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My Secret is Out

This being Pride Month and the 2-year anniversary of the Supreme Court’s landmark decision on gay marriage, I thought it was an appropriate time to dust this one off from Spitfire Mom and repost it. Two years later I’m more than a little sad about our current presidential situation and do occasionally worry that the good work achieved in 2015 will be undone by this administration. But I take comfort in  knowing that the light and love shared since the decision will overcome any darkness or hate that its opponents spew.

When I was a kid, I had a secret. Not just any old secret. I’m not talking about a crush, or getting a poor grade in a class, or getting caught writing (and misspelling) several curse words to a classmate. All of those things actually happened, and I’d have liked to keep them secret. But my greatest, deepest, darkest, most terrifying secret, one that I would rather die than to tell anyone, was that my mom is gay.

You might be thinking, “what’s the big deal?” With the explosion of rainbows on our Facebook feed over the past ten days, it certainly doesn’t seem like anything of consequence in 2015. But imagine a marginally popular, awkward, brainy girl in rural Minnesota in the 1980s with such a secret. Imagine a new high school freshman girl – quiet, slightly shy, painfully out of place – at an urban high school with that secret. Imagine a smart, headstrong, young woman at one of the most liberal colleges in the nation with the same secret. They were all me, and they were all terrified to divulge my mother’s sexual orientation to anyone.

What if they make fun of me?

What if they don’t want to be my friends anymore?

What if I’m treated differently by adults, teachers – what if they pity me?

What if they are disrespectful to my mother or her partner when they see her?

What if my boyfriend doesn’t want to be with me anymore?

What if people think I’m gay?

It’s important to make a point here. Never once did I ever question my own sexual orientation. Never once did I worry “what if I’m gay?” or “if my mom’s gay does that mean that I am too?” I have always, always, liked boys. True, I enjoy teasing my husband occasionally by reminding him that I am, after all, half lesbian and one never knows when I might switch teams. But all joking aside, that was never one of my “what ifs”.

In hindsight, I know now that my friends and boyfriends were on to me. (A girl can only use the “Kate and Allie” excuse so many times before people get suspicious. And let’s face it, Jane Curtin’s character was totally hot for Susan Saint James.) No, my close friends sensed my fear and didn’t press me for an answer. They just went along with the stories and lies I concocted to soothe my nerves. Most, certainly not all, of those friends and acquaintances in my childhood and young adulthood would not have teased me, wouldn’t have deserted the friendship, wouldn’t dream to disrespect an adult for any reason, wouldn’t have dumped me, and knew for damn sure I was as straight as an arrow.

It wasn’t until college that I came out of my mother’s closet. I met a girl whose mother was gay too and it changed my life. She belonged to a support group, Children of Lesbians and Gays Everywhere, “COLAGE.” Finally, I discovered an entire group of young adults who had similar family structures as I. Some had the same reservations and fears that I did, but the majority were proud to be who they were, and proud of their parents as well.

I would like to be able to say that I was an awesome kid of a gay parent. The kind of kid who makes speeches about gay marriage before the Iowan congress. A kid who could tell her closest friend, fiercest enemy or a complete stranger that my mom was a lesbian without flinching. But I wasn’t. I was a coward. I was paralyzed by what I thought society would think of me, my mom, her partner, our family. I don’t have a lot of regrets in life, but this is one.

Last month’s Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage had a profound effect on me. I am thrilled to know that my mother’s 2-year marriage to her partner of over 30 years is now indisputable. I teared up looking at pictures of my many friends and other family members with their partners – some married, some not, but all with the incontrovertible right to get married to the ones they love. I also thought about my 8, 12, 16 and 20-year-old selves, wishing I could convince those girls not to be afraid because things would absolutely get better. I thought about my friends’ children and how they are being raised out in the open by their same-sex parents. For the first time, I know that these kids are not going to cower like I did. They won’t need to. Because the society they are growing up in is so fundamentally changed. They’ll proudly announce their two moms or two dads at school, to friends, to their teachers, and to most people, it will be no big deal. I’m not so naive to believe that they won’t have fears of their own, but they needn’t be terrified of my “what ifs.”

The life of this child of a gay person is so different now than it was 30 years ago. I don’t hesitate to divulge my once darkest secret anymore. My boys, 9 and 6, know that grandma is married to a woman, that my female cousin is engaged to a woman, and that a friend’s dad likes men. And it’s no big deal. That secret is out and it can’t be shoved back into the closet. Because #lovewins – not only for the partners in a marriage, but for their children too.


6 thoughts on “My Secret is Out”

  • To my Darling Daughter, all those fears you felt, all those tears you shed, were no different for me with the exception of, I was the one who was a lesbian. Realizing it, took time, giving it a name, took longer, accepting it, took even longer. I never stood on a platform, announcing my sexuality. I never marched in or attend a pride parade (and still haven’t). I was cautious, in whom I told (and still am). I was outed and lost friends (but found more because of it). After you were born, there was the fear of losing you. Anyone, anywhere, anytime, could report me to social services and you would be taken from me, just because I was a lesbian. Then someone did and that is how you became a ward of your grandparents. I don’t know who it was but have my suspicions. It’s all water under the bridge or is that somewhere over the rainbow?

    Cut yourself some slack, don’t blame the young girl for self preservation. She only did, what alot of us did 30+ years ago. I was proud of who you were then and the women, wife and mother you have become.

  • Incredible sharing! I’m proud of you Jennifer. I remember you from Steph & Sheryl when y’all were in high school. From what I remember you were a fantastic girl who grew up to be a fantastic woman.

    • Oh, Jacky, thanks so much for this! I remember you so well from my high school days with Steph & Sheryl. You were the “cool” mom! I appreciate your taking the time to read this.

  • OMG! Your family was so important to my life as a priest! Your grandparents lived near the Neuman Center where I served! They were great friends, especially your grandmother, Marge! She had to endure the problems of your grandfather! I never lost touch with her. We were both students of Vatican 2, that tried to liberalize the Church! You are a Star! Your grandmother would love your journey! Tom Matchie ps who is your Mom? Would love to call her!

    • Hi Tom! Pleasure to meet you. I think you meant my grandma Genevieve (she went by Gen). My father , David, was her 5th child. My mom’s family lived in Moorhead and Hawley. I appreciate your comments and you taking the time to read my post. Thank you so much!

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