My story is not all that unique. I’ve known there’s something ‘different’ about me since about fourth grade. I remember wondering, as a kid, whether my parents were lying to me when they told me I was a ‘girl’, since I really hated being girly, and my sister (and all the other little girls I knew) loved it. If that was being a girl, well, I sucked at it. I was a tree-climbing bookworm. I remember when we were little, we’d play house on occasion. I was always required to play “daddy.” That meant, basically, that I would eat breakfast, kiss mommy good bye, and then go do something else while my sister played house by herself. Ah, the traditional family.
I was never comfortable around boys as a kid. My only guy friends from high school were all fellow musicians, members of the concert band and other ensembles with me. We hung out because we did that music thing. I never had any ‘all-purpose’ guy friends until I was in my 20s. And invariably, these friends have all, at one time or another in their lives, been suspected of being gay. Most of them aren’t even an iota gay—but they are gentle souls, comfortable being who they are without having to fit any “macho nacho” stereotype. Since the majority of guys in their teens and twenties have a desperate need to fit in, they generally act the macho nacho. And it’s no wonder I never befriended them.
The only guys I ever dated in high school for any length of time (longer than a date or two) were significantly older than me. I was 16, 17, 18; they were 26, 27, 28. I was fiercely independent non-cheerleader girl; they were non-conforming military eggheads. The relationships that lasted through months did so because they were long-distance, held together via telephone and postal service. But each one fell the moment the distance was closed—when I had to figure out what to do with a very present guy. It was nice being pampered with roses and fancy evenings, but the thought of anything else horrified me.
Eventually, after I had my first truly intense and reciprocal relationship—with a woman—I came to the realization that I was gay, and tired of playing with guys like dolls. But being gay was not at all how it had been colored for me as a child, though that coloring scared me into the closet more than anything else. I grew up with a Jack Chick tract in the coffee table drawer, telling me that gays were violent hell-bound perverts, and out to recruit new souls in order to destroy them, too. I must have read that tract over a hundred times, growing up. But my relationship, though certainly dysfunctional, wasn’t at all like I had been taught.
Still, when we were forced to break up in order to ‘remain Christians’ in 1989, my inclination was roundly condemned. I recall the next two years marked by my being steered by my mother into activities she felt would keep me accountable and under wraps. I would be a good Christian girl, complete in dresses and teaching Sunday School to toddlers.
The main thing I recall learning was that I was evil, and going to hell, unless I learned to fake it away. I even prayed constantly that God would bring a nice guy into my life. But every nice guy who came along, though sweet and kind, was still not somebody I ever was attracted to in the same way I was attracted to certain of my female friends.
Years passed in this insanity. I complained once to a friend about how I was condemned to be alone the rest of my life, and I just wish some nice guy would come along. She replied, “Are you sure that’s really what you want? Maybe it’s not happening because you don’t want it to.” She was so right. I didn’t. So my battle inside was not about things not going the way I wanted them to, but about my not wanting what I was ‘supposed’ to be wanting, and wishing I really did want that.
When she saw that observation hit me pretty deeply, she suggested something further. A few months later, she challenged me to “live congruently” by asking me “how many more years are you willing to live this way?” I realized then that somehow my value of living actively had been sidestepped in a glaringly significant way. How had I come to the place where life passed me by, and I just accepted what came to me? When did I quit dictating how I lived my life? And the answer was horrible. I had let this seed be planted twenty years previously, and from that tiny seed grew this enormous tree, that over the decades had cast my whole life in its shadow.
Well, I knew already that coming out was going to be tricky, possibly disastrous. So I planned carefully. I would come out to those who I knew would be supportive or to those I could not hide it from, especially since coming out meant, to me, to actively live congruously, like my friend had challenged me to do. I wasn’t just going to “say” or “admit” I’m gay, and then move along as I had before, with life passing me by. I was going to chop down the tree, send it through the wood chipper, and live free in the open air.
I first told a close friend whose husband had come out as gay the year before. She knew I was struggling with my orientation, and I had discussed the issues with her even in her coming to terms with her husband’s struggle to come out to her. It was no secret I’m gay, so telling her I was going to come out was no big deal. I then told a couple friends from my MA program, who both sighed huge relief that I was finally coming out. They’d been waiting for years. I felt a boost of strength. I came out to another friend from years ago, who’s support was tepid, at best, though she didn’t judge me. It was clear she didn’t think of me as any different person, but that she wasn’t willing to be a part of the process. Still, that wasn’t bad, all in all. Then I told a couple friends in my doctoral program, here. They were ecstatic, and have given me the biggest boost of nonstop support one could ask for. Things got almost exciting. This wasn’t going to be too bad, maybe. Then I told the last few close (both psychologically and geographically) friends I felt I needed to tell. Their response was funny: “oh, well, okay, congratulations, I guess.” To them, the issue was a non-issue, like telling them I had found out I could wiggle my ears or something. (Amazing how people in their 20s nowadays are more tolerant and accepting of things we in our 20s in the 1980s-early 90s were not!)
Now all that remained was to tell family and my best friends. I told my one supportive sister. She, of course, has been supportive. Two days ago, I told one of my two best friends. She was amazing. I apologized to her for lying for so long, especially as she had tolerated it, and allowed me to call myself “ex gay” for so many years. She replied that it didn’t matter what she knew to be true, that what mattered was when I would be comfortable enough to accept the truth. I shouldn’t feel at all guilty for lying to her, but that if I really needed guilt in my life, I should feel guilty for lying to myself for so long. I love her wry humor. She has, in the way only one’s best friend can, offered the most amazing support I’ve gotten so far. She’s asked me the hard questions, the ones about how I justified my “ex gay” role for so many years. She’s active in my re-assessing my beliefs in order to discard the contradictory ones.
I have another best friend, whom I’ve not yet told. He and his wife attend the church I attended for 16 years, the church that kicked me out of ministry for being a “violent tempered lesbian.” I would be surprised if he weren’t supportive, if his wife weren’t supportive—but part of me is still worried about the whole thing, especially what to say. In the same way I feel guilty lying to my other best friend for so many years, I feel guilty about lying to him. I know he’ll pooh-pooh it, but I don’t really know how much he’s absorbed the doctrine of the church, how much of what I contorted my intellect to accept he’s likewise contorting his to accept. But once I figure out how to come out to him and his wife—then the supportive friends list comes to an end.
Maybe this is the cop out way to come out. Maybe it’s the wise way. I see it as developing strength as I slowly chop down the tree. I’m hacking off branches first, small ones, then larger ones, before I set the chain saw to the trunk. When the tree falls, I want it to do as little damage to my life as possible, though damage it will cause regardless—especially since its very presence these past two decades has created a few dry spots where its roots sucked any nutrients out of me. But I’m already seeing sunlight where before I hadn’t—not for years. It’s a pleasant thing to have to cup my hand over my eyes once again, to feel rain hitting me, not the tree crowding me out of my own life.
Well, here goes another branch into the chipper.