Category: Restorative Justice

Lesson 9: Coming Out — Not Just a One Time Event

♥ Part of the Series 35 Lessons at 35 Years of Life ♥

With a commitment for bite-sized + deliberate action today, tomorrow, and every day that I keep putting one foot in front of the other to create what I believe in.


Wednesday, OctobNational Coming Out Dayer 11th marks National Coming Out Day!

Hindsight is 20 / 20

What I wish an elder queer folk would have told me, though I’m quickly reminded why this was not so—secrecy and shame, what I would now tell a queer (the spectrum of LGBTQIA—lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and ally) young person is that your experience will not be a one-time event. Instead, there’ll be THE first time that you will never forget. And then, the initial letting all the key people in your life know that will make it easier to know who’s got your back for you to stand in your Truth and keep living your life. However, due to our heteronormative culture—you know, the one that normalizes the relationship / marriage between a man and a woman as the only option—it will likely feel like a mini coming out with each introduction.

This is what I wish I could tell myself and share as wisdom to my younger LGBTQIA sisters and brothers. What follows is a peek into the progression of my coming out journey over the last 16 years.

The First Time Coming Out

I had my first coming out conversation with my mom over the phone on a cool May evening after the end of my freshman year of undergrad. I write about it in my master’s thesis Triple Threat: A Black Lesbian Student-Athlete in Search of Additional Black Lesbian Student-Athletes, in which I share this:

[When] I came out to my mother I hesitated to tell her the mixed emotions I had been feeling and continued to feel, but I knew in the deepest part of my soul that the feelings were not going away. The feelings engulfed me and there was no escaping them. However, I still wondered…could I really be attracted to other women? Will my mother disown me? Is the timing right or should I wait until I am completely sure. Ultimately, in spite of the short amount of time I had been concealing my emotions and actions, I wanted…I needed to share them with my mom – my best friend – the whirlwind of emotions and fears I was experiencing so that she could be my rock as the whirlwind continued. The conversation went something like this:


Jillian: Hi, mom! What’s going on?
Mom: Nothing, what are you doing?
Jillian: I was just calling to talk. I’m feeling really lonely and I miss you guys [her and my sister].
Mom: Well, what’s going on?
Jillian: I have something I to need to tell you, but do you want me to tell you now or when I come home in a couple weeks for your birthday?
Mom: A couple of weeks aren’t going to make a difference. Tell me now.
Jillian: Well…well…I’m…I’m…
Mom: You’re what? Just tell me…
Jillian: I’m…I’m… (This back and forth occurred for what seemed like half an hour until finally my mom said…)
Mom: C’mon, Jillian. It can’t be that serious.
Jillian: I’m…I’m…I’m gay.
Mom: I knew you had been acting weird lately. Not saying much when we talked…what’s been going on?
Jillian: Well, I have feelings for #*&^2, and it has become more than just friends.
Mom: I tried to tell you #*&^ was gay. Are you sure this is not a phase?
Jillian: No. Do you really think I would have had such a hard time trying to tell you?
Mom: How do you know?
Jillian: I’m pretty confident this is not a phase. My attraction towards #*&^ is not going away, and it all makes sense to me now why I have always felt uncomfortable on every level – emotionally and sexually – being with guys.
************************************************************
I could go on and on about the various twists and turns our conversation took that night, but by conversation’s end I had realized my mom had no plans of disowning me. In fact, she told me she still loved me, that I would always be her daughter, and that she was proud of me.

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t think she was completely happy with the situation, in fact I know now that all she wanted was to create an easier life for me and she felt that by claiming to be gay and acting upon it would lead towards a more difficult existence – similar to what she and my dad faced as an interracial couple in the late 1960’s – in the often cruel and disheartening society, the United States. After hanging up with my mom, I let out a sigh of relief knowing I had done the right thing and then immediately started to cry uncontrollably. Although it is hard for me to go back to that exact moment, I know that all I really wanted that night was the comfort of my mom’s embrace to physically feel her unconditional love. Instead, I was forced to find comfort in myself.

Note: “#*&^2” is a reference to an individual. I chose not to insert a pseudonym for the individual I am referencing – I felt it was important to note that understanding my sexuality was not tied to another individual – as I don’t want anyone to try to assume some significance to the name I picked nor was there any significance to the number or type of characters used.

Seeking Comfort in my 20s + Early 30s

The need to find comfort in myself became a theme during my 20s and early 30s. This pivotal moment to courageously act and speak my Truth ignited a desire to reveal and unravel my identity. Maybe this is the moment when I set on the path to love myself the way I dream and deserve or what I have now framed as Love Yourself like a Mother! with Intentional Justice

Since I have told a version of this pivotal moment along with my interpretations of what followed, the story crystallized when I worked for a small LGBTQ-focused nonprofit in which part of my job was sharing my coming out story. Doing so marked a time in history for I as an individual and our collective history as I shared my experience with young adults as they crafted their own to share with their peers and adult educators. The magic and messy of this work is that I was supporting courage and vulnerability when I too was being asked to do the same to stand more and more upright in my Truth. Both sadly and surreptitiously this work ended due to a shift in funding toward marriage equality for which I can now proudly say I am a beneficiary.

