I’ve tried to think about how to approach this, and I’ll be honest, a few times I thought about writing back to say that I just can’t do this. I don’t think I’ve told this story to anyone. Interestingly, no one has asked the question “What was your coming out like?” There might be some that would say I haven’t yet “come out” because I live quietly since most, in fact ALL, of my friends are straight. To be honest, some of them don’t know about me.
I think to truly appreciate someone’s story, you have to have an understanding or appreciation for who they are, or who they have been. I think of my life in two dimensions: The Before Me and The After Me. The event that defines me is the moment I found myself in love with a woman. Then everything was different.
All my life, I have been a “good girl”. I did what I was told, for the most part, and tried always “to colour between the lines.” If I had had to describe myself to anyone as the Before Me, I would have said that I was boring. I was invisible. And, not knowing any different, I lived my life not really appreciating that type of existence. No one questioned my morals, or my intentions, no one looked at me with suspicion. In fact, no one really looked at me at all.
I would have been described as “boy crazy” by my mother. There was always a boy, always a “crush”. I met my husband in high school, and for the years between 15 and 33 years of age, he was my “one and only.” To this day, he holds a special place in my heart and always will. He gave me so many wonderful memories and the two most precious things in my life, my daughter and my son. As part of a married couple, I felt like I was always trying to keep up with him. I realize now that he was looking to feel “complete”. I wonder, some days, if he will ever find that. Maybe I wonder if I ever will either.
The other thing my husband did for me, was introduce me to the After Me. In our 11th year of marriage, he found himself restless, and, looking back, I see his restlessness caused such panic within me. I wanted my “normal” life — the “marriage with the white picket fence, and two kids.” He, clearly, did not. And so I found myself in a marriage that had shifted. We were rarely alone, and then, suddenly, we were in a marriage of three: him, me, and her. They tried to convince me it was “okay,” but I knew that I and my quiet little life, were at risk. Thus was born the “defining moment.” I fell in love with the “other woman.”
It was clear to everyone around me that I was off-kilter. Co-workers and family staged interventions. I was emotional, off-balance, critically unhappy. And yet, I could not stop what I was feeling. Nor could I tell anyone what was happening, because even to me, it was unthinkable. My husband moved out of our home when I was 33, and there was no more hiding behind a marriage, even a “bad” one. While I continued to live fairly quietly, he and his new girlfriend felt it was important to share why he had left. He had never liked being “the bad guy”, and this situation was tailor-made for him: his wife left him for another woman. Poor guy.
During this time, I was reading anything I could get my hands on to understand what was happening to me. Of course, the “other woman” departed for a life free of “small town”, and there was the fact that I had two children, two children that were the centre of my life, and that was never going to change. So, I was alone, searching for that wonderful world of inclusiveness — the world of lesbians who welcomed and nurtured one another. Well, folks, I’m still looking for that.
I did finally share with my brother and sister what was happening to me, and, amazingly, it did not change their love for me — it only changed my love for myself. The greatest fear was that I had not told my parents. I could not even fathom how that conversation could ever take place, so I hid from them.
Of course, now my life was no longer quiet — I was no longer invisible. Relatives and people that had known me all my life treated me differently. They didn’t know, but there was suspicion. There were rumours. And there were days, honestly, that I dreaded leaving my home. The person I once believed myself to be and the person they had always known didn’t exist anymore.
Love has an energy all its own. It is immediate, it is intense, and, if true, there is no running from it. And it challenges you — gay or straight — to face fears that live within us. Many years ago, I fell in love again, but this time with a woman who was very comfortable in her lifestyle and was well-connected to the gay community. Two challenges then presented themselves: if I was “with” her, then by association, I would be “out”, which would mean telling my parents, and it would also mean that I would be navigating a new lifestyle, one that I had avoided up to that point.
My fear of my mother is deep-rooted. She is fierce, even to this day. She had been letting me know, in so many ways (one of special note was the People cover with Ellen’s coming out — she met me at the door with it, shouting how WRONG it was that such filth was on the cover). Of course, now she is Ellen’s biggest fan. She was constantly questioning my “friendship” with my new woman-friend, plying me with questions about her sexuality. Finally, in desperation for things to be on the table, I wrote my mother a letter. Growing up, I had always found this the easiest way to communicate important, scary things to her. I was also getting pressure from my new girlfriend to live openly, and I knew I would lose her if I didn’t do something.
That line “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” — oh, how true! My mother, I think in spite, shared my letter with my father, which I had asked her NOT to do. On the heels of that, my father was diagnosed with terminal cancer and died months after. My brother and sister, while supportive of me, were angry that I had opened a can of worms while Dad was so sick. My timing, apparently, was WAY off.
In my personal and professional world, suddenly I was suspect. My morals and actions were called into question. And the Gay community was NOT the friendly, inclusive world that I hoped it would be. Suddenly, I didn’t “fit” anywhere. Not with family, not with the straight world, not with the gay world. I was in Purgatory — judged to be lacking. And waiting for some sort of redemption.
Looking back, I see that the only two people who kept me grounded and loved me unconditionally were my children. To this day, they have never blamed me for their hardships (and I know that they had them). They have accepted my partner through our ups and downs and loved us both. Without them, I probably wouldn’t be writing this right now because, to be honest, the pain and agony of this “life” would not have been worth it.
So, I continue to live quietly. I now enjoy full acceptance from my mother, but it has taken YEARS. My father, on his deathbed, let me know he still loved me. My sister and brother support me in every way, and close friends and co-workers seem very comfortable with me and my partner. But I continue to struggle. I live alone. I hope to live with my partner in the near future, but for now, for whatever reason, I need to find my footing no longer living with my children.
I’m not sure if this was the story you were looking for. But it is my story. And it continues. This might be the longest “coming out” process that has ever been. I have probably been politically incorrect a zillion times — I’m not sure of the proper terms to use. Because, for me, the journey has been about me — finding love, finding acceptance, and finding myself. I have love. I have some acceptance. But there are days when I still look for “myself”.