♥ 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, October 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.
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
This 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™
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- What’s your preferred gender pronoun?
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…
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