While much of my 20s was a highlight reel of adventure, love, and growth, the transition into my early 30s marked the experience of coming out as it relates to the beginning of our conception journey and systemic oppression as it relates to my body and being deemed infertile by the medical profession. In turn, then becoming a privilege in which I could access medical services via my employer-based insurance. While there is much more I can and will say about the experience and journey of becoming Mama J, for now, my inner circle of mean girls are triggered, who are saying that I created this situation for myself.

Coming Out: Truth or Life Choice?

While I remind myself that’s my internalized oppression talking because what I know to be true is that I made the decision over 16 years ago to stand in my Truth and I will continue to do so as an act to bring visibility to same-gender love, same-sex marriage, and the creation of our two-mom queer family. I am proud of who I am. I am proud of who I have become. I am proud of what we (my wife + I) have created. The result, so much JOY and so much LOVE!

I recently found myself compelled to respond to a Facebook post by a college friend that focused on men being the leader of the household and making the final decisions in a relationship / marriage between a man and woman and the interplay of Christianity. I had this to say,

It requires a man, which is not the only way. While I recognize this is where we disagree, it’s important to note the differences in family structure and the dominant narrative of patriarchy that rules most religions. I am proud of who I am with no shame or fear of “sin.” With love, a married Black queer mama + wife 🌈 

While I Iearned the post I had responded to was connected to a previous post, this was noted after this sentence, “I completely respect your life choice.” There it was. The reminder or passive shame that I had chosen this path. I have learned to not take this personal. There’s no one but everyone to blame for clutching to the dominant narrative. I could have said nothing, which felt easy and then I was reminded of the numerous young people I have encouraged to speak up, so I thoughtful responded with…

I appreciate you for respecting my choice, and I will push back that the only choice has been to stand in my Truth instead of living a lie. I would say the goal of marriage is to live an intentional life with love and healthy boundaries as equal partners, regardless of gender and sexual orientation. From my experience though, equity ebbs and flows and is often experienced as a give and take. In lovelution…

Co-Parent & Wife in a Two-Mom Queer Family

img_0059This is what coming out now looks like as a 35-year-old Black queer mama and wife. Now as a two-mom queer family, each new interaction is an opportunity to come out. In fact, just last week while dropping off Jaylin at preschool, a kid that I later learned is in Jaylin’s class, asked this:

Kiddo: “Are you her mom?”

In response, I shared, “Yes, I’m Jaylin’s mama. She has two moms.”

The kiddo responds with “Oh, I met Jaylin’s other mom.”

“Great, he’s got it and he’s 3 or less.” I thought in my head.

By asking this question, this boy was breaking the down wall. One brick at a time.

By standing in My Truth and coming out to this boy, I removed a brick as well.

This is how the wall of injustice will fall, brick by brick.

Intentional Justice™ in Your Life

So I ask, what brick or …

bite-sized + deliberate action will YOU take in your life today to create an environment in which ALL LBGTQIA individuals feel supported to take the courageous act to come out?

Not sure? I give a few tangible next steps below.

3 Steps for Intentional Justice™

  1. Words Matters: Language matters. Kiddos notice. They pick up on what you say and they hear. This is not simply my experience, yet backed in research. Here are my top 2 suggestions to shift your language to be more inclusive:
    • Use parent instead of assuming mom and dad. This goes for forms and in conversations.
    • Ask the parent or child what they call one another. This takes away the assumption and allows for the individual to name it for you.
  2. Book Selection: We love books in our house! We have been intentional from day one to include books that reflect our families reality, as well as includes the spectrum of diversity. Here are my top toddler books for expanding the conversation of family structure:
    • Mama, Mommy & Me + Daddy, Papa & Me
    • How to Make a Baby
    • What Makes a Family
    • Families, Families, Families
  3. Asking Qs (aka questions): If I was to name one rule, it would be simply to not assume. I know our assumptions are based in what we expect from a category or group. By instead being curious, you are inviting an opportunity to learn something new:
    • What’s your preferred gender pronoun?
      • While not connected to sexuality or family structure, this Q allows for the individual to express their gender as they identify.
    • What do you call your parents?
    • How do you address or speak about various family structures?
      • A question I will be exploring as a member of the school communities I am part of currently.

While I could probably think of a zillion more bite-sized + deliberate actions, this is post is much longer than I plan, so I pause for now to invite you to consider:

What step above will YOU take for justice in your life?

Already know? Tell me in the comments below It’s where the magic happens. And if, you…

In lovelution…

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Too Close to Home: Thoughts on Domestic Violence, the NFL & Much More…

I am a survivor of domestic violence.

What follows are my thoughts based on such an identity, position, and worldview.

