Possibly the most unnerving moment in a homosexual’s life, the coming out party, has the potential to uplift you, to raise a harrowing burden off your shoulders, to unmask the lies you’ve lived and send them fluttering away like torn pieces of paper on the wind. Or it has the power to level you, dissemble you bit by bit and leave you broken and dying in the gutter. My party took form in the latter.
At 15, I had done little to hide my sexuality as for the most part I hardly understood it myself. But my mother saw it, and had seen it for years: the moment she caught me kissing my female next door neighbor as a young child, my lack of boyfriends, the promiscuous photos of women I had printed off the internet, and the not so subtle confrontation from my high school teacher during conference night when she informed my mother the photos of women in bikinis were unsuitable decor for the inside of my binder. Driving to the store one afternoon, my mother finally asked that definitive question, and for a moment the world froze. Unsure how to respond, all the while knowing she had asked a question she already knew the answer to, my hesitation came from the fear of what this confirmation would bring. I took a breath and nodded in the affirmative, but added the qualifier that I was not gay, but bisexual, as if the 50% of Normal that lingered somewhere in my gut might’ve softened the blow and made me seem more human somehow. This did not sway my mother, and a lecture ensued, littered with religious proclamations and damnations as I was beaten down by God’s hatred for gays and my ultimate destination of a fiery afterlife.
I wanted to die. I grappled with my own self-hatred. Raised a Christian and incredibly devout through my childhood and preteens, I had turned away from the church for several reasons, but my sexuality played a larger role. My peers at school were beginning to catch on as well, and the bullying that ensued pushed me to the edge. I watched movies and read books about other homosexuals, hoping to identify with their stories. Instead I felt anger and jealousy whenever I read of a situation where someone else’s family supported them and loved them through their coming out (above). Why couldn’t I have that? Why don’t I deserve that? A failed suicide attempt left me with one dark realization: without the love and support of my mother, I wouldn’t make it through this world alive.
I always sensed that my mother clung to the hope that the 50% of Normal in me would prevail and I would end up with a nice man, get married, have a family. Even I hoped it, knowing the perilous road that I would walk if the evil lesbian in me won. But as I progressed through my adolescence, the dream of normalcy faded along with my deluded attraction to the opposite sex. A date with a male companion finally made me realize that I was fully gay and the hopes of a peaceful heterosexual life died. I would have to do what many homosexuals have never faced: coming out a second time.
When I was 21, following the date with the male friend, my epiphany, and an eager inquiry about a second date from my mom, I sat down to tell her that the Normal was gone. Shaken and traumatized from the first coming out response, I immediately began sobbing and blubbering out that I didn’t like men and never would. Noting my devastation and the utter fear in my eyes, my mother took a softer stance than before, insisting that she still loved me and she always would, I was her daughter, after all, but adding the point that no matter what, she could never support my lifestyle or what I was doing. It was against her religion and she couldn’t be made to see differently. Begging for her acceptance, I was denied. It was unconditional love with an asterisk and a footnote: “I love the You, I love my daughter. I can never love the Lesbian, I will never accept the abnormal.” Leveled again, I retreated to my room in solemn resignation. Accepting the loss, I began to tentatively live my new life alone.
Dates came slowly and were enveloped in my mother’s disapproval. Knowing I was going out, she would ask where. Once I revealed that I was going on a date, her lips pursed shut and she spun on her heels, hastily vacating the room. I often returned from my date to icy silence and tried to keep future dates under wraps, lying that I was going out with friends or going shopping. But gradually, very gradually, things began to change. A few years later, dates began with my mother asking directly if I was going out with a girl. Then they were capped in the end by the simple question: “Did you have a good time?” One quick “yes” and the conversation was over as my mother retreated to the kitchen, having done her duty by asking at all. It was understood that details were not requested or required, but my mother was trying.
But it was not a steady ascent to acceptance and harmony. Our progress was pock-marked with regressions and fallbacks. Like me explaining to my mother why she couldn’t use the word “faggot,” or my mother absent-mindedly lamenting her disgust for two women walking down the street hand in hand, forgetting I was seated in the car beside her. I think, however, that the biggest step back came in 2008, when my mother informed me she had voted yes on Prop 8. Furious and confused, a ticker tape of memories ran through my mind of all the progress we had made, all the changes we had gone through, only to stop at such a critical crossroads. My mother explained that she didn’t mind gays dating and living together, but felt it frivolous and inappropriate to grant them marriages. Arguing still that marriage was a religious institution and homosexuality had no place in marriage, she couldn’t grasp the significance of her vote or the obstacle it created in helping me feel that sense of Normal again.
Older now, a bit wiser, slightly more patient, I was angry, but understanding. My mother had been fighting her deeply rooted religious beliefs for 10 years, trying to balance her faith with her biological attachment and affection of her own child. She tried to make heads or tails of which path to take: follow the 3,000 year old theology her life had been based on, or erase the asterisk from her unconditional love and support her daughter, embracing her completely. The decision could not have been easy, and separating the two was a challenge my mother had tasked herself with for the past decade. But bringing that lifestyle into the church? Merging the two by granting marriages before the eyes of God in his very house? My mother could not handle those worlds colliding and she voted the only way a God-fearing woman of tradition could.
The following years, as I went on sporadic dates, my mother’s interest increased and the events were sandwiched with questions and comments like “where are you guys going? You look nice, have a good time!” and “What was she like? What’s her name? Will you see her again?” And the Normal began to grow. We survived my brother’s wedding, an event which at the time I looked upon with somewhat blighted eyes. I struggled through the pain of thinking I would never be afforded the same opportunity as a legal marriage, and I watched as my mother buzzed around preparing what she must have thought would be the only wedding of her children, even commenting it would be “the only bridal shower [she] would give” and “the only daughter-in-law [she] would have.” I did not take this to be a malicious comment, just more so a statement of fact as the fate of Proposition 8 sat on a desk somewhere outside the US Supreme Court, awaiting someone’s consideration.
Lately I have been flittering through internet dating sites and personal ads, struggling with my own perpetual social anxiety and my dislike for the club and bar scenes to find love. On top of that, I have the worst case of baby fever as my hormones have kicked into full gear. Though I am not even 30, my own unfulfilled expectations of where I should be in my personal life leave me melancholy. While family members and friends are getting engaged, marrying, having babies, I have yet to secure even a long term relationship in my hapless decade on the gay dating scene. Overjoyed by the announcement that my brother and sister-in-law are expecting a child, a twinge of pain struck my heart knowing that a baby for me is so far away. I always knew I wanted children. I of course dreamt of sharing the precious milestones of raising a child with a partner, but even if I never found a partner to have one with, I had made up my mind I would be a mother through my own pregnancy or adoption. But being gay makes the task that much harder in that you must pay for either artificial insemination or adoption, in addition to all the other costs that come with having a baby. Knowing I cannot afford this on my own, I am left feeling alone.
I burst into tears one night. My mom held me as I cried for my loneliness, I cried for my uncertain future in love and motherhood. And with one comment from my mother in one moment, I realized how far we had come in the last 15 years: “I will pray for you. I know someone is out there for you, and I know you will find her. I will go home and pray for you, I just want you to be happy. That’s all I ever wanted for you.”
I love you, Mama.