when they hear your story.
upon hearing your story,
this is how
~ Nayyirah Waheed
It’s been over seven months since I came out.
Long enough to cry a few tears.
Long enough to laugh with inhibition.
Long enough to learn a lesson or two.
Long enough to let go.
Long enough to fall in love.
First and foremost, I’ve discovered there is nothing more important than living authentically. Nothing that matters more than choosing your one precious life and saying, This. This is who I am. This is who I’ve always been. This is how I will move forward. For me. Nothing that makes you feel as whole, as powerful, as complete, as real as stripping off your pretenses, setting aside others’ expectations, and stepping into your own skin — the skin that’s been begging for you to come home. To stay.
But that doesn’t mean the journey is simple. Or straightforward. Or without stumbling blocks.
There are those who will blame you. Those who will shun you. Those who will question your truth, your identity. There are those who will cut you with silence, with their unspoken judgment. Their non-words will hurt more than the daggers others will throw without inhibition.
I hear it so clearly — the quiet whisper of disapproval (she’s destroying her family), of doubt (she can’t really be gay), of judgment (this isn’t natural or right).
There’s a shift, slow, steady, nearly imperceptible. But it’s there. The once-friends and family who are now silent friends and family. The ones who fawn over your soon-to-be-ex-husband’s picture with his new girlfriend, while your pictures with her, your beloved, remain largely unnoticed… or deliberately unseen. You hear their message in your head: We support this traditional path, not yours. You didn’t ask us to choose, but we chose anyway. We chose safety. Security. We chose what is more socially acceptable. More comfortable. We loved you when you were half of a heteronormative power couple, but not now. Not gay. That’s not the you we thought we knew.
Social media as a microcosm of our larger society.
Internalized homophobia. I know. I had it, too. For forty+ years.
And here’s what I think: I wish you could have chosen and supported us both, as unique individuals… once a couple, always co-parents, now on divergent paths.
You don’t have to agree. You don’t have to understand. It’s taken me four decades to understand who I am… and I’m still learning. But if you were my friend before, my sexuality shouldn’t change that. My amazing daughter is bisexual. And when she told me? I loved her exactly the same. Perhaps even more. Because I have a deep knowledge now of how it feels to be you in a world that wants you to be someone else. Someone safer. Someone more familiar.
And then there are those who will love and support you unconditionally. Those who will say, Yes. This is you. This has always been you. Those who will hold your hand and your heart and your oh-so-fragile soul. Those who will say again and again and again — and always when you need to hear it most, I love you. Just the way you are. Nothing more, nothing less. Forever.
Divorce is hard. No matter the reason. And the reason is never simple. The reason is never one-dimensional. But sometimes it’s easier for others to believe it is. Sometimes it’s safer to think, No. This could not happen to me. I am not _____ (fill in the blank). Often it’s easier to point fingers, to assign blame, to draw a line and step over it, choosing, alienating. But here’s what I have learned over the past seven months: Humans are multi-dimensional and complicated and beautifully broken and tenderly repaired. And I will never, ever again judge a situation I know little about. I will not point fingers when I have heard one side of the story, when I know 3% of the facts. I will give those I love the benefit of the doubt. I will understand and accept that every individual must make the best decision for herself. And I will trust that she is the only one who truly understands the decision that must be made for her survival, for the survival of those she loves most and holds closest to her heart.
When Chris and I made the decision to go our separate ways, we vowed to be the best divorced couple in the history of divorced couples. I want to walk you down the aisle again someday, he said. I will always be your best friend. I will stand beside you through this transition. But life has a way of stepping in and altering the course. And promises made become promises easily broken. You find you have betrayed and disappointed each other in every possible way. And you hope that someday you will return to each other with white flags raised, as friends, as co-parents, as two humans who were once willing and happy to build a life together. You have to first figure out how to build lives on your own, though. That is new and unfamiliar terrain. You have to find your way to the other side before you can find your way back.
But there are these four almost-grown children. And they are kind. And open-minded. And funny. And smart. And understanding. They love their Mom. They love their Dad. There is no finger-pointing, no judgment in them. Of course, there is sadness. There is always sadness when what you thought was forever no longer is. But there is also this: a desire for all six to be happy, to be content, to have what each wants, deserves, needs.
And so you try your best to emulate them, these once-babies who are all nearly adults, wise and wonderful. You know their happiness, their security, their growth is what matters most.
You matter most, too. Because you’re the only one who will take care of you. You’re all you have left.
Except for those ocean eyes in New York City, the ones you weren’t looking for, the ones you never imagined you’d find. The ones in which you lose yourself again and again. You recall the feel of your hand in hers, the initial fear and self-loathing, the eventual comfort and acceptance, the speed at which it enveloped you. Her wisdom and kindness and support. Her laughter. That smile. Then the fall… swift, graceful, without hesitation. A welcome surrender. The totality of it. A future together. The soft skin. The thumb touching yours.
A place you were once afraid and ashamed to call your own.