To My Young Self
To my young self,
I will tell you this now, I will tell you this simply, love comes in all shapes and sizes. In the end, you just can’t help who you fall in love with.
You will never be told outright that your mom is gay. In fact, I don’t think it was ever said to you by anyone in your household. No, you will find out what gay means by what’s on the television, the kids at school, and even your family members who will look at you and your brother with a questionable expression on their faces – wondering if your destiny has been set for you by your parents’ actions. You will start having internal dialogue on what it means to be gay and try to analyze “if a manly woman likes a feminine woman, and a feminine man likes a manly man…why can’t those two just get together?” Isn’t that what most 8 year olds think about?
You are now getting older and entering the age where the world will begin to morph around you. The nice part is your home life is actually becoming stable. You have adjusted to your mom moving out and working full time at nights. Your dad is no longer deployed in the Middle East, and now his frequent temporary duty tends to be much shorter stints. I will tell you now, the divorce itself will never get easier.
It won’t be until you are at your 4th grade choir performance that the kids will start asking you “who’s that lady with your mom?” Unfortunately, maybe fortunately, you will learn very quickly to think on your feet. You will learn how to control conversations and steer them away from uncomfortable topics. You will learn how to keep a smile on your face, while inside you are fearful of the truth coming out. You are fearful of what could happen to you and your family if others were given the slightest opportunity to categorize you into what media and mass society has demonized. Don’t believe them. And I tell this from experience, you are too smart to believe them.
Let me share a little story that I haven’t shared with anyone until now. I remember when I moved out to the Midwest with just my father and brother. I thought it would be a new start and no one would know our family “secret”. But that was just it…sometimes secrets only really mean anything to those who try to hide it. I think secrets are what stir up internal demons that will challenge you no matter what surroundings you place yourself in. My internal demons were the strongest during my teenage years. Sometimes I wonder if it was my own fault – my own fault for even trusting those who I thought were my close friends. As I became more comfortable in my new town and made friends rather quickly, there were a select few in junior high that I thought I could trust with this secret; that I could trust with opening up and being able to just be me. I’ll never forget the turning point…I’ll never forget the moment that actually made me question myself and my actions and if somehow, someway I in fact was gay due to genetics. I mean sure, I had uncles that made ridiculous comments about my brother and I when they found out about my mom. But they never said it directly to me, just around me. But this time…this time was different. This time I was being challenged head on to see how I would react in the moment. My best friend (of course I use that term loosely) turned to me one day, after I had shared one of my most tightly-kept family secrets, and said, “…I think I love you”. Of which I playfully returned with, “yeah, I love ya too!” Then they continued with a very serious tone and look and said, “No, I really love you.” When I look back now at the situation I sometimes wonder if that person was actually curious of their own sexuality. In my heart, I felt that it was a challenge; an open challenge to see how I would react and if they were going to be given the opportunity to poke fun of a fellow 11 year old. What they didn’t realize was I was already three steps ahead of them; I had to be. I had already learned the rules of engagement of this sick world and their views of homosexuals and their families several years prior.
Unfortunately things didn't really change as the years went on. In fact there were even a few dark years. There were times that I did have suicidal thoughts and even attempted once. Aside from this letter, I have only shared this openly once before during an interview on this very subject. You see, even though my mom had only come out to visit a few times, it didn't stop for awkward situations to arise when I least expected it. And I’d like to think it was never with ill intentions. I’d like to think it was just small talk and that everything was just in my own head on how would I have to answer the question as to if my dad had remarried. Well, that one was actually easy – the answer was no. My dad was still in love with my mom. It was the follow-up question that would make my anxiety kick into overdrive “Is your mom remarried?” The answer was an undeniable, “yes, and I have 2 moms that are great!” At least, that was the answer in my head and heart; rarely did it ever pass through my lips.
As I grew up I had a great deal of anger for the situation – now let me make this very clear: I had anger for the situation around me. I had anger for the fear that was instilled in me from others’ reactions. I never once had anger towards my mom and her partner for who they were. It was because of the longing for a stronger, deeper relationship with my mom that I chose to move back to California for college. I didn’t even really want to go to college. It was never talked about growing up or in my family – it was something we didn't really do, but I saw it as an opportunity, an excuse almost, to move closer to my mom and attempt to build something that was missing.
