When I was a kid, I had a secret. Not just any old secret. I’m not talking about a crush, or getting a poor grade in a class, or getting caught writing (and misspelling) several curse words to a classmate. All of those things actually happened, and I’d have liked to keep them secret. But my greatest, deepest, darkest, most terrifying secret, one that I would rather die than to tell anyone, was that my mom is gay.
You might be thinking, “what’s the big deal?” With the explosion of rainbows on our Facebook feed over the past ten days, it certainly doesn’t seem like anything of consequence in 2015. But imagine a marginally popular, awkward, brainy girl in rural Minnesota in the 1980s with such a secret. Imagine a new high school freshman girl – quiet, slightly shy, painfully out of place – at an urban high school with that secret. Imagine a smart, headstrong, young woman at one of the most liberal colleges in the nation with the same secret. They were all me, and they were all terrified to divulge my mother’s sexual orientation to anyone.
What if they make fun of me?
What if they don’t want to be my friends anymore?
What if I’m treated differently by adults, teachers – what if they pity me?
What if they are disrespectful to my mother or her partner when they see her?
What if my boyfriend doesn’t want to be with me anymore?
What if people think I’m gay?
It’s important to make a point here. Never once did I ever question my own sexual orientation. Never once did I worry “what if I’m gay?” or “if my mom’s gay does that mean that I am too?” I have always, always, liked boys. True, I enjoy teasing my husband occasionally by reminding him that I am, after all, half lesbian and one never knows when I might switch teams. But all joking aside, that was never one of my “what ifs”.
In hindsight, I know now that my friends and boyfriends were on to me. (A girl can only use the “Kate and Allie” excuse so many times before people get suspicious. And let’s face it, Jane Curtin’s character was totally hot for Susan Saint James.) No, my close friends sensed my fear and didn’t press me for an answer. They just went along with the stories and lies I concocted to soothe my nerves. Most, certainly not all, of those friends and acquaintances in my childhood and young adulthood would not have teased me, wouldn’t have deserted the friendship, wouldn’t dream to disrespect an adult for any reason, wouldn’t have dumped me, and knew for damn sure I was as straight as an arrow.
It wasn’t until college that I came out of my mother’s closet. I met a girl whose mother was gay too and it changed my life. She belonged to a support group, Children of Lesbians and Gays Everywhere, “COLAGE.” Finally I discovered an entire group of young adults who had similar family structures as I. Some had the same reservations and fears that I did, but the majority were proud to be who they were, and proud of their parents as well.
I would like to be able to say that I was an awesome kid of a gay parent. The kind of kid who makes speeches before the Iowan congress. A kid who could tell her closest friend, fiercest enemy or a complete stranger that my mom was a lesbian without flinching. But I wasn’t. I was a coward. I was paralyzed by what I thought society would think of me, my mom, her partner, our family. I don’t have a lot of regrets in life, but this is one.
Last month’s Supreme Court decision had a profound effect on me. I am thrilled to know that my mother’s 2-year marriage to her partner of over 30 years is now indisputable. I teared up looking at pictures of my many friends and other family members with their partners – some married, some not, but all with the incontrovertible right to get married to the ones they love. I also thought about my 8, 12, 16 and 20 year old selves, wishing I could convince those girls not to be afraid because things would absolutely get better. I thought about my friends’ children and how they are being raised out in the open by their same-sex parents. For the first time I know that these kids are not going to cower like I did. They won’t need to. Because the society they are growing up in is so fundamentally changed. They’ll proudly announce their two moms or two dads at school, to friends, to their teachers, and to most people it will be no big deal. I’m not so naive to believe that they won’t have fears of their own, but they needn’t be terrified of my “what ifs.”
The life of this child of a gay person is so different now than it was 30 years ago. I don’t hesitate to divulge my once darkest secret anymore. My boys, 9 and 6, know that grandma is married to a woman, that my female cousin is engaged to a woman, and that a friend’s dad likes men. And it’s no big deal. That secret is out and it can’t be shoved back into the closet. Because #lovewins – not only for the partners in a marriage, but for their children too.