My coming out story and how it has shaped my experience as an openly gay woman.
The pain was unbearable. I remember rocking myself back and forth at four in the morning while my “secret girlfriend” at the time jumped out of bed and ran to tell my parents something was terribly wrong. When we arrived at the hospital, the doctor on call told me the pain I was experiencing was a side effect of the gallbladder removal surgery I had the week prior. My immediate thought was, “Bullshit, there is no way this pain is normal.” After a few hours of waiting, writhing in pain in the emergency room, hospital staff booked me a room where I stayed for 10 days recovering from a serious gallbladder removal complication that required additional surgeries. During this time, I was visited by many friends and family but the only one that seemed to matter was my girlfriend that no one knew I had. Our relationship was strained because she was attending college in a town hundreds of miles away, but having her at the hospital was comforting even though it was extremely difficult to “sneak around” given the state I was in.
On my last day in the hospital, for some reason I still do not know (I can only assume that the amount of attention I was getting and the level of stress she was experiencing moved her to this action), my girlfriend told my youngest sibling that we had a secret; that we were together. She outed us. Without giving me any forewarning or telling me why. Of course, after hearing this, my sister came to me and asked what was going on. I immediately jumped on the defensive and told her I had no idea what she was talking about and that “my friend” was crazy. I thought that would be enough to convince her I wasn’t a lesbian and that she shouldn’t tell anyone. I was wrong. She told my faithfully religious parents that I was gay and that my best friend and I were a lesbian couple. At that point I knew I was in trouble. When my parents sat me down to question me, I continued to play dumb and told them that she was crazy, and I had no idea where it was coming from. This act lasted for about 24 hours. I finally told them the truth, that I was gay and that I planned to attend the same college she did. This went over horribly, and I still remember what my father said to me: “I want nothing more than to kick you out, but your mother won’t let me do that.” They were both hurt and shocked that one of their Mormon children would do something so “wrong”. I wish I could write that we were able to make amends quickly and everything returned to normal, but that would be a lie. Our family was changed forever that day and it wasn’t even my choice.
Looking back on this experience I recognize how heartbreaking it was to have the power to disclose my sexual orientation to my family stripped from my journey. I like to believe if I had been able to tell my people about my sexuality when I was ready, the way my family reacted would have been different, but I will never know that. What I do know is this: my parents and siblings love me for who I am (most days). Did this sense of love and belonging happen overnight? Absolutely not. Are we still working through the ramifications of my coming out story and other things that have transpired since? Of course!
We may argue and disagree at times but the beautiful thing about my coming out journey is that even if the choice of when to tell my parents had been taken from me, I could still choose how this experience shaped me moving forward. It would have been easy to maintain those early denials and recoil into what my parents wanted me to be, but I knew I couldn’t do that to myself. My relationship with my sexual orientation has blossomed so much since that day, I’ve grown more confident and comfortable with the knowledge that I am a lesbian and I am loved. Power and control was taken from me in that moment, but I have recreated them for myself every day since. I have chosen who to disclose my sexuality to, how I express myself, who I married, who I wanted at my wedding, and who I interact with now.
To those struggling with their identity because your power was taken from you, do not let it define you! It may seem impossible to feel empowered to be your true self but maybe we still have what we thought we “lost”. Perhaps the power we so desperately need in this world isn’t created outside of ourselves, and doesn’t just exist in one moment. Instead, maybe the source is already within us, and we can reach for it every day.
We invite you to connect with a therapist today.