While the physical scars have long faded, it’s undeniable that the emotional and psychological scars that remain. Specifically, I know all too well what fear feels like on a regular basis. The out of your control ambiguity causing you to be hyper-aware and make decisions of your every word and action to not set the other person off, which can be a constant moving target. As a child growing up in this environment it often felt like a carousel of highs, lows, and so-so moments all in one day or week. Now after various forms of therapy (I cannot emphasize enough the importance of mental health and how addressing my own has aided in my intentional-driven life that I now frame as a lovelution.), this cycle of violence felt more like a hamster wheel that I could never get off until it came time for me to leave for college when I finally felt in control, free, and safe.

While this is the first time I have written publicly about this dimension of my identity, I can no longer remain silent about a topic—domestic violence—that is too close to home. I was hopeful when our country was highlighting (though in a sensationalized way) the intersection of entertainment, masculinity, and violence just a few weeks ago. However, in the time that it has taken me to gather my thoughts, it seems the gravity of the various situations that have surfaced have since faded with the official start of the NFL season.

Ultraviolet_Response to Ceelo GreenEven though the emphasis has been placed on the microcosm of sport and specifically, the NFL; about a month ago, the focus was on Singer-songwriter CeeLo Green and his outrageous tweets justifying rape. Since I will not give space for the misogyny of women here on this blog, I will instead share the UltraViolet info-graphic to continue to raise awareness.

The point is that women (and girls) are under attack not just in the U.S., yet sadly, worldwide. Thank goodness there are intelligent and powerful women (e.g. Oprah, Lisa Ling, Alicia Keys, Beyonce, Chimanada Adiche, and the list could go on…) that have and continue to bring voice to this continued cultural and societal norm. All of this is to say, I feel uniquely positioned to weigh in on this current scenario involving sport and domestic violence.

For those unfamiliar with the series of events that have led to Ray Rice’s indefinite suspension, I recommend viewing this timeline.

Janay Rice Instagram Statement_140910

Click to read

First off, my hats off to Jason Whitlock*, who’s commentary—Airing Rice video assaults wife again—got it right in terms of the media’s role in creating the nightmare that Janay Rice (wife and then fiancé of Ray Rice) mentions in her recent Instagram post. I start here because reading his words and in particular, those shared by a friend of his, who also identifies as a survivor, finally put into words what I struggled to name days or even months ago when the first video of the incident was released.

Although I cannot begin to understand the experience of why as women we often choose to stay in these scenarios for indefinitely or far too long [see #WhyIStayed for further insight], I recognize without judgment that the complexity of self-esteem, shame, control, guilt, trust, blame, and love is difficult to untangle. This is what I see when I read Janay’s statement. I feel a deep sadness for her, not just in what she and so many experience, yet that it’s all playing out publicly.

Seeing these videos triggered for me a replay of my own experiences of observing and experiencing violence at the hands of my father. I know all too well that the system is full of red-tape and that a formal charge is not needed to validate or end the experience of violence. In fact, often from my experience involving the police just fueled the fire for the cycle of shame, guilt, and control to continue. While I’m still undecided if it’s our employer’s responsibility to hold us accountable for our personal actions resulting in disciplinary actions, I can’t help but pause knowing that San Francisco 49ers player Ray McDonald will be able to continue to play with no consequences until charges are made for allegedly beating his pregnant wife (see the latest here).

What?! Sigh…

I recognize I have mentioned only two of the prominent incidents that have recently surfaced and that such cases are not mutually exclusive with professional football players. The truth is that I’ve been feeling quite ambivalent about football (and professional sports in general) even prior to these recent events. And now, I have even more reason to not spend my precious time watching football and showing my support of the NFL, which is the same sentiment I shared when the Oakland Raiders called me about purchasing tickets this season.

Instead I advocate for the NFL (as well as ALL while, male and economically-privileged professional sport organizations and owners) to use their social position and economic power to assist in shifting the public’s thinking to create a form of restorative justice—that focuses on the rehabilitation of offenders/perpetrators (guilty or alleged) through reconciliation with victims and the community at large—versus turning a blind eye on the topic (see article). I share the sentiments of my friend Sheneka Williams, who recently posted the following comment on Facebook:

I will advocate for the NFL to examine the correlation between aggression and their players. I will also advocate for therapy for NFL players who have deep rooted issues. These issues are prevalent in childhood, but they are ignored because of the individual’s athletic skills. We see this every day in Little League. So, let’s take this back to K-12…

That said, I WILL choose to boycott the NFL this season, who in my mind has made a clear stance of protecting women’s breasts (just think about their clearly visible support of breast cancer) over the physical safety of women (and those who are associated with their organization, yet fail to bring them a profit). I recognize this might seem like an oversimplification, yet the point is we all have a choice as citizens and consumers of the world what and who we will support in our everyday action.

 Click 2 Tweet:
In the end, there’s always a choice. ~ Unknown

What will you choose?

Please share your comments below and TAKE ACTION: Sign UltraViolet’s petition asking for key NFL Sponsors to drop their support!

In solidarity,

Jillian Sig with Heart