…and it was such a positive experience that I will look back on it whenever I am discouraged!
Emma and I have been friends since we were born. Our families were friends. We went to church together. We grew up making mud pies in the rain, spending long summer days searching our houses for secret passages (because we were absolutely convinced there was gold our parents weren’t telling us about!), writing and acting out ridiculous skits and recording them on cassette tapes, and packing backpacks full of food and water so we could go on a “hike,” only to call my dad when we were about a mile away from home to come pick us up. (The secret passage thing was an obsession. I remember unscrewing a bathroom cabinet from the wall to see if there was anything behind it, crawling into the fireplace to see if the chimney was connected to anything, and jumping off the ice box in her garage to catch the string that opened a door to the attic. None of these yielded any results, but they did result in some pissed off parents!) Point being, she’s one of my oldest and dearest friends.
In high school, we diverged. I became a repressed Catholic while she went through normal parts of growing up – rejecting the idea of God, experimenting with “alternative” clothing styles, losing her virginity to her boyfriend, coming out as bisexual. You get the idea. My hyper-religiosity led me to believe I should “show her support” by listening but not condoning any actions I felt constituted “sin.” Blah, blah, blah.
Unfortunately, I responded in a way I am not proud of when she came out to me. She told me she had a crush on a girl and I told her she was just doing it for attention. I said I still accepted her as a friend and loved her but I couldn’t accept her lifestyle. (If anyone says this, it’s bullshit – either they accept the whole you or they don’t accept you at all.)
As time went on and various girlfriends (and boyfriends) came and went from her life, I began to see how harsh my reaction had been, how my words had hurt her even though she still talked to me and considered me a close friend. A few years later I told her I was sorry for being a jerk and that I was proud of her for being brave enough to tell me. She was overjoyed to have my support – but my support was shallow.
When I went off to college and starting hanging out at the Newman Center and acquired a posse of Catholic friends, she urged me to be more vocal about my support if it was real. She posted LGBT-friendly messages on my Facebook wall and tagged me in posts that would have branded me an ally. I kept un-tagging myself and hiding the wall posts, hoping it would be subtle enough that she wouldn’t notice. I was worried my new Catholic friends would see and think I wasn’t such a great Catholic after all.
The last relationship Emma had with a girl, a few years ago now, was a destructive one. I met the chick once, and wanted to knock some sense into those pretty blue eyes. I wanted to tell her, “If you hurt my friend, I’ll hurt you.” But I didn’t. Emma and I grew further apart, and by the time I moved to Chicago, we were barely talking anymore. Not out of any animosity, but out of laziness. Now I regret not being there for her when she needed me.
So. As soon as Mark dumped me and I moved back in with my parents, I immediately thought of coming out to Emma. She is, after all, my only queer friend. But needless to say, my heart was filled with dread as I imagined the response I deserved. Not only had I reacted like a close-minded judgy bitch when she came out to me, I also refused to acknowledge any support for her in front of anyone for a long time. Shit changes when it affects you personally, doesn’t it?
We’d hung out 3 times since I moved back, and every time I made up my mind to tell her, I chickened out. Besides, she’s with a great guy now and has a baby with him. She has a lot more on her plate than “OMG my BFF is into girls!!” I felt kind of irrelevant by that point. Still, I felt I owed it to her. After all, she’d had the courage to tell me years ago, so the least I could do was be honest with her.
So finally I did it. I texted her and said, “I have something to tell you, can we hang out?” and she said sure, come over anytime. I was shaking with nervousness by the time I got to her house, and all the wine in the world couldn’t calm me down. Emma sensed this.
“You have to tell me now, I’m curious,” she prodded. Her baby daughter was making faces at us. “Are you pregnant?”
I shook my head. “Definitely not!”
She laughed. “OK, well then, if you’re not on drugs…What is it?”
Suddenly I panicked. I hadn’t thought of how I was going to say it. Not having a label for myself makes things a little harder too. (Otherwise you can just say “I’m gay” and be done with it.) What was I going to tell her? “I like girls”? LMAO. I had imagined the apologizes that would come flooding out of my mouth, the hug I hoped she would give me, the story-telling that would ensue. But not how exactly I would come out. Come out…That was it!
“I should have told you in there,” I said, pointing to the baby’s room where we had just changed a diaper and discussed the painting she was going to do on the walls. “There was a closet I could have come out of.”
She stared at me. Just stared.
“Say something!” I said desperately.
She exploded in laughter. “WHAT?! That was the LAST thing I expected!” She said she found it more likely that I was a heroin addict. She said there was no way in hell she would have guessed that.
I started laughing, and we didn’t stop for about 3 minutes. Then she demanded to know how it happened, how I realized I wasn’t straight. And surprisingly, her story wasn’t too different from mine.
“That’s how it always starts,” she said, smiling. “One day in high school I walked into class and saw this new girl. She was hot. I started thinking about her a lot. Nothing ever happened between us, but it all starts with noticing.”
When she came out to her parents, their reaction wasn’t any better than mine had been. Her mom had yelled, “God doesn’t accept you this way and I don’t either!” Even though her mom now denies ever saying this, Emma says these words cut her deep.
Her advice? “Don’t even think about telling your parents while you’re still living with them!”
Later on, Emma got up from the couch and starting digging through a box full of papers. “What are you looking for?” I asked.
She pulled out a folder stuffed with envelopes. “These,” she said. “I want to see if I still have the letter you wrote me when I came out to you.” Oh shit!
I wanted to hide under a table. We spent the evening going through that folder, filled with letters we had written each other and notes we had passed during church, reminiscing about our many years of friendship and all the crazy shit we’d been through together. And we never found the letter, which means it upset her so much she’d burned it. This is both a terrible thing and a great relief.
At the end of the day, coming out will show you who your real friends are. I’m happy to say Emma is one of those people who will always love me, even though I probably didn’t deserve her friendship for a long time. She’s an incredible, resilient person and a wonderful mother. And I am lucky to have her in my life. Don’t take others for granted.