Someone encouraged me to retell the following story in a post because it’s true, you never know who may read it. So, if my story helps anyone, great, if not, well I hope you don’t feel like you’ve wasted your time.
From what I’ve heard, read and experienced personally, many LGBTQ people have the most trouble coming out to their families. That would be true certainly in my case as well; my immediate family were the last to know. When this topic is delved into deeper, many acknowledge they stay quiet because the one or two family members that they most want to tell are older, some even elderly. Again, that was my reason as well.
My Mother, Grandmother and I were very close. Anything one knew, we all knew. I adore them both and I greatly admired my Grandmother. She was a women ahead of her time, as they say. I did an interview with her for an oral history assignment. At the time, I immediately thought of her for the project but I never realized how happy I would be to have a recording of her voice. She lived a hard, sometimes painful, life. She was highly intelligent, educated for her time and inclusive of all people. Looking back, if there was one person in my family that I could have confided in, it was her. She was alive and remembered when the last person of color was hung in a nearby town’s court square. During my interview with her, I asked her about that incident and to describe the changes in race relations over the years. I can still see and hear part of her answer to me; she was shaking her index finger at me as she was telling me that “them people couldn’t help the way they was born. They couldn’t help the color of their skin or the shape of their eyes.” If there was anyone that would have understood, it was her. But I was too scared.
I wanted to come out to my Mother but I feared she would tell my Grandmother. Not only would I risk losing the love and respect from one but from both. I didn’t say anything until December of 2000. My Grandmother passed away in November of that year. I hated that November day. I don’t throw that word around haphazardly, but that day, I certainly hated it. I lost my Grandmother and then I found out later that George W. Bush won the Presidential election. Hell of a day.
I had waited so only one of them would have to be disappointed in me, at least that was my thinking. So I went home to spend Christmas with my Mom and to tell her I was a lesbian before leaving. All-in-all, the storyline on my visit can be summed up with: How are you doing? How are you getting along?, Merry Christmas, I’m a lesbian, Love you, I’ll call you when I get home, have a Happy New Year.
I give my Mom credit, she took the news very well. I got a hug, a kiss and a “you’ll always be my R.” Much later, after the news had sunk in a bit, we were talking on the phone and my Grandmother came up as the topic, as she so often did. My Mom was trying to tell me that she thought Grandma wouldn’t be rolling over in her grave from my admission. She went on to tell me this story:
My Grandmother needed to go out and get a job after my Grandfather killed himself. She was innately a nurturer and healer. Her own grandmother was a herbalist and would tend to sick or injured folks until they knew it wasn’t doing them any good, then they called “Doc”, basically so he could pronounce them dead. She ended up getting a job at the local hospital as a nurses aid, that’s what they were called back then. They did all the jobs the doctors didn’t do and those that the nurses didn’t want to do, like changing beds or cleaning bed pans. My Grandmother did it and took pride in her work and her patients liked her. One day she came home from work and told my Mom about one of her patients. Now this happened before my Mom was even married so long before the terrible truth about me came about. A particular male patient was not married but he had a good loving male friend. She said that friend came every day and took care of that dying man with such loving care and grace. My Grandmother even admitted the care he gave him was better than any married couple she had seen and she was pretty sure they were ‘special.’ She never spoke a single negative word about either one of those ‘special’ men.
If I had known this story would I have come out earlier? Who knows. But not hearing this story until after my Grandmother passed makes me feel liked I missed out on an opportunity to be even closer to her. If we keep something of ourselves away from those closest to us then they are never as close as they could be.
Besides losing out on being closer to my Grandmother, I also learned not to underestimate the elderly. Seniors have lived a long time. They’ve seen, heard and experienced many things and with the exception of technology, there are few things that surprise them. Don’t underestimate them. Besides if you come out to a senior, especially over the age of 80, chances are on your side that they will forget it by the time you see or talk to them again.