I was about 15,000 ft above sea level when I decided to come out to my family. Sitting alone in the back of one of the noisy ‘puddle-jumpers’ we islanders use to make quick hops from one island to another, I knew the time had come. The sun was setting on one of the worse days of my life, (we’ll save that story for another day), and I was on my way back to Eleuthera, the little island where I’d lived since birth. As I looked down at the stillness of the blue-green ocean below me, sprinkled with tiny islands and cays, I became suddenly aware of the date. It was July 12th, 2013 and I was just two weeks shy of my 32nd birthday.
You read that right, I’m one of thooosee – an official member of the, “out after 30″, club. We’re a rare bunch. We never stormed into the kitchen after school, slammed our book bags on the table and announced in hormone-fueled teenaged rebellion: “I’m gay, deal with it!” No, we were the ones with the super-convincing, (and sometimes not so convincing), beards* standing at the ready for every prom, random party, work function or family reunion. We’re the ones who bring “really good friends” and “roommates” to Thanksgiving dinner every.single.year. We’re the ones who, for whatever reason, never truly believe that we will be accepted by the people we love the most. With every passing year we resent ourselves more and more for missing yet another opportunity to be completely who we are.
For me, coming out seemed not only difficult but impossible for many reasons:
Strike One: Being born in the Caribbean – the archetype of homophobia.
Strike Two: Having a Methodist preacher for a father, being raised in church and educated at private, Christian schools my entire life – including University.
Strike Three: Having a former model, actress and beauty queen for a mother who teaches Sunday school and has some pretty stern ideas about what a “lady” looks and acts like. ‘
You know what they say, “Three strikes, you’re OUT!” Nope, I was IN – far, far, way, way IN the closet and I stayed there for thirty-one years.
My friends would laugh when I’d tell them that my family still didn’t know I was gay. “Just LOOK at you though”, they’d say. And they were right. Most people just needed to quickly glance in my direction to catch a whiff of my flaming, rainbow-flag-flying stench – not to mention all the other clues like the fact that I’ve lived with my girlfriend for almost five years in a home that clearly and loudly screams, “DYKE!” Yet, no-one ever mentioned it…it was the rainbow-colored elephant in the room all my life. The people closest to me refused to ask or even strongly imply anything and I just didn’t think I could ever utter the words myself. I would stay away from home for months and every single time I’d fly home for a visit I would tell myself that this trip would be the “one” but I would leave even more disappointed in myself than ever.
The weight of the burden was starting to effect every aspect of my life, especially my relationships. I kept friends, family and lovers alike at a “safe” distance. I was afraid that my straight friends and family members would find out and hate me because I was gay; at the same time, I was equally afraid that my gay friends would despise me if they found out I was still pretending to be straight – actually, I’d stopped pretending to be straight at about age 20, after that I just kind of lived my life and let people assume what they wanted. But I was still a liar. I wasn’t living my life in a way that made me happy or in a way that unapologetically declared that, I am what I am and I am proud of it. I felt that I was living a double life and it was tearing me apart. I kept making excuses, it was never the, “right time”. It didn’t help that I tried to come out to a sibling who shook, cried, and promised that my news would most certainly kill both my parents instantly. She said that I should wait for many years before ever mentioning it to them – talk about taking away someone’s nerve! I took her advice and waited several more years. Then my father got sick, spent almost a year in the hospital and then passed away. There was no way I could breathe a word of what was going on with me to anyone while he was sick much less any time after his death. Now, three years later, my family is still in mourning…surely the news would shatter them? That’s why, had it not been for that fateful day in July, a day that pushed me to my emotional limits, I would probably still be in the closet. I found that when you’re at your lowest point, you realize you have nothing left to lose.
They greeted me at the door, knowing before I got there that my day had been a terrible one. Wonderful family that they are, they’d prepared a small party for me. There was a home-cooked meal, cake, ice-cream and some of my favorite treats to cheer me up. I almost didn’t go through with telling them after hearing about the cake…I mean, who wants to ruin perfectly good cake with what would surely be (to them) bad news? But my mind was made up and I knew if I didn’t do it right then I’d more than likely lose my nerve for a very long time, maybe for good. It was time.
