A little over six years ago, I sat my parents and sister down at our large antique dining room table in an incredibly dramatic fashion and announced that I had something to tell them, something that’d been eating away at me, eroding my relationship with them. I’d informed my sister of my plans, and she stood by me stoically.
Being gay in a small Alabama town isn’t easy. It’s not easy anywhere, really. But watching others who identified as members of the LGBT community being persecuted at my high school made me close the closet door tighter, shove a chair under its knob even. But I always knew, just like you always hear. From the time I was about eight or nine years old, I knew I wasn’t like other boys. Contact sports were never my thing, but I craved the attention boys would give me, even if they were about the tackle me because I actually caught a football (this happened exactly once, and I ran to the wrong end zone). But then we got older, and any semblance of prolonged contact was automatically suspect. Either tacit or explicit, the assumption was clear: he’s a fag.
I wasn’t called a fag until high school. I even used it in my own jeers among peers. Because that’s what you do when you’re desperate to hide a part of yourself, when you see other, prouder, braver people demoralized in front of the lunchtime crowds. I became grateful that, somehow, I passed. But everyone’s time comes due. And then you become the fag people laugh at when you walk down the hall, the fag people impersonate with overly embellished, lispy inflections and limp wrists. But you deny it; it’s the only way you know how to cope.
And then you graduate, and move away from the small town to a bona fide city, still in Alabama. There, you make life-long friends during heartfelt conversations and experiences, and leave others behind in quintessentially angsty tirades. You grow a little over the years. More people come into your life: first crushes, first exes. You realize through these experiences that who you are at your core isn’t problematic or immoral; it’s just a part of you–not the whole shebang, but a crucial building-block to use as a basis for constructing your future self.
And then you prepare to tell the people who’ve been there from the beginning, and hope they accept you. Because, during the ride back to that small Alabama town, you steel your nerves for the potential fallout–what you’ll grab and leave with, how hard you’ll try not to let them see you fall apart. You stay as distant as you’ve been for the past few years during those first few days back, trying to wrap your mind around the fact that this is it: the moment of truth.
Then we all sit down. We’re all here, at the table. And I stare at my plate. I trip over my introductory blurb–memorized for months now, but as distant as Pluto. The silence becomes palpable. I glance up every now and then to make sure they’re still there, that I’m not still in my Tuscaloosa apartment talking into the dark. And then my voice cracks at the precipice of that final phrase. But I fall in, the words following me down and out.
Silence. I look up, straight into their eyes, catch a tear or two. And I want to scream. But then, another voice breaks the silence.
“I hope you know that this doesn’t mean that we love you any less.” Mom: the champion.
Still, it takes time for it to sink in. There’re more tears and questions, and all the typical things that follow. And there’s a bit of distance. But then, gradually, there’s more acceptance and interest in my romantic life. There’s the usual prodding about “getting out there” and questions about “seeing anyone.” They express an interest in becoming more involved, educating others. They want to make a difference for others like me. They talk about opening their home in the middle of the Alabama woods to disowned, homeless, or threatened LGBT youth. They are no longer the “them” against “us.” I’m immensely proud.
And I think to myself, and say aloud, “I’m fucking lucky.” I’m out, proud, and loved.
And I love each and every one of you.