Coming out: It's not just a "gay" thing

by AnomalousArtist

A revealing conversation with my mother leads to a meditation on the concept of "coming out."

“I think I might like to be a lesbian,” my mom wrote to me in a recent e-mail. “Except for the ‘sex’ part. I mean, I just get along BETTER with women than I do men.”

After I pulled my jaw up off the floor I smiled and wrote back, “Sometimes I feel the same way, Mom.”

She’s changed a lot since I came out to her some years ago, we both have. The journey she has taken from being a career woman, housewife and mother to being a free-thinking, active person of (mostly) leisure got me thinking about that fact that pretty much EVERYONE has to "come out" at some point as who she or he is. Read on and I'll explain more...

Rose Meditative, c.1958
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1) Coming out is hard to do

My coming out wasn’t easy for my family or me. I actually sort of botched the whole thing.  You only come out once to your parents, theoretically at least, and I think you really should make the most of it. Instead I dropped a letter off and ran. I didn't want to discuss it.  I knew on some level they knew I was gay, and they KNEW I knew they knew...I knew...

...and so on.

I felt the only way I could I break the "beautiful" news that I had been lying about who I really was all my life to my parents was in a long, logically organized, sterile letter.

I got a similar letter back from mom very quickly; it began with, “This was the moment I’ve been dreading for most of your life.” 

That made two of us.

She didn't understand why I had to bring up my sexuality at all, why was I suddenly making her life more difficult?  Why couldn’t I just continue to “do my own thing,” whatever that was, the way I always had?  Why get her involved at all?  And so on.

I was stunned at first and ended up doing a "freeze out" with my parents that went on for months and that I regret to this day.  I credit my mom for being a lot more mature than I was then.  She finally sent me a Christmas card that read, “Your father and I love you for who you are and we always will, whatever you ‘are’ doesn’t matter. There’s nothing you could do short of taking a life that would make me stop loving you, and even that’s negotiable...”  And since then we've been closer than ever. 

2) But EVERYONE has to come out in one way or another

Mom said to me once, “I still don’t understand why you felt you had to ‘come out,’ and maybe I never will, but I don’t care about that.  It isn’t so much that I’m offended by the thought that you’re gay, I just want you to be happy and I don’t see how you can be happy in this hard, cold world if you’re gay.  You’ve had such an unhappy life, I don’t want you to be unhappy anymore.”

“But the reason I was so unhappy,” I said, “was because I was pretending to be somebody I wasn’t for the sake of everyone around me.  Now I’m starting to be true to myself.  I know I won’t always have a great time, but at least it’s better than being repressed.”

That part she got.

I know she thinks--for my sake--that life would be easier/better if had been born straight but I keep reiterating that, given the choice, I would prefer to be exactly who I am right now, and I think it’s starting to sink in.  Mom even said to me once, after we’d had another heavy discussion, “You’ve been doing this longer than I have, you have to give me time to learn all the things you already know.”

At the very least, I finally convinced my mom that, no matter WHAT it is I "am," I have to be it, and live honestly, there's just no alternative...a life lived in any form of "closet" is one that is wasted.

3) Then it was mom's turn!

Flash forward a several years to the present and that “thought provoking” comment about wanting to be a lesbian, and it’s obvious to anyone my mom has, as I said, come a long way.         

Recently she wrote me an e-mail about how discontented she was becoming with her current life.  She and my Dad retired and moved to Arizona, leaving beautiful, but rather soggy, Oregon behind. The problem, at least where my mom is concerned, is that when they moved to their retirement community they were joined by old friends they’d known for years and, having made a change, my mom decided to bring out sides of herself she'd never risked indulging before.

“Why do things have to be like they were in Oregon?" my mom wrote me once.   "I have a new life, all these new lady friends and we love to go to lunch together, golf, see a movie and laugh, and no one criticizes me or makes me feel bad the way they sometimes did before, in our old community.”  She went on to say that she feels she’s “done her duty.”  She’s been the good wife, the good mother, the good friend.  She’s put her needs aside for others, sacrificed her ambitions for those of the people around her, and did it willingly and without regret.  Enough is enough!

I’ve found that once you start respecting who you are inside, it’s difficult to turn back.

“You know what it sounds like to me?” I wrote to mom.  “It sounds like you’ve decided your need to be true to yourself is more important than getting approval from others. It’s like what I had to go through.  You’re doing your own kind of ‘coming out.’ I think everyone needs to ‘come out’ in this way at some point.” 

I got a long e-mail from my mom after that.  She wrote me in great detail how she had used my “coming out” comparison on her circle of friends and in her writing class, and how they have encouraged her to continue in the direction she is going.

4) So, in conclusion...

I’ve watched my mom blossom. Retired from the work force and her "job" being a full-time mother she is living and growing in the present, a person of today who has adapted. She’s taken a look at the world and said, “Bring it on.  I can handle it.  I can handle anything.” She inspires me to continue to work on my own self-esteem and individuality, to be true to the “real me” who I spent so much of my life trying to hide away. I find I can still benefit from the guidance my mother has to offer as a parent.

More and more it's clear to me that everyone has to, eventually, look in the mirror and say, "This is who I am and I don't care what anyone thinks about it."  You have to do it as an artist, as my cousin did when she sat down and began her own journey as a writer, or another friend did when, at 35, he decided to go back to art school.  You have to do it as an individual, as my friend did who had always run with a pack.  You have to do it in your work life as a friend did when he dropped accounting to pursue his goal of being a musician.  You have to risk judgment, failure, self-reproach.  You have to, because there's no alternative to being true to yourself!

I’m grateful that my mother has thrown open her closet doors, turned her individual light on, and keeps that light burning.  Who knows, maybe others will see her light and they’ll decide it’s OK to come out of their closets too. 

Updated: 05/12/2013, AnomalousArtist
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AnomalousArtist on 05/27/2013

What wonderful comments, thanks for sharing! And congratulations!

Gardenbella on 05/27/2013

As an older woman I have found it much easier to embrace who I am, who I am not, and who I will never be. There is a certain peace in embracing this philosophy. I think that once we reach 50, we come to realize that we are living our own lives and don't need to apologize to anyone. We have been the good daughter, the good wife, the good mother. Now I am the good woman!

katiem2 on 05/27/2013

Exactly, writing is a great outlet. I can remember turning to pencil and paper since I was old enough to write.

AnomalousArtist on 05/27/2013

That is so very kind of you to say, I'll share that with my Mom, she'll be flattered, thank you! I'm so sorry to hear about your loss, sometimes life just doesn't seem to make any sense. I think that's one of the reasons we write about things, don't you? Thanks for the comment, I really appreciated it.

katiem2 on 05/27/2013

BTW, Your mother is beautiful.

katiem2 on 05/27/2013

You know I recently lost my Mom, if was way before her time and all without a moment of illness though her entire life. She and I had a great relationship, she was a wonderful writer and we shared many a writers moment. While I mourn the loss of my own mother it warmed my heart to read about you and yours, treasure it and enjoy every moment creating as many as you can.

AnomalousArtist on 05/26/2013

Thanks you for the kind words clouda9, I really appreciate it!

AnomalousArtist on 05/22/2013

Thanks, it's one of those things you maybe don't think about until you actually do it and realize how much better off you are :)

whitemoss on 05/22/2013

Good for you and your mom ! I can certainly see the attraction of moving somewhere new and "reinventing" yourself leaving all the old baggage behind.

PeggyHazelwood on 05/22/2013

Your mom sounds really smart and enlightened! I've given up "friendships" with people I dreaded talking to or being around and do what I want. I'm much happier!

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