You’re going to hear about pride a lot this month. Now, my English professors would slap me silly for using the term inside the definition, but pride is exactly what it sounds like. It’s being proud of yourself. Having confidence in yourself. Loving yourself for all that you are – your best qualities, your flaws, and everything in between. And that’s a lot of what this month is about – the idea that we shouldn’t have to hide what makes us… well, us.
So, as it often is in this blog, today, it’s story time.
Back when I was in high school, I started to realize that – at the absolute least – I liked girls. I wasn’t sure if I liked them more than boys, and boys still had their own special merits, of course, but I was still pretty certain that I at least liked them in a way that my don’t-ask-don’t-tell-military-brat upbringing told me was probably… problematic, to say the least. I knew several of my friends who were either gay or bi and seemingly enjoying their lives, albeit on the down-low. My friends and I would gather together, and I saw that was when they could be themselves. But I also knew that none of them were “out of the closet” so to speak, which only made my new-found realization that much harder to grapple with.
There was a girl I went to high school with who made absolutely no qualms about who she was. She dressed how she wanted, dated who she wanted, and was, in many ways, this wonderful idea of what we could all have if we were just brave enough to open that door and step outside. Except it turned out that her parents were just like ours. They walked in on her kissing her girlfriend and, before the rumor mill had a chance to really get going, they “voted her off the island.” That is what me and my friends in Okinawa called it when one of the kids at school mysteriously disappeared. It meant that they’d done something – displeasing, disrupting, or otherwise unforgiveable – and had been sent back home to the states to live with relatives while their father finished his tour of duty here and told some ridiculous story about why they had to go home. Except this time, we knew why our friend was disappearing… because she called us. She was panicked, obviously upset, and in the background, her father was tossing the words ‘dyke’ and ‘disgusting’ and ‘disappointment’ around as easily as if he was talking about the weather, and her mother was crying, and she was crying, and… it was just as awful as it sounded.
And it scared the absolute shit out of me, guys. I pulled that door shut and I locked it tight until about the time I was to go off to college. By this point, my step-dad had retired from the military, and I had chosen a university for myself that was a healthy nine-hundred miles away from my family. I took a semester off after high school and moved in with my Nana to help while she went through her cancer treatments. And while there wasn’t a lot we could do, we did talk. Quite a bit. And one night, while sharing a pint of coffee ice cream and watching reruns of Monk, I just let it out. I told her the secret that had been eating at me since I was fourteen… and all she did was smile. No harsh words. No judgment. And then she asked if I’d told the rest of our family, and I panicked. Of course, we didn’t live on Okinawa anymore. My family couldn’t vote me off the island. I was, for all intents and purposes, an adult now. They theoretically had no further power over me, but my fear sure did. She promised not to tell, and I considered buying new drapes for my drab little closet. But… a part of me also held on to the tiny sliver of hope that was born when my Nana didn’t rebuke me. If she could be so accepting, couldn’t everyone else? Still, I wasn’t ready to test that theory. I had friends who were disowned by their families, friends who had attempted suicide, friends who knew they were gay and had already resigned themselves to the fact that it wouldn’t be okay to be out until their parents and any other source of backlash were long gone. And that sounded… miserable.
But the thing is… we all have our closets. We have our weird hobby closets, and our secretly-our-fave-musician-who-everyone-thinks-is-garbage closets, and our kink closets, and our disgusting-but-delicious food combo closets. But… in most of these cases, admitting the truth doesn’t come with a lifetime of extra baggage, danger, and heartache. Still, it’s important to know that there will come a time when that will matter so much less than anything else…because eventually, there will be a reason why opening that door is less scary.
I opened that door in college. See, my first semester, my now-ex girlfriend was studying abroad in London, and I had no idea who she was, but I had fallen in with her friend crowd, it seemed. They told stories about her as though she was some kind of made-up figure of legend, and even though I had no idea who she was, I found myself looking forward to meeting her. The thing about finally going off to college and making new friends was that the adult world suddenly seemed so different to me than it had the year before. Here, several of my friends were out already. They were in happy relationships, they were advocates for others. The university even had a LGBT+ support group. And yet there I sat, still considering remodels on my little closet, which seemed to be getting smaller and smaller as I continued to take up space in it.
The following semester was interesting, because I managed to get myself a weird pseudo-stalker who liked to follow me to all my classes under the guise that he was being helpful because he noticed I didn’t walk the greatest sometimes. One night, I went to a meeting for one of the campus groups I was involved in and started to tell them about my new not-friend when someone I didn’t know waltzed in, and everyone lost their minds. It was her. Last semester’s London transplant, returned from across the pond.
I learned that we had the same major, we had some disagreeing music tastes, and we even worked for the same entity on campus. In our case, this meant we were often up hilariously late even on “school nights” doing homework from our desks and chit-chatting until our respective shifts were over. We became fast friends, and we even shared a class or two. Eventually, my pseudo-stalker disappeared, and I had a friend to walk with. That Christmas, with my gran sick and unable to go home for the holidays, she invited me to her house. That summer, she invited me on vacation with her and another friend of ours.
