I realized I was a lesbian at the age of ten but was unable to do anything about it because I really didn’t know what that meant. I was too young to understand sexuality in that way, but I look back on that now and know what gender warmed me most at that age. I got older and had to tamp that part down because I didn’t have any role models except Jan from the Brady Bunch and Lori Partridge, from the Partridge family. They weren’t queer but so many of us young ones at that time loved them like they were. Knowledge of what those feelings really meant got translated into what my parents’ relationship was like since heterosexuality is literally everywhere.
As I got older, I realized I was a lesbian and I understood what that meant for me, for my sexuality. In High School my closest friends knew but I felt the need to wait until I had a girlfriend to tell my parents. I wrote my parents a letter asking for them to love me anyway. My mom called to let me know that they were never going to speak with me again. She let me know that she was “sitting Shiva” for me, meaning that she was performing the ritual for the dead in a Jewish home because I had come out as a lesbian This was possibly my biggest offense but not the first one to initiate “the ritual” of covering mirrors and sitting on boxes. The praying and connecting to God in grief, friends there to support etc. is part of what happens when someone dies and is not part of this type of get-you-back ritual my mother would create.
Almost a year passed and there were no letters or calls from my family. One evening, my father called. It had been so long since I heard his voice and my heart ached (as it does in this moment, thinking of that moment) from missing him. His calm voice, with kindness and love, seeping over the phone line right into my deepest loss, my family. “Rosanne”, he said after a bit of catching up, “I don’t understand how you can like girls”? I could think of only one response; “I’m surprised you don’t understand since you like girls. It’s the exact same thing for me as it is for you. We like men and women the same way.” There was a pause and then he made some comment about that making a lot of sense and we moved on to other topics.
For the next three months my father called regularly; late at night when my mom was sleeping, he would call. We would talk about movies, TV shows and my partner or he would catch me up on my mother or brother. Then, my mom called one day in the fall and told me my father died suddenly. She wanted me to know that he died because his heart was broken because I had become a lesbian. I didn’t bother correcting her. I knew that my father and I saw men and women the same and she was going to finally see the phone bill.
For those of us who are already out as queer; National Coming Out Day is a chance to hold safe space for others to come out and to show that we are here and we are proud. In my life coming out has been simpler than it has for many others. The pain that I experienced when my parents stopped speaking to me, when my mother sat Shiva for me. Those things are hard truths I live with and I also know how much my father cared for me. One thing I have learned about coming out is that it is a privilege. It feels good to announce who I love with pride and model a behavior that being out is better than hiding, but only because I am safe, I live in a queer and accepting world here in Portland, for the most part given my class and race.
My friends in high school thought I was cool or brave for being open and honest. Turns out most them were queer too, they just didn’t know it yet or weren’t out yet. In that small group we all had safety but in different ways, based on culture, family, neighborhood and certainly the time in history. We gave one another a safe place to experiment with ideas, feelings, love, parents, loss and just plain growing up. My coming out didn’t pack the shame punch that it has packed for others who come out. Shame comes from doing something wrong but my community in high school didn’t see me as wrong, bad or demented. I got to be me. There was a net created for me by my friends that gave me strength, courage and ability to connect and savor the moments we were having while we were having them. I loved them; I LOVE them. Safety and love gave me strength. For those coming out today, may you have that for yourselves.