I have been attracted to women for as long as I can remember. It came naturally to me, just as naturally as breathing. There wasn’t a time in my life that I actively chose to like women, it simply is who I am.
I do remember thinking this attraction was a terrible thing. Everything about it was awful. I had my own internal homophobia about being gay. I couldn’t fathom how any of this would look. Even the simple stuff—walking down the street holding hands with my partner—seemed disgusting to me. I had never been around gay people and the ideas in my mind of spending time with my family and my girlfriend sounded terrifying. I tried with all of my might to talk myself out of it. I was certain I could convince myself to like guys, if I just tried hard enough. That felt less extreme than accepting who I am. I went so far as to act on it—I dated a guy and professed my love to him, thinking, “Surely this will do it.”
But dating a man felt as about as exciting to me as lighting myself on fire. There wasn’t an ounce of connection or chemistry. Of course, I liked him as a person and I was desperately trying to convince myself that I loved him, but I didn’t.
The opportunity presented itself to connect with a woman. It was amazing to show up and feel seen and heard. After that validation, there was no way I could fake it again. It took a year of living with my partner to gather enough courage to even start thinking about telling my family. As soon as the thought would cross my mind, the fear of their rejection would come over me and I would immediately dismiss the thought of ever telling them. My plan was to continue to live far away from them and lead separate lives. They never had to know… right? Until the day came that the burden of living inauthentically was too much. I had to say something, no matter the cost.
But how would I go about it? The thought of telling my VERY Catholic family that their daughter, granddaughter, niece, cousin was gay was unfathomable. I felt full of shame for being in a relationship with a woman and I was certain that I was going to hell for it. I couldn’t continue the lie even though the prospect of being disowned by my family felt like a noose around my neck. Maybe I was going to hell, but at least I was going to be truthful.
I plotted it out; I would drive from Florida to Vermont. I would tell my Grandmother first. She was like a second mother to me. I was close to her and there had never been anything that I couldn’t share with her. She always listened and I had never felt judged by her. She would hear my confession, we could discuss it and then she would be by my side when I dropped the bomb on my parents.
So I did it—I drove to Vermont. I arrived at her house. I tried to say it and then decided to ask about dinner. As each moment passed, I could feel the noose around my neck tightening. Opportunities arose for me to say something, and I let each one of them pass. My palms were sweating, I felt nauseous. My entire life was on the line.
Finally: “Gram, I’m gay.”
Her response came without any thought or hesitation, “You are going to hell and don’t you ever tell your father.”
Needless to say, this response was not part of my plan.
I’m not clear on what happened after that other than I left. I had stopped listening to everything after I heard the words: you are going to hell and don’t you ever tell your father. I got myself out of there, drove to my parents’ house full of fear, shame, self-hatred and the terrible reality that what I had sensed would happen all along actually did happen. I was rejected.
Based on that reaction, from the person I thought for sure would support and accept me, I went back into hiding. My shame and self-hatred skyrocketed and so did the drinking and drugs to drown it all away.
If I could tell my 21 year old self something from my perspective today, it would be very simple: It’s OK. It’s absolutely OK to be exactly who you are. The way people react to you is not about you, it’s all about them and who they are. Shaming and hating myself will render no peace. Peace is stepping fully into who you are, all of you. Owning who you are and walking through the world from that space is where the peace resides.