In my Grandma’s home, there is a family photo gallery adorning the wall parallel to the staircase. From a very young age my Grandma would tell me the stories of each person in every photograph; members of my family who I have never met, some long dead before I was born, distant Polish cousins; everyone was there. Step by carpeted step, we ascended the staircase as she taught me about our history. At the very top of the stairs was a small studio photograph of a group of distant adult cousins whom I will never know. I remember two things about this image. Firstly, that it was unmistakably from the 70’s, complete with blue eyeshadow and polyester suites. Secondly, I remember cousin Michael staring out at me from behind his huge glasses and bushy mustache. When we got to this picture my Grandma would invariably tell me that Michael was gay, but that I “needn’t worry” -- he was not actually related to me by blood. Those words were a gut punch every time. This is how I learned that being gay was bad. Bad in the blood. Thus, the tenderest wishes of my youth were devoted to the hope that my Grandma would never discover that I was gay.
For the record, I identify as queer, not gay. Bisexual fit for a while, but honestly I’ve dated so many gender nonconforming people, that I now find the label of bisexual restrictive. I was conscious of the fact that I am sexually attracted to women by the age of eight. In retrospect there was clear evidence by the age of four that I was not like other girls. For one thing, I was repeatedly stealing my father’s Playboy magazines and attempting to hide them in my room. An endeavor my mother routinely thwarted. If my parents suspected anything, they have never shared it. Overall, the messaging I received as a young girl was that being gay was a choice, and since I had crushes on both girls and boys this misinformation made sense. I liked both, but I could choose to be good and only like boys. Later when puberty hit, however, I discovered that girls could like boys “too much,” which is an entirely different problem altogether.
Growing up, I recall my friends and family members repeatedly claim, “I don’t know any gay/trans/queer people”. A quiet voice in a dark corner of my brain would whisper - Yes, you fucking do. I spent my childhood afraid that someone would discover my secret and I would be punished or cast-out. This experience of ineffable otherness that left me feeling lonely and depressed. By my late teens that whisper had become a scream so loud, my whole body ached trying to hold it in. So, I came out to my high school boyfriend. He was unenthusiastic (to put it mildly) and not the least bit supportive. His position was that I could no longer be trusted with men or women, that I was dangerously promiscuous and prone to infidelity. It was heartbreaking, and yet strangely fortifying. Despite not getting the acceptance I longed for, I was not abandoned - he still loved me despite this revelation. And, a new voice blossomed deep inside me. It said, “There is nothing wrong with you. Everyone else is wrong.” I really liked this new voice. Shortly after coming out to my boyfriend I told my closest female friends. Two of my friends looked away in silence, without acknowledging my confession. While one of them looked me directly in the eyes and told me I was disgusting. Crisply, she told me to never bring women around. Yes, this hurt, but I was not surprised and certainly not deterred.
At the age of nineteen I moved to San Francisco and finally felt comfortable living openly as a bisexual woman. In my new home, I found a level of acceptance and normalcy that I had never thought possible. But it was still limited, as my family had no idea who I was, and what I was experiencing. Even after I married a man that my family loved, I still did not feel safe to telling them that I was bisexual, or that my new husband was as well. It was a major point of bonding between us. Years after my marriage ended, I found that the gulf separating me from my family had grown a staggering amount. Every time my mother asked me if anything was new, I simply said, “No.” It hurt to lie, it felt lonely. And there was also the guilt when I heard my mother’s quiet reply, “Okay”. I knew she knew I was lying and I also knew that she had no idea why I would lie to her. She had no idea why I was shutting her out.
The final step in my coming out story occurred days after the 2016 Orlando nightclub shooting. I was filled with anguish and frustration that I could not seem to shake. A fear that I had long since forgotten took hold in my heart - I could have been in that club, and I could have been shot. Any safe space for the LGBTQ+ community is also a target for people who fill their hearts with hate. And my privilege of passing as a cis straight woman suddenly made me feel sick. So, I came out as publicly as I could - on Facebook:
I just took Scientific America's "How Gay Are You?" quiz... The magazine has labeled me "Predominately Homosexual" but I have always identified as "Equally Heterosexual and Homosexual". And now that most of my family is on Facebook, I would like to announce that I'm Bi-Sexual. For the past three years, every time my parents asked me if I was seeing anyone, I said "No". But that was a lie. I have been seeing women and men... I have been dating women since I was 18, and I don't plan to stop anytime soon. I always thought it would be easier to stay in the closet - for my family's sake. Bi-sexuality is so 'confusing'. Actually, it's not. I'm queer. And I want everyone in my family to picture my face every time there is a hate crime against someone who is gay, bi, trans, queer, different, difficult, colorful, or ugly... because I am one of them. Dear family, I am queer. This is on Facebook, which means it's forever ;)
My coming out was not a single graceful leap out of the closet, but rather a slow, sometimes awkward and often painful unfurling. An unwinding of cultural expectations, gender constructs, bigotry, fear, shame, and desire. It was also an act of courage and self-acceptance. This is why I love Pride month so much. Pride cultivates the visibility of the LGBTQ+ community. Pride promotes our legitimacy and normalcy. Pride helps those of us who feel a lone to become one of the many, rather than the one apart. My hope is that anyone, especially young people, who live in fear of being discovered for how they are different than the people around them, will witness Pride celebrations and feel a little less alone and a little more hopeful about their future.