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10 Years of Being Out: A Reflection

10 Years of Being Out: A Reflection

10 Years of Being Out: A Reflection

I don’t remember most things vividly, especially things from nearly a decade ago. I guess that’s why I’m a writer. Fleeting thoughts would be my downfall if I didn’t document them in the moment. My coming out story is different. When you’re queer, you inevitably tell your coming out story (or stories) so many times that they become etched inside your mind with very little effort.

My original coming out story follow suit. I say original, because since the onset of my public queer journey, I’ve realized that my identity is a bit more complex and I’m not simply gay, but a queer trans woman. Through this evolution, the importance of that first time remains the most life-changing part of my journey.

The moment was something out of a cliché-ridden TV movie. I was brooding like an anxious teen and my mom was completely oblivious. We were headed home after a volunteer event with our local Red Cross Youth chapter (it wasn’t simply an extracurricular situation; my family had always been invested in community service).

At the event, my older cousin had snappily asked one of the other volunteers if he was gay in front of a group of the other teens. It was clear my cousin was bullishly calling out the boy for not fitting into a hyper masculine mold that even he didn’t neatly fit into.

After the situation and the boy’s defensive denouncement of the idea, a gaggle of girls ran over to my mom to tell her what happened. Let’s be clear, my cousin wasn’t as regular of a volunteer as many of the other kids. Bullying like that wasn’t a typical thing in that particular group, which is probably why it was one of the only spaces in which I never really had my own sexuality called out in such a way. It also helped that my mom was one of the main parent volunteers.

As she came to grips with what happened, my mom called my cousin over and sternly chastised him for being rude and making the boy uncomfortable. And as I watched my mom come to the other boy’s defense, my own worry for how she would react slowly started to melt away. I figured, if she could be so understanding of this kid, then she had to understand her own, right?

Most of the time, I was able to allow the ignorance of my peers to flow off my back and I put on the unbothered facade that I was so accustomed to, but this time — thanks to my cousin — it was different.

At that moment in my life, I was a tense, worrisome 14-year-old that had been trying to gather the courage to say something about their identity for months. I hadn’t planned to come out to my mom that night or really any time soon after. But I knew when we got into that car that I had to say something.

My mind quickly traced back to the things I had read about coming out on teen forum posts and 101s. I wasn’t off to a good start. I told my mom, while she was driving, in the evening and while it was raining. A few guides had actually advised against coming out while the other person is doing certain things (like driving) for fear of them freaking out. The little faith I did have told me that she would be able to at least maintain her composure.

On some level, I was aggravated that I even had to say anything. Yes, I’m against stereotypes and I know queer folks come in all sorts of packages, but it just would’ve been easier. If people who didn’t even know me well could see that I was different, why couldn’t my parents? I fit damn near every gay boy stereotype that you can think of. I was what my peers called sassy, I walked with a different gait and the way I sounded was undeniable. These were just a few of the millions of things my intuitive peers picked apart.

I worked through this carousel of emotions as she listened to the radio and drove along. My eyes alternated between staring at the rain-soaked windshield and looking at my hands in my lap. As we got closer and closer to the main road to our house, I knew I was running out of time. It was now or never. I stuttered as the words tripped out of my mouth.

“Mama, I have something to tell you,” I said slowly, “But I don’t want you to hate me because of it.”

I choked on the last two words and the tears immediately came. I didn’t have any resolve to hide my emotion behind a poker face. This was my ever-understanding mom, after all. And I knew if I was going to appeal to her, emotion would be my saving grace.

“It’s ok, baby. You know you can tell me anything,” she responded, with the emotional deftness that she always carried with her.

I went back and forth, as I’m known to do, speaking aloud the pros and cons of telling her. Within minutes she said, “Well, you seem to want to say something. I don’t know why you’re fighting it, Suga.”

She called all three of her children “Suga.” She still does to this day. It lives amongst a colony of other pet names she’s thrown out over the years. That spark of warmth pushed me to take the plunge.

“Ok ... well, I’m gay,” I said bluntly, and soon the explanations I’d come up with over the years flowed out rapidly. “It’s not really something I’m confused about. I’ve known since I was really young. I was just afraid to say anything because I didn’t want you and Dad to be disappointed or hate me for it. It’s not really something I can help even though I’ve tried.”

If my mother was shocked at all, she didn’t show it. She asked the typical questions of how I knew I was gay and why I hadn’t told her sooner and listened to my responses. She asked me to vow to not tell my dad until I had graduated from high school because she didn’t think it’d be good for our relationship while I was still home. I initially agreed, but that deal never panned out. I ended up telling him a year later, but at the time — just having her know was important.

In the ten years since I originally came out, so many things have changed. The most glaring, of course, is the nationwide legalization of marriage equality. On the day it was announced, my mother texted me, “Did you hear about the good news?” And it brought tears to my eyes.

Witnessing her growth has been beautiful. When it was time for me to come out as trans, it was a no brainer that she would be the first in my family to know. However, I was lucky this time to have the relationship to share with her all of my gender feelings along my journey to womanhood. Her support was instrumental in showing me the power of authenticity.

The confidence I gained from that first coming out followed me when I came out as trans in college. The taste of freedom I had when I no longer had to deny who I was showed me that life is only worth living if you can live it 100 percent at all times.

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Raquel Willis

A black trans queer feminist media maven. A proponent of all things equality.

A black trans queer feminist media maven. A proponent of all things equality.