OUT

28 08 2010

When I started writing My Imperfect Truth I began with the assumption that anyone reading would either be a friend or family member and would already know that I’m gay. Somehow starting a blog with a great big “hey y’all did I mention I’m a lesbian” essay seemed disingenuous and a little attention-grabbing. After all, I reasoned, other writers don’t provide any back story that begins with “so I’m straight…” Being gay is just one of the many things I am, along with freakishly tall, bad at math, a snazzy little dancer, Irish-Italian, and a mom. Besides, every gay person has their coming out story and most of my close friends know mine. Well a glossed-over version of it anyway. I had also made a promise to myself that I wasn’t going detail my coming out story here because it involved the end of my marriage, which was an understandably painful event for my ex-husband. I have too much affection and respect for him to publicly revisit that time. So, to save time, the answers to the questions I invariably get in odd places (cocktail parties, business events and recently a friends wedding reception) are: A) yes I suspected my sexuality from a young age, B) no I didn’t get married hoping it would make me straight. I loved my ex husband and in spite of the marriage ending there were some really terrific times and a pretty spectacular daughter along the way. And, C) um, no I don’t plan to ‘go back to men.’ (I was recently asked that question with Kelly sitting right next to me. Dude really? ). And really that’s always been the end of that. After nearly seven years with Kelly, the most recent of which has been spent happily co-habitating, building a great family home life, traveling together and planning a wedding, I thought I had finally leaped over most of the coming-out hurdles and could sit back and enjoy our happily wedded life. After all, it’s been a long time coming.

When I first came out, my life was a combination of outright terror and tentative excitement. Moving on as a single mom (although one blessed with a supportive and involved co-parent) was scary, and there was some rough water to navigate. My coming out changed my role in many of my personal relationships. I was no longer the straight tag-along to my gay friends and in many ways those relationships required the most care and feeding. Some friends gay and straight felt a bit betrayed by this secret I had kept, others felt I was just being trendy and wasn’t “really” gay. There were some harsh words, some misunderstandings, and the loss of one very dear friendship completely. And then there was my parenting life. Suddenly I was very different from the other moms dropping off their new kindergarten-ers at the local Catholic school where we had decided to send Liza.

I know. This is where I get the inevitable. “Wait a minute, you’re gay but you’re sending your kid to a Catholic school?” question. And my short answer is this: “Yes.” My relationship to my faith is complicated and it’s very personal to me, but at the end of the day it is my faith and I wanted my child raised in that faith, for even as the politics of my church turned its back on me, the prayers, rituals, and hymns comforted me at a time I needed it most. I wanted Liza to attend a school where the academics were rigorous, where the emphasis was on respect and personal responsibility, and where she could be fully a part of the school and parish community. It was absolutely the right decision for her but I was understandably nervous enough about being welcomed as a divorced mom at a Catholic school, let alone a divorced gay mom. For nearly five years I kept that part of my life quiet when dealing with her school. Kelly wasn’t living with us then and aside from a few of Liza’s friends who spent enough time with us to know that Kelly was usually around, no one “officially knew.” But as I grew to trust that the moms and dads of her friends were o.k. with the situation, and as Liza matured, I finally felt comfortable enough at the end of her fourth grade year to ask my friend in charge of volunteers for a school fundraiser if Kelly and I could volunteer together. We were greeted warmly and enthusiastically as we handed out pizza and desserts and Kelly’s joking demeanor was a big hit with the kids. That was the first time I introduced Kelly as my partner to other parents and teachers at her school. And after that we never looked back. Kelly has been there at concerts and plays and when she picks Liza up at her after-school program the teachers never have to ask what child she’s there for. Last spring, when I read of a boy in Massachusetts being denied entry into a Catholic school because he had two moms, it made me doubly thankful for the warm and supportive environment we had found at Liza’s school. This week as the start of sixth grade was upon us, and as our wedding draws closer, I let out a sigh of relief that surely the biggest coming out hurdles were behind me. I was wrong.

