The year was 1996. Jerry Maguire was out in theatres, bangs were in, and my life was about to change…or shall I say, begin. I was just starting my first year of art school and had an on-again, off-again boyfriend. I also had a very attractive best friend who was exploring her sexuality and who’d begun flirting with me. It all started innocently enough; a few jokes, extended glances, light touches; all on her part. It quickly escalated to full-blown sexual innuendos and what-ifs. It was very erotic and honestly, it freaked me out. Coming from a family steeped in homophobia, I myself had no biases against gay people. I just didn’t know any…yet. I naturally assumed I would live a “normal hetero life.”
I recall high school girls telling tales of how having sex with boys made them feel like they were finally women. I hadn’t felt the same way. In fact, I often wondered when I would feel the way they described. What I felt was that something was inherently wrong with me.
It was a typical Friday night hanging out with my bestie. We scored ourselves a bag of weed and a few beers and decided to stay in and chill. We weren’t of legal age to drink so there weren’t many options. What started out as typical quickly turned into an eye-opening experience and I was not prepared for what was awaiting me. My “boyfriend” dropped me off and was planning to pick me up after I’d paged him (pagers, I know, right!) later in the evening. His name was Phil.
After a few drinks my friend lit the joint we rolled and that’s when it happened. She playfully asked me if I had ever been shotgunned. When I replied I hadn’t she pulled me close, inhaled the smoke from the joint and pressed her mouth onto mine. Then…she blew. My lips went numb and my whole body shook. I don’t recall the smoke entering me as I had graduated to more mature desires at that moment. I was a woman!
The vibrations continued and that’s when I realized my pager was going off. My friend looked down and said, “Phil’s paging you.” I replied, “Who’s Phil?” And that was that. Like a Siren on the rocks of Scylla, she lured me in with her sweet song and I was never the same. “You had me at hello”, I thought. “You had me at hello.”
Spoiler alert: Our relationship progressed – she freaked out – I realized it was more than an experiment for me – she went back to dating guys – I became heartbroken over the loss of both our relationship and friendship and fell into a deep depression. I spent the next few years trying very hard to be “straight”. I didn’t want to be gay. I already felt like a misfit most of my life and I longed for love and acceptance.
It was difficult for me to accept the truth. For a long time I blamed her for “making me gay.” Looking back, there were several real-life context clues that told a different story. For instance, most of the guys I dated or were attracted to were very feminine. I opened doors for them and paid the bills. I’d often get reprimanded in school for looking up girls’ skirts with the boys in class. Also, my favorite porn was titled, “Where The Boys Aren’t”. So it was never her fault. I was simply projecting my pain.
The year was 2001. After years of denial, self-destruction, self-hatred, and living with so many secrets, I was finally ready to come out. I was afraid to tell my mom and family, however, so I sought out a therapist who could help guide me. She was an older Jewish woman who didn’t mince her words. I spent the first session with her deflecting and avoiding and right before the 59th minute I nervously said, “I’m gay. I don’t know if that’s relevant or not, and I don’t know if you’re okay seeing gay clients.” She looked at me with sadness and said, “Dear, that isn’t only relevant, it’s everything. And my daughter is gay.” In our time together, she not only prepared me to come out, she helped me to accept the parts of myself that I was still struggling with. There was a plaque behind her chair, the same one now hangs in my living room. It was a quote from Hillel that read:
If I Am Not For Myself, Who Will Be For Me?
Being Only For Myself, What Am I?
If Not Now, When?
The last line resonated – – “If Not Now, When?”
The year was still 2001. I’d been in therapy for almost a year and it was time to come out. I was on my way to have dinner at my mom’s house, where I planned to tell her. I choked on my words most of the evening and when it was time to leave I still hadn’t been able to say it. We stood on her porch and as the conversation lulled she asked me if something was wrong. I told her that I needed to share something and was afraid. She asked, “Are you pregnant?” I said no. She then asked, “Are you gay?” And I said yes. And while relieved that she said the words I couldn’t say, I grew terrified of her response. She was silent as she looked up into the sky. Those few seconds felt like an eternity. I wondered what she was thinking. What profound thing would she say to me? Would she disown me? Would she tell me I’m her favorite child? Will this change our relationship? She finally turned her gaze away from the stars and looked at me and said, “I don’t think I could ever eat pussy.” I laughed and cried a little and said, “You don’t have to.” In my head I was thinking, “THAT’S what you were thinking about?! I spent all that money on therapy for THAT?!”
I was so relieved. She told me she was happy that I wasn’t pregnant because it would be hard to be a single mother. She also said she didn’t care that I was gay, that she just wanted me to be happy, to find love.
It did change our relationship. It brought us closer. A week after I came out I took my mom to Donny’s for our first hang together at a gay bar. A woman came over and bought us drinks while we played pool. A few minutes later my mom pulled the front of her shirt down a tad, showing a little cleavage. I asked what she was doing and she replied, “I’m getting us another round.”
She’s been in my corner ever since. She even wrote to the CEO of Barilla pasta and told them she would never buy their pasta again unless they stopped their hatred of gays. That’s huge for an Italian woman.
I often tease my mom, telling her she’s really gay because she loves rainbow everything. She teases back by saying, “You know, Chris, you gays don’t own the rainbow.”
Oh, but, we kinda do…
Happy National Coming Out Day to ALL. You are loved and not alone. – xoxo