By Johnny Trlica
Commentary: No matter how you identify, be proud of who you are.
“Coming out — whether it is as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer — STILL MATTERS. When people know someone who is LGBTQ, they are far more likely to support equality under the law. Beyond that, our stories can be powerful to each other,” reads a statement from the Human Rights Campaign.
National Coming Out Day is Monday, October 11. If you haven’t already, are you ready to take the plunge? Will you make the leap and come out to your family? Your friends? How about your co-workers?
Making the decision to come out is a very personal one. Each person must weigh the consequences of the decision and be prepared for the fallout. While my story may not be unique, I feel it is important to share it and maybe send a little courage to one of us still struggling.
Since my mother and I were so close, this story focuses on coming out to her.
As a child, I liked to play house, dolls, and have tea parties with my sisters. I do not recall Mama ever discouraging me from doing so. I loved helping my mother rearrange furniture and grow flowers in the front yard. (Never got into the cooking thing.)
I was often ashamed when laughed at by neighborhood kids for my effeminate ways and queer voice. It’s a feeling I relate to with my mother, who was born with a cleft palate and frequently had her kids speak on the telephone for her, fearing the other party could not understand her due to her speech impediment. Perhaps we had an especially close bond because of this.
As an adolescent, I developed feelings of being “less than” others and grew more introverted. I chose to stay home and take refuge in TV rather than socialize with my siblings and peers and subject myself to further ridicule because of how I walked or talked. Beginning in junior high and continuing throughout high school I was constantly trying to walk “more like a man” to prevent the other boys from mocking my swish as they did others of my sort.
My mother made it easy for me to come out. Apparently, she understood that I was gay, long before I did — something I discovered when I decided to come out to her when I was 18. I lived in an apartment with a female roommate, mistakenly thinking I was fooling people. I had always been uneasy and scared about people finding out my “terrible and shameful secret,” not being comfortable with my sexual orientation at that point in my life.
I’m not sure why I decided I was ready to come out to Mom, but it was probably because I had been with someone for the first time. Perhaps it’s because I knew deep in my heart that she would not reject me. She always used the phrase “unconditional love” when referring to any of her children and now was the time to test her on that. I had heard horrendous stories about other gays who were rejected by their families when they came out. I never fathomed that happening with me. I also thought that maybe she already knew and was just waiting on me.
So, finally one day I decided the time had come. I would tell Mama my secret. It was on a hot summer afternoon that we sat at the dining room table and after the initial small talk I said, “Mama, I have something I need to talk to you about.”
Her response both surprised and relieved me when she replied, “I think I know what it is.”
And at that, I was out! What liberation! I could tell she was happy I had finally trusted her enough to be completely honest with her about my truest self. She said she’d known since I was a kid that I was different and assured me it didn’t matter to her. She said, “I just want for you the same thing I want for all my kids — that they are happy.”
My mother and I enjoyed a healthy and happy relationship until she succumbed to cancer in 2006.
Unfortunately, not everyone has the same experience as I did when they come out to the family. There are teenage LGBTQ+ kids walking and living on the streets of Montrose because they made the decision to come out. Whether that was the right decision for them only they can answer.
Making the choice to share your true self with others can have unpleasant consequences and therefore that decision must be made carefully. It can also be very liberating!