I came out as a lesbian twenty-one years ago. I was nineteen years old. I told the people closest to me, one at a time. It was a positive experience, for the most part. There were lots of questions, of course. I was surprised at how surprised some of my loved ones were. I was a tomboy growing up, playing sports, wearing dirty clothes with holes in them. I hated dresses as a child. Still did as a nineteen year old, when I declared myself a lesbian.
So why some of my loved ones were surprised by my revelation, is astounding. Denial is fierce.
Last night, something happened that made me feel nineteen all over again. No, I didn’t try to buy beer with someone else’s ID who looked kinda, sorta, like me.
I came out to a loved one.
It started out as a typical Friday night. I was on my recliner, watching the Sox game. My sister’s kids were over. My seven-year old nephew was laid out on the couch next to me, my niece in college was working on her studies at the kitchen table behind me, and my other niece, twelve-years old, slid onto the recliner with me.
“Do you like girls?” she asked.
It was a casual question. There was no tone. Just a straight-forward, no-nonsense question. I was caught off-guard. This niece, as do all of nieces and nephews, has known for years that I write lesbian novels, and that I have a gay friend with whom I go to gay bars. But they’ve never asked if I was a lesbian.
I knew the question would come up soon. They’ve asked me other questions bordering the, “Do you like girls”, “Are you a lesbian, Auntie?” question.
“Auntie, why do you write lesbian stories?”
“Lesbians need to read, too, right?”
“Auntie, so you go to gay bars and watch boys kiss?”
“Yes, I do. And that’s okay.”
“Auntie, aren’t you afraid someone’s going to think you’re gay?”
“No, because being gay is okay.”
Maybe you’re wondering why I didn’t just come out and tell my curious nieces and nephews that I was gay. They were young – nine, ten, eleven years old. I didn’t think they were ready to know. Or maybe I wasn’t ready for them to know. Whatever the case, I didn’t volunteer the information, but I swore I would answer honestly if they ever directly asked if I was gay.
“Do you like girls?” my niece asked.
I tossed my head back. “Why would you ask me that? No, I don’t like girls.”
“It’s okay if you do. I respect gay people,” my niece responded.
I went back to watching the game, not believing that I had just lied to my niece. I did exactly what I told myself I wouldn’t do. I was not expecting that question at that moment. I was unprepared. In that moment, I wasn’t ready to tell her the truth.
When she got off the chair with me, I replayed in my mind what had just happened, and I knew I couldn’t keep things as they were.
Later, we were practicing our dance routine to Ed Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud,” and I pulled her into another room.
“I’m sorry for lying to you,” I said.
“When?” she asked.
“When I told you I didn’t like girls.”
“You like girls?” she asked.
She smiled and jumped in my arms. She squeezed her arms tight around my neck. “I’m so proud of you! I love you so much.”
It was a beautiful moment. My twelve-year old niece is proud of me. I have to laugh at that. When we left the room, and joined the others, we went right back to where we left off. She didn’t treat me any differently. Being gay is really no big deal to her.
Later that night, we were watching the movie Signs, and she jumped onto the recliner to snuggle with me at the scary parts, like she always does.