There’s an expression in the gay community that you don’t come out just once, you come out over and over again each time you meet someone new. I hadn’t thought until this week how that expression would also be true for my daughter until the night she burst into tears and told me how embarrassed she was that I was gay, and how afraid she was of having to tell new kids at a new school next year, how she was afraid she’d be teased for it, that when we go places as a family she wonders what other people are thinking. The rawness of her emotions slammed into me and I found myself grappling for an answer. I took a deep breath and told her that the people who matter will accept her and her family and the people that don’t are not going to be the people that matter. That we don’t live our lives in secret as if we’re ashamed of who we are, and that by living honestly and openly we are taking away the opportunity for others to use our life as a weapon against us. I told her that sometimes I wonder what people think of our family too, but then I remember how awesome our family is and I remind myself that what other people think is their business. She listened tearfully and said she was done talking about it. I gave her a hug, went into the bathroom, got into the shower, and cried. My coming out had been over 30 years in the making, but Liza had gotten dragged along on my ride and now it was finally catching up with her and it was killing me. Suddenly I doubted everything. Had I handled this the wrong way? Should I have remained closeted at her school and around her friends? I’m used to parental guilt but this one was a doozy. For the next week I proceeded to tread Ilightly and didn’t force the subject. I held my breath that Liza wouldn’t be embarrassed when one of her teachers inquired about what caterer we were using for our wedding and wished us well. Although she was a bit more scowly than usual for a few days by the end of the week we were back to sitting on the deck laughing at wedding scenarios (like Kelly’s suggestion that we have the guests greet each other by rubbing noses) and I hoped that the storm had passed at least for the moment. Kelly thinks I’m naïve to think that my sexuality will never be an issue for Liza with her friends and peers. I continue to maintain that the only way to change minds is to simply live our lives and by doing so show that there’s nothing unusual about our family (well other than the fact that Kelly likes to eat pretzels with taco seasoning sprinkled on them but that’s another blog post entirely). I know most kids are embarrassed by their parents at some point in time and I know Liza wishes I wasn’t so fat, that I could cook, and that I would never again do any show with the local teenage actors who are her friends. But I hope that she can find it in herself someday to be proud that I finally found that courage not to hide who I am. That she can be proud that I’m out.

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7 responses

29 08 2010
meghan

WORD!

29 08 2010
Carissa

Powerfully and beautifully written, Katie. I’m sure you know that Liza will come through this wonderfully, and that it is simply a fear of the impending unknown (the wedding, new school, etc) coming out. She’s a smart, good girl, she’ll do you proud, I’m sure.

29 08 2010
Hayley

I hope the barrage of questions I splayed on you when you first came out to our group weren’t too invasive, but you know I rarely hold back when I have questions (and usually don’t even realize they might be none of my business). I’ve often wondered how Liza handled your relationship with Kelly when dealing with her friends. I have a friend who, as a kid, had a friend whose mother was gay and when I asked her what she (my friend) thought of it as a kid she said she didn’t think anything — she just knew that her friend’s mom lived with a woman and they slept in the same bed and that was that.

In other news, I didn’t realize you were bad at math. Don’t know if I can remain friends with you now. 😉

29 08 2010
Debbie McLean-Weston

Katie,
You’ve got Class lady with a capital C!!
Liza will be fine with you to be there for her as you’ve been. It’s hard for a kid to face possible retribution from peers and possible adults in authoritative positions in life like teachers. Heck we all dealt with some kind of fear and trepidation of some sort or another…we all make it through.
In retrospect, I am the mother of a gay boy. The respect, love and admiration I have for my son has no limits. I watched him as a 15 year old struggle with trying to tell his dad and decide if it was the right thing to do and whether to admit it to his peers and teachers at school. ( I have much respect for the Gay Straight Alliance group at Greely . So much education and tolerance was available at school for him along with one super supportive guidance councilor ) He had never verbalized it to me but I had known since the 4th grade. It made no difference to me so I let him take his time in finding his own way. The stress of it all made Michael suicidal and put him into Spring Harbor for three weeks for one of the most intense times our family has gone through and that includes the near fatal car crash I suffered when Michael was in second grade. In an horrendous family therapy meeting his father was finally told (by me). I will never forgive the therapist he had those first few days at Spring Harbor for how he made a confrontation out of the “unveiling.” We made it through, Michael and I. I’m not sure if his dad has gotten there yet. Since he abandoned us both this past Christmas, maybe not? However Michael and I have each other as Liza has you and Kelly and a loving father. We will be fine as will you. Tough times are ahead for Michael, it will not be easy for him as you well know. I would love to wrap him in cotton batting and store him away from all harm, but that’s not possible. I’ve seen him weed through his friends until he’s down to the ones that truly care for him and aren’t hanging around just because it’s cool to have a gay person as a friend. Ones who love and respect him for the beautiful person he is. Now as a single woman who is faced with dating for the first time in 30 years, my question becomes how I broach the fact of my son’s sexual preference with dates? Michael come’s first, so maybe the first question that comes out my mouth is…”so, how do you feel about gays, gay rights, and gay marriage.” Now there is an opening line for a first date that could prove to be a killer! 🙂
Keep the faith Katie. We will all grow from the experience as well as the pain.
Deb

29 08 2010
Michael Curtiss

If you are ever at a loss for words when discussing this part of who you are with Liza ever again, just show her this. She’ll get it.

Beautifully written, as usual.

29 08 2010
Linda Newell

Katy, cyber hugs.

12 09 2010
Sue (from MT)

Katie – beautifully written, as usual, and bringing tears to my eyes!

I don’t know that this is comforting, but I’d guess this is the beginning of several years of Liza questioning and challenging. As Leah grows into her own adulthood, making adult decisions about relationships, she is more likely to question me and the choices I’ve made (including “how COULD you be married to such an a-hole?” shouted at me one night, somehow “Dad’s a complicated guy” didn’t seem to cut it). All kids need to push away a bit to define who they are in relationship to, and different from, their parents. Your job is to provide boundaries for that, and a welcoming place to come back to when they figure out we’re not really as terrible as they thought we were.

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