That summer, I also found my reason to open up that damn closet door, because before I left for that vacation, I stopped in to check on my Nana. She wasn’t doing well, had lost a lot of weight, and was getting ready to undergo a new treatment. I offered to stay with her that summer and not go with my new friends, and she told me, “to hell with that. Go have fun.”
She died on June 3, 2008. The most f**ked up thing about it was that I’d had a dream about her the night before. We were sitting on her porch, and she was drinking a beer (absolutely shocking, by the by, because my Nana was a recovering alcoholic who hadn’t touched a drop of alcohol since before I was born). But anyway, we were sitting on her porch, and she was drinking a beer, and she said something to me. When I found out that she died the next day, I was understandably devastated, and started to make plans to head home early. And then I found out that things in the wake of my Nana’s death were not alright at home. That’s a story for another day, I suppose, but I was advised, “you don’t want to be here for this.” I still tried of course, but in the meantime, as I gathered up my senses and tried to grieve, I had her by my side.
Some time later, after the dust had settled, my mom called me, and we were laughing and joking and telling stories about my Nana, who was… to put it bluntly, a larger-than-life woman you’d probably never forget if you had the opportunity to meet her. So, we’re talking, and I tell my mom, “You know, I told Nana something about myself that I haven’t told anyone else.”
So, my mother’s first thought, having been a teenage mother, was “Oh shit. You’re pregnant.”
By this point, my ~friend had received my telepathic signals of horrible distress and was sitting next to me. She squeezed my hand. Instead of coming right out with it, I told my mom the story of how one of my friends had just been fired from his job out here because the owner suspected he was gay, and that I had been canned right along with him because I refused to tell our manager if he was or not, and had instead answered with, “Well, that’s none of your damn business, anyway.”
So, my mom starts to catch on. She gets quiet, and then she says, “Nova, a lot of your friends are different, aren’t they? A lot of them are…”
“Are YOU gay?”
Silence. And then: “Don’t tell your dad. I’ll talk to him.”
A crushing blow, but expected. And then: “My mom knew?”
“Two years ago.”
“…and how long have you known?”
“Since… four years before that.”
And… I’d done it. I’d thrown open the closet door. But see… I had a reason. I’d met someone. I wanted to be happy… and by now, I’d seen what that could truly be like. That and… I didn’t want my truth to die with my Nana. I didn’t want to be in the darkness anymore. I was all but convinced she’d kick my ass if I tried, just as much as I was convinced she would’ve kicked my ass if I’d cancelled my plans that summer.
And I’ll be honest. It’s not always easy. My dad hasn’t talked to me in years, and I’m pretty sure my “I’ll date whoever the hell I want, regardless of their genitalia,” declaration factored into that. My mom is an advocate in her own way, and has even joined a group offered through her workplace that focuses on helping her company and others be more inclusive and accepting. She still wishes I’d find a nice man and settle down, and after the Pulse massacre, she admitted to me that the idea of me potentially finding my happiness in another woman wasn’t what bothered her, but that “people still think like this,” -insert wild gestures toward the television- “and that makes me terrified for you.” My dad still refuses to call anyone I bring home of the same sex anything more than my friend – usually spoken with obvious disdain – and I am in my thirties now. But…
Coming out is always going to be baby steps. It’s a process that never ends, really. Every day, you have to make that decision. Do I tell this new friend? Do I be open about it in the work place? Do I out myself on social media? How do I handle it if this happens? What if this happens instead?
But the thing is… closets are cramped. We aren’t meant to live in them, and we sure as hell shouldn’t have to. That’s one of the things I appreciate so much about Second Life. It not only lets us be ourselves, but it gives us the opportunity to celebrate who we are….even if we’re still taking those baby steps. And that’s why I get so frustrated with the idea of, “Why can’t we have a straight pride month, too?” people. Because at the end of the day, you might have to come out of the closet about your weird fetish, or your Justin Beiber addiction, but this is about love. This is about being yourself at its most fundamental core, and the point is that it shouldn’t have to have a month dedicated to it because people should just be able to love who they love without the kind of fear that some of us grew up holding on to, and some of us still suffer every day. We should be able to be proud of who we are – of every single one of the bits and pieces that make us whole.
And if you’re there, or you’re getting there, or your hand is on that doorknob… or even if you’re so far back in the closet you’ve managed to find a hidden Christmas present you forgot to put under the tree last year, please just know… it gets better, and you do have allies, and you do have support, and you do have people that won’t judge you or turn you away, and you do have people who are proud of you and proud of all that you are.
[[Body][The Shops]Legacy Mesh Body Special Edition (1.3)
[Brows][Gloom.]Lexi Perfect Brow
[Hair][Doux @ Uber]Cece
[Eyes][Dotty’s Secret for Pride at Home]Pride Smokey Eye
[Lips][Top1 Salon]HD Glass Set
[Jeans][Frayed for Pride at Home]Sloane Jeans – Pride
[Shoes][MICHAN for Pride at Home]River Sandals (orchid pack)
[Bracelet][Ysoral]Luxe Set Bracelet Lucille
[Pose][Luane’s World]I lost a friend
[Tune][Pink – Raise Your Glass]