Every so often, a video of young people coming out to their moms goes viral. You know those heart-warming compilations, right? The ones where at first it may be a little tense and awkward, but in the end everyone hugs and cries and you get the sense that everything is going to be okay? It used to be, every time one of those videos would show up in my feed, it felt like getting a heavy sack of bricks to the chest.
It must feel so good to be out, I’d think. It must feel so good to be known.
I am a 36-year-old stay-at-home mom of two tween girls. I am married to a wonderful man who, until a couple of months ago, believed he and I would grow old together. But, for years, I have struggled with the sense that something was off—that something was “wrong” with me. I was thinking about women in ways I’d never allowed myself to before. Imagining my own female body spooned around another’s, wondering and fantasizing about what that touch and love would feel like, mourning and resenting that I’d never felt it and never would.
My skin heated with irrepressible rage when Glennon Doyle and Elizabeth Gilbert left their husbands for women. How could you break up your family that way? I would sneer to myself. Who would do that to their children? Everyone was calling them brave and praising them for living their authentic life and I was seething with what I thought was righteous indignation but in reality, was good old-fashioned jealousy.
My brain produced an interesting defense mechanism: it tried to convince me of reincarnation. In my next life, I’ll do things differently. In my next life, I will be my true self.
I would drop the girls off at the bus stop and hot tears would dribble down my face on the return trip home. I would pass a gay couple in the mall and think, I’m like you, can you feel it? Do you see me?
But they couldn’t see me. No one could. I was invisible.
A heavy, suffocating dread took hold.
This dread wasn’t always debilitating—I could still smile and laugh, could still see that I had an objectively delightful life—but the dread was always present, always lurking. It lived in my neck, compressing my veins, squeezing my airway. And the more I tried to ignore it, the worse it got. What’s wrong with you? I would ask myself. Why can’t you be grateful for all you have? You made your choice—you can’t just change your mind now.
I lived this way for years, waiting for it to “pass.” But, of course, it didn’t.
When I couldn’t hold it back any longer, I told my mom first. My mother has always been a good mother. She is known in our family as the one who can soothe a baby to sleep when no one else can. She didn’t read parenting books, but she always knew the right thing to say, relying entirely on her intuition. We don’t agree on everything, but she has always been a fierce and loyal protector. I knew before I told her that she would accept that I was gay. I knew before I told her that it would change absolutely nothing about her love for me.
But coming out is still a big deal. How does one deliver this news? My family has suffered some horrific sudden deaths, so I knew better than to build the suspense with silent, choking sobs. So I just spat it out, without any preamble at all: I’m gay.
After a brief pause, the first thing my mother said was, “Well, you know I don’t care at all that you’re gay, right? Like you know that’s not even an issue for me, right?”
Yes. Yes, of course I knew. But it still made me burst into tears of relief to hear it.
I didn’t feel about my own situation the way I feel about the viral videos, though—I didn’t and still don’t have the sense that everything will be okay. Accepting that I’m gay still means I am breaking up my family. It still means I am shattering my husband’s heart. Telling him was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. He’s not a bad person. He’s a good man, and I do love him, but I couldn’t repress who I was any longer.
For him, for our girls, for me, the road ahead is filled with the heartache that inevitably comes with erasing someone’s future and asking them to write themselves a new one.
“The other side” is a long, long way away.
I am at my mom’s this week, visiting, just me. Here, with her, I am able to glimpse the potential for beauty in the truth I can finally admit to a few people. Here is where I get to take a deep breath. Here, at my mom’s house, for these few days, I get to experience what it feels like to occupy a room with my entire self present. I get to experience being in a room with a loved one who sees me—the whole, authentic me—for who I really, truly am and still loves me unconditionally.
The awareness of being accepted hits me hard—harder than any sappy video I’ve ever seen and as hard as the love that washed over me when I first looked at my babies. It is so goddamn important to feel seen. My mother sees me. She accepts me. She supports me. Her claws aren’t out, but I can feel their readiness. They’re vibrating, just waiting for someone to fuck with her daughter. She would defend me now as quickly as she did when I was a little girl.
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs says that after food, water, and physical safety, a human’s most pressing need is love and acceptance. Feeling seen might not be the thing that keeps our hearts pumping, but it is what makes the pumping worthwhile.
My siblings reacted similarly to my mom. The few close friends I’ve told said, “No shit.” So here I am with one toe out of the closet. I will probably never stop feeling guilty for shattering my husband’s hopes for our future, for breaking apart my daughters’ nuclear family, for the shock and upheaval I have yet to cause in our extended families, but I know I am making the right choice.
The only choice.
I know because, as the vision of my authentic life slowly materializes in the distance—it doesn’t matter that I can’t make out the details yet—I no longer feel anxious and depressed. I am terrified and nervous and sad for what I am about to do to my family, but the dread I used to feel, the sagging weight of hopelessness, the feeling of having fallen into the wrong life, has altogether left me.
And that’s just with one toe out.
Mom—you reacted as I expected you would, but I didn’t expect it to be so damn good for my heart. Thank you.