Shannon Hames: Because Oprah said so

Back in my closeted days, I was a stay-at-home mom steeped in a fundamental evangelical culture. I was training to become a Biblical counselor to find out what a Biblical counselor would tell me to do to cure me of being a lesbian.

My life consisted of a lot of Bible memorization, prayer, searching my heart for unconfessed sin and generally being someone that I really wasn’t. I spent a lot of time in ladies’ Bible study feeling emotionally attracted to other women being vulnerable and open with each other, then driving home feeling sinful, guilty and not blaming God at all for not “healing” me.

I lived in paranoia that someone would figure out that I was gay. Maybe they would see my DVD of “Groundhog Day” and figure out that I was hot for Andie MacDowell. Then, my life would be over.

I toyed with the idea of living in truth for the first time when I saw an Oprah show in October of 1998. The episode was “Finding Your Authentic Self ” and she and author Sarah Ban Breathnach (‘Simple Abundance’) were discussing women who long for more in their lives. Oprah kept saying things like, “What would the world be like if you were just authentic? What if you stopped wearing masks and pretending you’re something you aren’t?”

Easy for you to say, Oprah.

However, an idea was planted and I started to allow myself to imagine what it would be like if I could just be my real, lesbian self. What would my life be like if people knew I was gay (and didn’t care), I could marry a woman, have a family with her, fall asleep holding her and let her do all of the decorating so I didn’t have to?

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This tiny nugget of imaginary real estate was hidden in a corner of my mind. At night, when my work was done and everyone was fed, bathed and the house was in order, I would lay down to go to bed (even when I wasn’t tired). I would visit my imaginary wife (who looked exactly like Andie MacDowell) and our imaginary life and spend time with her doing mostly the same things I was doing in my real life. But with her, it was amazing.

I think this small act of claiming my own world in my head, where it was safe from discovery, was my primary coping mechanism for that stressful time in my life. It was a place where hope lived and I went there as often as I could – in all of the quiet moments.

About eight years ago, I went to a coffee shop with one of my best friends. I was having friendly conversation with the barista when she said, “You remind me of Shane from ‘The L Word’”. I felt the blood drain from my face and my heart began to pound while I pretended not to know what she was talking about.

Yes, I heard of “The L Word” in a doctor’s office magazine. I knew it was about lesbians and, no, I had never seen it. But I knew what it was.

Bemused, my bestie defended me. “She has always been a rocker-chick tomboy, ever since we were kids.”

But there was a shift after that. Some other woman (who seemed normal) was watching a show about lesbians, had gaydar and picked up on my gayness when I was so far in the closet I was finding Christmas presents.

I decided to do the unthinkable: I bought the first season of “The L Word” and watched the DVDs on my laptop when I took my son to football practice. I sat in the car at the back of the parking lot and watched women living openly gay lives and I wanted that life for myself. Also, the sex. I wanted that, too. A lot.

The desire in me to have a life like this grew until I finally mustered the courage to come out and be my authentic self. As you might expect, Oprah was right. It’s amazing!

I never married Andie MacDowell (although I remain hopeful) and I had to decorate my house myself. My real life isn’t like the one I imagined all of those years (except for doing the same mundane things). Still, I am profoundly grateful that those two events happened to help me get to the place where I can now happily live my authentic life.