Ellinor J. Karl
I came out to my mom this summer.
My grandparents on her side of the family have a week reservation in a tiny condo at a golf course community for all the rich white folks living in northern Idaho, and this year they decided to let us go. So that’s where we were. Me, my dad, my mom, and my eight year old sister, in a one room condo spending a week playing pool at the recreation center and mini-golf once. The first day we were there Dad took my sister to explore, and I figured hey, perfect timing.
“Mom, can we talk?”
“Of course, what is it?” I was on the couch, she was on the bed watching TV. Ten, maybe fifteen feet, there was a lot of space between us.
“There’s some stuff that I’ve been keeping from you and dad, stuff that’s really hard to say but I want to. So I wanna tell you that I’m gay.” I had a longer speech ready, but it didn’t seem worth it anymore.
She might’ve looked at me, I don’t know. I didn’t want to be looking at her. “I was wondering, you’d been different for a few months.” I’d been angry, I had been so angry. I was different because the Policy of Exclusion had just been walked back. I was thinking of the lives lost, and it had come up in conversation and I was so tired of staying quiet that I couldn’t anymore. I was preparing to come out, I stopped hiding without announcing it, I was ready. I wasn’t angry right then. “I’m very proud of you, this must’ve been hard, but your dad and I are here for you, we’ll help you get through this.”
“Yeah, but there’s nothing to get through. There’s nothing wrong with me, the only problem is how other people treat queer people. I’m happy with who I am.”
The first time I looked at my mom while coming out to her was as she started crying. So that was great. I thought about my dad and what he’d said when I came out to him, when I said I was trying to make it easier on her, “This is about you, it’s not your job to make it easy on her, just say what you need to and be honest and the rest is on her.” So I stay quiet until she calms down and starts asking enough to ask questions.
“How long have you known?”
“Probably about five years.”
That’s the worst part, is hearing her go silent. It’s something I hate the most, knowing that mom thinks our relationship is much better than it is, and having to break that illusion. I’m not surprised when she says she thought I’d only known for a few months, for the few months that she’d noticed something different. I’m usually so loud, so vocal, that she can’t conceptualize me keeping secrets. Having to correct her on how much she knows me is the most painful part of our relationship.
I don’t remember a lot of the rest of it. I remember her comparing my sexuality to the desire to cheat on someone, I remember the specific question: “Have you ever been… physically engaged with another woman?” which is possibly the most dehumanizing way to refer to sex I’ve ever had to hear, especially contrasted with two days before when my dad had asked if I had a girlfriend to introduce to him. And I remember after my sister came in, when she wanted to watch the cooking channel and my mom changed the channel as soon as the hostess came on screen, in a fit-and-flare dress with a V-neck, and I know she didn’t realize how telling that was.
Whenever people ask how coming out to my parents went I always say that my dad was great and my mom cried when I told her I was happy. The first time I said it, it was a joke. The friend I said it to gasped, they were so sorry that had happened, that was awful! The thing is, it was. The things my mom said to me were horrible, but I hadn’t felt anything because I’d expected it. It was easy to listen to my mother tell me that she wanted me to change who I am because I never thought she’d say she wanted me to be happy. My dad said he wanted me to be happy. I was terrified to come out to my dad. I think it’s because our relationship actually matters to me. I made myself sick with worry when I came out to my dad and all he did was hug me for three hours on the couch as I cried and told him everything, everyone who had said awful things, the friendships I’d lost, the fears I had, everything.
And all he said was “I want you to be happy.”
Well, that and “Get a wife that wants to adopt, one of you kids has to get me some freakin’ grandchildren!” but that was nice too.
I turned nineteen about two weeks after I came out to my parents, and on my birthday morning I found a card slipped under my door. It was from my mom, and it said a lot about how God is always right, he moves in ways we cannot know. I don’t remember the details, I skimmed it once and then put it in the paper shredder.
It’s always about church with my mom. I can’t think about her without thinking of church and I can’t think about church without thinking about her, because it’s her focus in life. And I used to love church, but my relationship with religion degraded in high school and it’s only made my relationship with my mom worse. And I think I could’ve saved it. There was a point where I could have focused on my faith on my own, taken a step back, gotten some space and re-centered, but I missed it. I felt trapped in church, Seminary and Young Women’s and Family Home Evening and then for college we moved to my mom’s hometown and it was Institute and Singles Ward and Sunday dinner with the grandparents and the first week the Institute President said, “A pretty girl like you will have a husband in no time!” and every single week grandpa asks, “Met any cute boys yet?” and Relief Society was about preparing for marriage and supporting your husband and before I knew it I hated church. I never wanted to hate church. I went to my parents family ward once, for a break. I was there for the only Sunday School meeting that could’ve possibly led to the sixty-year-old straight cis white man at the front of the room feeling comfortable declaring that women going to college was the work of Satan destroying the sacred harmony of families, and I was done.
No where in the church was safe. I started dressing up on Sundays just to sit in a parking lot somewhere for three hours. I didn’t tell my parents I wasn’t going to church until the Easter before I came out to them. No wonder my mom thought something was different.
In late August we had a family reunion. Two of my very Mormon cousins are married to very Mormon husbands, and they both have two kids now, one for each nine months since their marriage. I got to spend time with them at our house, along with my eight-year old sister. Something about being surrounded by playing children must make people sentimental, because in that moment I realized that though I definitely do not want to give birth, ever, I want children. Whether my wife has them or we adopt, I want a family. The playing children gave my mother a revelation too, right after they left to get ready for dinner at my grandparents she turned to me and said, “I don’t really need grandkids after all, I can just mooch off my sisters!”
“I don’t really need grandkids.” What mother has ever said that! In the history of the universe I can guarantee you that only a handful of mothers have ever said they DON’T NEED GRANDKIDS. And the way she said it, it was an olive branch, a truce. She thought she was offering peace. All I could think was how ironic it was that we could be so perfectly in sync, just in the opposite directions.