There is a photo of my friend Hannah taken during the Pride parade in Philadelphia. Her arms are raised to the heavens, the sunlight landing perfectly on her face. Her eyes are closed but she is joyous in a white tee emblazoned with the rainbow colors of Pride. She exudes the freedom of expression that all Gay Pride events represent: gathering, inclusivity, community, and ever present hugging, as we each send well-wishes of ‘HAPPY PRIDE!’. Our community and our allies are exuberant, happy to dress up, to be free. It’s the freedom of loving and being loved.
I posted the rest of my Pride photos to social media for thousands to see, glad that I could revel in a day of such happiness and solidarity. Apparently, there is a thin line of pride between affirming your identity and announcing to your moderately conservative family that you have the right to be happy loving who you want to love. But still, why ruin the illusion?
Compartmentalize. Compartmentalize. Compartmentalize.
When I was 16 years old, I kissed a girl in front of my mother. We were standing in the carpark of my Girl Scout camp when I planted a closed mouth smooch on a fellow counselor. My mother pursed her lips together and grimaced. I’d broken an unspoken boundary. For as long as I can remember, and for as much as I can remember, the idea of homosexuality was never discussed in either of my divorced parent’s households. Yet, there I stood, at 16 years old, trying to shock my mother by kissing a girl. My mother simply rolled her eyes and pointed towards the car; it was time to go.
Six years later, I wrote an essay about the everlasting impact of those summers at camp. In a few hundred words I shot out my feelings, hit send, and never thought of them again. Blindly sending words, or pictures, out into the world had become the way I approached my own sexuality: I tip-toed around it; I made grand declarations in print (and on Twitter), but compartmentalized it in my life. Secretly, I longed for approval for my openness but in reality, I never wanted to speak of my words again.
“Oh, you read my piece? Thank you. Do you think that cheese is Monterey Jack or Gouda?”
On the cusp of my 30th year,, I wrote a wine-fueled post-Academy Awards, rant about the actress Patricia Arquette. In it, I took to finger wagging at her after this backstage quote surfaced: “It’s time for all the women in America, and all the men that love women and all the gay people and all the people of color that we’ve all fought for to fight for us no. [sic]” As if Black women and members of the LGBTQ+ community had not been soldiering up for women and feminist values! Here I was, checking multiple boxes only to hear that I wasn’t doing enough to help ALL women in America. Once again, I compartmentalized. Surely, no one would read anything I had to say, and most definitely not my family. But, I hit send, and put my thoughts into the world for someone to recognize.
Each time I wrote, I admitted my sexuality to thousands of readers. But to my family, I remained a vault for unshared parts of myself.
It was early summer when I phoned my parents to let them know that my then-girlfriend would be joining me on a trip to New York, and then Martha’s Vineyard. My father is an older Black man from Birmingham, Alabama. You can tell he has seen some things, but is happy to have children thriving thousands of miles and decades past-Jim Crow. It’s through tears that I inform him that my girlfriend will be coming to Albany and I would like for him to meet her.
“Are you mad? Disappointed…?” I ask.
Dad responds: “Have you done anything wrong?”
“Then come to the house.”
My mother worried about my girlfriend’s height (she’s 6’1”) and whether or not she would be comfortable in my usual twin-bedded room at the beach house.
“It will be fine. It will all be fine.” I’m talking about the bed situation, and maybe about being gay in front of my parents with no computer screen between us.
“Good. See you in August.”
When my girlfriend and I eventually broke up later that summer, it was my mother who flew to Sacramento and took me to see a ‘chick flick.’. She supported the purchase of bright pink lipgloss and joined in when I ordered frosé. And she rubbed my back when I cried.
My sexuality has always just been there, at work and with family. And the more I have opened up about it, albeit fearfully, the more acceptance I have gained. I have watched the evolution of my closest friends and family — Believers in the highest power, strong in faith — surround me with absolute love. They have followed my journey to be and love myself, and in turn, they have extended their love, understanding, and allyship to me. But the latter is not my story to tell. My story ends with this:
The great philosopher Roland Schitt said, “When it comes to matters of the heart, we can’t tell our kids who to love”. It’s in a parent’s DNA to worry about their childrens’ happiness, and to hope to protect them from bullies and bigots. Maybe my parents wanted a simple, heterosexual life for me. But the people who raised me and whom I respect most in this world chose to protect me with absolute acceptance . And the pride I have in my family is why I will always don the brightest rainbows and celebrate my pride. Parents want as easy as a life as possible for their children. It’s in their DNA to worry and fear for their children, even as adults.