When women come out of the closest, our parents often say things like, "It's not that I'm a puritanical bigot who hates the idea of my daughter's tongue wagging in another girl's mouth, I just don't want your life to be more difficult than your brother's. He might be in prison, but at least he can get married." They say this as though Fred Phelps and the congregation of the Westboro Baptist Church spend evenings chanting outside our house about how much God hates fags, which is distracting when we're trying to drink tea and talk about our menses. And while it may be true that gays who live in South Dakota suffer from harassment or, worse, no one to have sex with, most of us are happy that we're homo. What we lose in acceptance, we gain in community. We move to big cities and progressive towns and find each other. We have gay bars and gay cafes and gay haircuts. We become accidental separatists, not because we hate straight people, but because we are finally among our own people.
When gay girls meet, our first conversation after the secret gay handshake and discussing the homosexual agenda is the coming out story. We all have it. Even if your parents like Rachel Maddow, telling them you’re gay means telling them that you aren’t just emotionally and mentally gay, you’re naked gay. You know how terrible it is to think about your parents having sex? Think about how it is for them. You’re their little girl. You giggled when they tickled you and cried when they spanked you for starting a small and completely manageable fire in the backyard. Now you’re telling them that you not only have sex, you have the kind of sex that won’t give them grandkids no matter how hard you try.
There are, of course, tragic coming out stories. One friend's mother pushed her down the stairs. Another friend's mom found the letters she and her girlfriend sent each other and then set them on fire in a stainless steel bowl. My ex-girlfriend's parents refused to believe she was gay, like if they ignored it she'd come home with a nice young man instead of me, a skinny girl with short hair who looks like a drag queen in makeup.
We've all heard stories about people losing friends and families and jobs. But the stories can also be funny. I know one girl whose method of coming out was to hide her dad's Playboys under her mattress for her mom to find. When another friend's mom caught her making out with a girl, she immediately outed her sister: Kelly's gayer! When my own mother confronted me about being homo, I asked who told her and she said, “No one. Your father has gaydar.” My favorite coming out story comes from my friend Michelle.
Even though Michelle is from Texas, her parents didn't throw their Stetsons down and spit in the sand when she came out. Contrary to my own prejudice, not everyone in Texas is a gay-bashing cowboy who boycotted Brokeback Mountain. Michelle's parents knew their daughter was a dyke before she came out. Sometimes it's clear from the time kids are young. No one, for instance, was surprised when I came out. I was the only girl in Little League. I was mistaken for a boy so often that it was less embarrassing to tell people that my name was Kyle than to explain that I was actually a girl. In a video my dad made one Easter when we kids, my twin sister wears a pink dress and patent leather shoes. I'm in a tee-shirt and snow boots. She smiles at the camera in her lacey socks; I kick a stump and ask if we can ride bikes yet.
Michelle's parents were equally unfazed; they were just glad she finally talked to them about it. It's was one of those No Shit outings. But though her family was cool with it, no one told her grandmother. This is normal. While it's important to most of us that our nuclear family is aware of our sexual identity, grandparents are different. They are old. My own grandmother is 95. It’s fine if she dies thinking that I'm just waiting for the perfect man to start mating. I see no need to put added stress on an almost century-old heart. So all of Michelle's family was okay with the gay thing except her grandmother, Memaw, who thought she was just a tomboy.
Several years after Michelle came out, she was in a serious relationship. They were living together, raising a puppy, and hanging out with each other's families. Leslie, Michelle's partner, started going to Texas with Michelle on holidays. Everyone knew that Michelle and Leslie were together except for 82-year-old Memaw, who thought it was odd that Michelle brought her roommate to Texas for the holidays, but figured they were best friends and maybe Leslie's own family situation wasn't great. She even bought Michelle and Leslie tickets to visit for Christmas one year, but the couple broke up a week before they were supposed to leave. Leslie stayed home.
Michelle spent that Christmas Eve at her grandmother's house. After wrapping presents and talking about the cousins, Memaw asked why Leslie hadn't come. Michelle made up an excuse—family obligations—but she was upset. Her grandmother probably already knew, but now she started to really know that this was not just a spat between two best friends. Michelle got up and told Memaw that she was going to the bathroom. Memaw pointed to the couch and said, Sit down. Michelle did as she was told.
Memaw looked at Michelle and said, Say it isn't so.
Well, Michelle replied, it's not so anymore.
Praise Jesus! Memaw cried, but then she saw the tears falling from her granddaughter's face. Michelle wasn't crying because she was ashamed; she was crying because she was heartbroken. And when Memaw saw this, she was just Memaw again, sad because her granddaughter was sad. Memaw held Michelle's hand on the couch and asked her what happened.
Michelle said she and Leslie had fallen apart. They were in love but, as in any relationship, love wasn't enough. After Michelle cried and held Memaw's hand for a while. She asked Memaw if she had any questions.
Well, Memaw said after a pause, What is it that y'all do? I can't imagine my sister asking me this question, much less an octogenarian, but the implications were clear. Michelle told her grandmother that, besides referring to our pets as our children, gay people do pretty much what straight people do, just a little differently.
Memaw shook her head, her stiff, blond Betty White hair barely moving. I've never been interested, she said, in sniffing butts. I mean, do you lick each other?
Michelle told Memaw that yes, sometimes gay couples do lick each other, but straight couples do that too. I would rather just have this, Memaw said, moving her index finger up and down.
Michelle told Memaw that lesbians can have this too. There are stores for that kind of thing, she said. I could take you sometime. Memaw shook her head, No, she said, but I do have some more questions.
By Christmas morning, Memaw understood not just that two women can love each other, but also how two women can love each other. Memaw got over it, and so did my parents, and so did the mom who burned her daughter's love letters and the one who had not one but two gay daughters. But even if they hadn't, we'd still have a community we create ourselves, with our coming out stories and our sex shops and our gladness for being gay.
More ridiculous awesomeness from Katie Herzog can be found at her blog, TwentyTwentyHindsight.