I called everyone into my childhood bedroom and had them all sit down. Over the years, whenever I played this scenario out in my head, I imagined myself standing. But in that moment my knees felt all weak and wobbly so standing, I realized, wasn’t an option. I let them talk amongst themselves, joining the conversation once or twice myself, but mostly, I stayed quiet biding my time. I was still, foolishly waiting for the most appropriate moment. I snapped myself out of that notion quickly when I remembered a cardinal rule of growing up in a household full of women: patiently awaiting your turn to speak almost guarantees that your voice will never be heard.
I coughed loudly. “I have an announcement”, I said. I waited until all conversation stopped and every single eye was focused on me. “I’m getting married.” There was silence for exactly five seconds…I counted. Then, my mother laughed, loudly, but I could tell that there was a twinge of nervousness in it. She perhaps had awaited this day for as long as I had. Her laugh was so infectious that I forgot myself and stupidly began to join in. She then changed the subject as if I hadn’t said a word.
Dammit! I stopped laughing. I put my head down. I wondered if this would be the moment I would turn back or if…
“Wait, mom did you hear me?” Oh shit I’m actually gonna do this? I thought.
“I saiddd, I’m getting married.” Then I thought, I’m ACTUALLY doing this. I better get everything else out before I lose my nerve again.
“Jennifer and I have been a couple for seven and a half years and now that DOMA has been struck down, we can finally be married so…we will be. Very soon.”
A few of my sisters gasped. Another said, “we all knew already.” That made sense. Jennifer had been a regular part of the family, she visited with me on many trips home, she came for my sister’s wedding and for my dad’s funeral and she hosted the entire family at our home in Atlanta on numerous occasions. She already acted like an older sister to my younger siblings, she’d help me move them into their dorm rooms and they hung out with us on all their school breaks. They loved her.
“We love Jennifer, she’s a really nice person.” another sister said.
All this was great news but I still wished someone had said something before…asked something about our relationship years ago…helped me to get this out…but that was my responsibility.
I was still in shock and couldn’t really respond to any of it, especially since my mom was still silent. Finally, I asked her if she was okay. With tears in her eyes, but still nervously smiling, she said, “Well, it’s not as if it’s a big shock.” She proceeded to share clues and inklings she’d gotten over the years. Her eyes, and mine, got super watery when she brought up my dad. “How do you think he would feel about this?” she asked. Although I knew it was coming, I hadn’t been ready for that question so soon, but I was glad she asked it and I responded as honestly as I could. I told her I thought he would be happy that I was happy, whether or not he thought what I was doing with my heart was necessarily the right thing. I honestly believe that.
We talked a while longer. There were questions thrown my way about the Bible and spirituality. When did I know for sure I was …different? Did I think marriage was the right step to make considering my intensely religious upbringing? For the most part, the feedback was intensely positive and in short order we went back to having that delicious cake and on to the next subject. Before it was all over one of my sisters said she was proud of me and that I “did a great job” and I couldn’t have dreamed of any response better than that.
So it’s been less than two months since I’ve been officially “out” to the lion’s share of my immediate family. We have a long road ahead: lots of discussions to have and I have many stereotypes and behaviors of theirs to check. It won’t happen in a day, maybe not in a year, but thankfully we have time.
If you’re reading this and you think it’s silly to come out now that you’re 30…40…50…90 years old…know that there is still TIME but also that there’s no time like right NOW. I’m not advocating that anyone wait as long as I did to come out because I suffered for many years because of that choice. I missed out on a lot. I lost and damaged many relationships because I refused to be, who I believe, God created me to be. However, I do believe that being over 30 gave me clarity, an assuredness and a knowledge I would NOT have had at 15 or 16 or 18. I was able to answer questions I may not have been able to at that age either. In the end, no matter when you choose to come out, what circumstances surround your choice, who accepts who doesn’t accept you, the thing to remember is to – JUST DO IT.
Do it for you, do it today, you deserve it. Besides…it’s time.
**Beard – Any opposite sex escort taken to an event in an effort to give a homosexaul person the apperance of being out on a date with a person of the oposite sex. —The Urban Dictionary