leaving out the most exhilarating parts of my life—the parts I actually care about—in fear of making somebody else feel uncomfortable. I still don’t know how to use and own the words “gay” and “lesbian,” or how to not feel self-conscious when they’re brought up around my family.
Nobody ever taught me how to talk to my republican family about my democratic views. I’ve never told them that New York State passing the Marriage Equality Act in 2011 made for one of the most memorable birthdays I’ve ever had, or that last year’s DOMA ruling moved me to tears. They don’t realize how exciting of a date June 26 is for me. They have no idea how important politics are in my life or how much respect I have for Andrew Cuomo, Barack Obama, or any other public figure who stands up and speaks out for the LGBT community. Nobody taught me how to tell my republican politician father how much it bothers me that he’s an active member of a party that openly believes I shouldn’t have these equal rights.
Growing up, I had people who inspired me and that I looked up to in certain ways, but I’ve never been guided by that one all-knowing role model. For the most part that’s been fine; my siblings and parents will be the first to tell you that I’ve always just kind of danced to the beat of my own drum—my mother even used to joke and would say she had a son, a daughter, and a Bridget. I kind of liked that; I liked being different and tough to put a label on. They’ll go on to tell you that I’m independent, strong, and smart, and that my track record shows that the best way for me to figure things out is to just try my own thing and learn as I go.
But what they won’t tell you, what they won’t be able to tell you, is what I went through to get there. They won’t be able to tell you any detail about my life, other than maybe the few addresses I’ve called home for the past couple of years. They won’t be able to tell you that I haven’t always known how to be as strong inside as my exterior has them all fooled into thinking I am. They won’t be able to tell you how long it took for their Bridget to rise up to that independence, that strength, and grow into someone who is at complete peace with who she is. They won’t be able to tell you exactly who that person is, because I’ve never quite learned how to share her with them,
My parents know that I’m gay, or rather that I once dated a woman. Yet even just thinking about introducing another woman to them as my girlfriend makes my stomach turn—a physical reminder that no, that wasn’t a phase. I sometimes feel tiptoed around as the only single woman in my family who doesn’t get harassed about running out of time to settle down and start a family after each passing year. I want someone to annoyingly remind me that I, too, have a biological clock that will one day start ticking, or that if I don’t hurry up and snag some lady, all the good ones will be taken. But then I have to remember; nobody taught them how to do this, either. Just like there’s no field guide on how to be the gay daughter, there’s not one on how to be the parent of the gay daughter.
So I get it. I know nobody ever taught my parents how to make sense of my life within the parameters of the beliefs they’ve been raised on. As far as I know, I’m the first woman in my family to come out and live an openly gay life, so I understand if nobody ever taught them what a happy, loving lesbian relationship looks like, or how a family can work with two moms. Nobody ever taught my parents that the word “gay” doesn’t have the same negative connotation that it did in the 70’s and 80’s, that it actually means “happy,” or that it’s a label one can actually be proud of.
It’s okay Mom…Dad…
Maybe this is one we teach ourselves.
Maybe this is one we teach each other.
First appeared in Skin 2 Skin, October 2014.