I remember my freshman year of college driving home almost every other night after classes just to see my mom when she got off of work around 10pm. I never stayed too long, just enough to talk to her and start developing a relationship with her beyond the kid who would go to the beach every day in the summer. I was now a young adult and could give her better insight to the person I was becoming. To give myself better insight to the person she had always been.
College was some of the best years with respect to letting others know about whom my family was; who I was. I started to let more and more friends know that I was a child of a gay parent. At times they would attempt to relate by sharing that their uncle, or distant cousin, or neighbor’s sister’s son was gay. You really can’t do much but smile and know that even with their feeble attempt to relate to something much more complicated, much less explored, that they did so with a caring heart. And although I was very selective on whom I came out to, I will never forget the day I told my oldest college friend about my family. I will never forget because it was the first time in my entire life that someone had responded with something amazingly positive. We were hanging out one night at my place sharing stories and complaining about whatever current unimportant college event there was to complain about – like most college students do. I thought it was time, so I told her. It was that night that the world seemed to stop for me. She looked me straight in the eyes and with just a few words said, “So that’s why you are so accepting of others.”
I wish I could say it got easier from there. In some ways it did. Several of my friends starting coming out, and I think even society, or at least more of society, realized being gay is not hereditary. And even if it was, the world had started to shift. Are there still completely ignorant people out there? Most definitely. But is it different than what I grew up with as a child of the 80s? Absolutely. Last year, I volunteered to go to an LGBTQ conference that my work was able to secure funding to sponsor a few of us to attend. I say volunteer because originally it was offered to our management team, of which none of them wanted to go, and therefore was opened up to the leads. I thought to myself, this would be an interesting conference – I've never been to one, and well, why not. What I found even more intriguing was that there was a workshop specifically targeted to address the views and personal experience from a panel of teenagers who had parents that identified as LGBTQ. I had never thought that there were others out there like me. I mean ok, sure, there had to be – but where were they? We didn't have some type of secret handshake or Friday night sitcom that publicized our existence. The few times I had seen anything in media about children of LGBTQ parents were headlines of how screwed up we would turn out to be, or how we were bad influences to those around us – in my mind it was easier to stay hidden. I also had an older sibling in my home going through the exact same thing as me; we just never talked about it. I digress. I knew I had to go this conference. I had to hear firsthand that there were not only others like me, but that the parents did in fact consider the outcomes and how it affected their children. What happened at that event was nothing more than life changing.
It was at this conference, at this workshop that I finally, for once in the last 28 years (of my 32 years of life) felt that I could be me – all of me without any secrets. I talked to a nice young lady who sat next to me. She shared with me that her and her girlfriend were thinking about adopting but were scared of the challenges that child would face. I smiled and explained to her that I was a child with two moms and I think that I turned out pretty darn ok. Sitting there listening to the young teenagers share their experiences, good and bad, along with participant feedback as to why their children just couldn't be supportive, or why are they so angry at them, I somehow found the courage to raise my hand and share my story. It was the first time that I had ever “come out” in a public forum. I praised the teenagers on the panel for being so courageous for sitting up there and sharing their honest testimonies – something I knew I couldn't have done at their age. I went on to tell the participants that to be patient with their kids and that they had time to figure out how to come out; whereas we just need time to adjust and understand how the world will now view us as well – some more than others. I told myself I wouldn't cry when I walked into the workshop, but I couldn't help myself. For once I felt free. For once, I felt liberated. For once, I felt like I was among peers. It was there while I was sharing my story that one of the panelists, who was a board member of the organization COLAGE, looked straight at me through teary eyes and said, “Find me after – we need to connect.”
After she and I had lunch the next day, she introduced me to one of the most amazing organizations designed for people just like me; just like you. I have been fortunate enough to be able to attend one of the events this year. To know that there are so many others like us who share such similar stories, similar experiences, and that we are indeed accepted.
And although you are courageous and mature for your age, you may wonder why I share my story with you. Just wait a few years and you will see that this story will become your own.