A question I will hear for the rest of my life: When did you come out? To be honest, I come out often, sometimes with more ease than others, but oftentimes I feel like the metaphorical caterpillar that is trying to find its way out of a cocoon. The only closet I’ve ever come out of is the eighty-five square foot wardrobe closet I share with my wife. I have never been ashamed of being a lesbian. If anything, I am ashamed of how uncomfortable it makes others feel. I see people squirm in their skin at the thought of two women together. There’s an awkward silence when I can no longer avoid possessive pronouns and when she and her replace he and him, it changes the tone of the conversation. They tell me of gay relatives and friends who are also gay, to validate their acceptance of my lifestyle. Christian men and women rebuke my disease in the name of Jesus to deliver me from the fate of hell.
I am 5 feet, 3 and a half inches tall, 5 and 8 inches in heels. I walk unsteadily and awkwardly until my pumps are broken in and then my hips sway in a simultaneous rhythm with my steps. Most of my clothes are form-fitting and my nighties have lace. I wear honey-colored Loreal makeup, but I will buy Covergirl nude if it’s on sale. I prefer lipstick with a little gloss and sometimes I draw my eyebrows on crooked. My estrogen is strong, my femininity compatible with the most Alpha of men, and for these reasons, I must come out often.
I came out just the other day in the express, twenty items or less line at Food Lion.
“Shopping for someone else?” the cashier asked as she put my “Happy Anniversary to my Beautiful Wife” Hallmark card in a separate bag all to itself.
“No, Ma’am.” I smiled. “It’s for my wife.”
She returned a vexatious smile and didn’t say another word as she finished ringing my items. I removed my debit card from the reader and reached for the receipt. It doesn’t bother me in the ways it has in the past, for someone to fall back into their perfect world as it was before the lesbian showed up loathed in gracelessness. I understand that many are taken aback, as my appearance must seem spurious. I don’t fit the butch image most have in their minds about gay women. The deceit is understandable. I tried to fit each bag in my hand so I could leave the cart inside on the way out. As I mastered the task and began to pull the cart behind me with one lonely index finger, I heard,” Happy Anniversary” from behind. I turned. The cashier’s benevolent smile surprised me. I returned the smile, genuinely, gratefully. Moments like these are subtle reminders of what normal feels like.
I came out at the gym around the time a 6-foot, 200-pound, all-muscle guy asked if I had a husband. “Are you married?” could have easily been answered with a simple “yes.” Instead, I had no choice but to reply, “No, but I have a wife.”
“Wait, w-w-a-what, a wife?” He stumbled over his words. “You’re gay?!” He lowered his voice when he realized he had almost everyone’s attention in the weight room. “You don’t even look gay.”
I wanted to say, “And you don’t look like an idiot either, but … do you hear yourself?” “Well, they say looks are deceiving.” I shrugged. He gave me a final once over before he walked away shaking his head.
“Too bad,” I heard him mumble before he downed his bottle of Gatorade and chucked it in the trash. Too bad for whom? I wondered.
I came out at my job after the third year of conveniently being on vacation during the annual holiday party. I probably should have mentioned my lifestyle ahead of time to prevent the surprise that would be talked about over everyone’s dinner table and instant-messaged to those who missed the party, but I didn’t. I wore a burgundy and black dress with black heels. She wore black pants and a vest with a white shirt and a burgundy tie. I thought we matched one another very well, and so did others – from a distance. Aside from eyes that quickly looked away when I caught them staring and faint whispers, everyone was very cordial. “It is very nice to meet you!” – the norm for casual introductions – were exchanged along with warm handshakes. Whether or not some or all were genuine, I will never care to know. I was out, and the following Monday they’d see a silver-framed picture of my wedding day next to my steaming cup of caramel macchiato.
I came out to my Women’s Health doctor the time she was adamant about putting me on birth control when I suggested that three children were quite enough for me. It was evident that she couldn’t make sense of my decision to take the risk of no protection.
“Are you sexually active,” she asked with slight dismay.
“Yes, with a woman,” I said, as she conspicuously processed her aha moment.
“Well,” she began as she gathered her thoughts and attempted a stab at humor, “Your chances of getting pregnant anytime soon are slim to none, huh?”
“The latter, Ma’am,” I insisted. “No chances at all.”
There are times when others are forced to come out for me. I’m not sure that I would be out at all if my children hadn’t fallen in love with my wife in the early years when she was just a friend. It was easier this way. I love my children enough that my happiness has always been second to theirs. My girls were teenagers when I had the talk that Mommy was in love with a woman. “Okay, that’s cool,” is the extent of what I got from both. Teenage talk, limited vocabulary, forced to read between the lines of their vernacular. It was cool, I found. They were happy with her, with us, as a family.
It was my son I was worried most about. There were already challenges as a young black boy among his peers of young black bodies in a middle school of mostly whites. There were different levels of challenge. One to claim his place and earn respect in the crowd of his race.
Another to prove that honor roll isn’t restricted to white children and that he could rise significantly above the low standards a lot of teachers have for young black boys. I didn’t want to add to his plate of difficulties. Children are unkind and unwilling to accept what doesn’t define their ideas of normal. I didn’t want him to be teased for having gay parents.
The first Mother’s Day I had to share in the same household was unique, as I not only received appreciation, I gave it as well. It was new to my children. My son brought home only one Mother’s Day card he made in school and handed it to me. When he had to choose at times like this, I would understandably be the one. It appeared to be a rough draft at first glance. The teacher made a mark on his well thought out card and told him to make a new one. Next to her red X over the small s next to the word “Moms,” my ten-year-old son wrote in his red colored pencil, “I have two moms.”
I have a lifetime left of coming out. A recurring reenactment of the same caterpillar wiggling its way from the cocoon, each time a little easier knowing how liberating and beautiful it is to fly.