28) Coming Out
It had been a month and a half since my eye-opening experience at Lauren’s house, and since then, I had graduated high school and spent the first few weeks of summer finishing the first two seasons of The L Word. By now, I felt I had done my due diligence--I was pretty sure I belonged in the LGBT community.
I figured the next step was to come out of the closet.
I wasn't too worried about it. People expected this kind of thing from me. I had already lived abroad on my own, I was an outspoken "atheist," and I wasn't even going to college right away. Announcing to my peers that I was now "bisexual" would only add to my mystique.
I think I settled on the term "bisexual" because it seemed a little less scary than "lesbian," the former being a flowing, Latinate word, the latter a harsh, Greek one. Maybe "bisexual" seemed like more of a gradual transition, one that I could renege on later, if I needed to? Maybe "lesbian" didn't seem honest at the time, since I had had several, very shallow courtships with boys in the past and even lost my virginity to a boy last fall. For whatever reason, I went with "bisexual."
Telling my friends was easy; telling my parents was proving to be more intimidating. My dad probably wasn't going to be able to wrap his head around it. He was a pretty masculine guy who only had daughters, and he was always hugging my mom mischievously, saying things like, "Hey girls, wouldn't you like to have a baby brother?"
My mom would just roll her eyes playfully and shake her head "no way," while my sister and I squealed, "Yeah!" I'm sure my dad was eager for us to marry so he could take his sons-in-law hunting and fishing and make up for lost time.
I'm not sure why I was nervous to tell my mom. She's the gentlest, most accepting woman I know, and she was always supporting my crazy schemes, like going to France or taking a gap year. And even though she was Catholic, she had never expressed any dislike of gay people. But still, since it was her own daughter, I didn't know if she would have an unexpected emotional reaction to this kind of news.
I spent weeks waiting for the right opportunity to tell them, individually.
One night, I was sitting on the couch with my mom, discussing the plans for my gap year. Once we had gotten a few things squared away, there was a natural break in the conversation. I figured this was my moment.
"Mom, can I tell you something?"
I heard my own voice quiver.
"Sure," she said, slightly concerned.
"I’m. . ."
I started crying.
"I'm. . .bisexual." I cried harder.
"That's okaaay. Oh, Sarah. . ." she responded, scooping me into her arms. She seemed relieved, like she had been expecting something much worse.
I was sobbing, but why? I think I had been more nervous than I even realized, nervous that she wouldn't love me the same, that she wouldn't approve, that she would think it was gross. There might have been something deeper than that--something about that cry reminded me of being in the confessional--but I couldn't really put that into words.
"Do you think it's bad? Like, a sin?" I asked when my tears had mostly subsided.
She spoke softly: "Well, whenever they've mentioned it at church as being bad, they reference the Bible, but. . .I never really thought the Bible was talking about people like you."
She figured God was probably just condemning the real lecherous gays, not the ones who were sincere and pursuing love and a committed relationship. I was relieved, as well as a little surprised. Until then, my mom had never mentioned that she privately disagreed with a teaching of the Church.
It was a bonding moment for us. She held me on the couch for a long time.
A few weeks later I got the courage to tell my dad. My dad is a little harder to nail down long enough to have a deep conversation on a serious topic, and not just physically. Even if you happen to be sitting in the same fishing boat with him for several hours, he will still find a way to wriggle out of a conversation he doesn't like with a combination of awkward silence and either updating you on the latest reading of the depth finder, or erupting in obscenities over that fish who stole his bait before he could set the hook five minutes ago.
Aiding him in his pursuit of the uncomplicated is the fact that he's hard of hearing from years of loud, manual labor and firing guns without ear protection, which is for wusses, I guess.
One night, he was watching TV in the garage in his classic pose: leaning back in his beat-up office chair, bare feet resting on the table, hands behind his head. I sat on a stool next to him. We had been talking very briefly and sporadically moments before about something or other, and now his eyes were fixed on the TV.
I took a deep breath.
"Dad. . . I just wanted you to know, I’m bisexual, meaning I’m going to start dating girls."
His eyes stayed glued to the TV. He didn't move a muscle. I wasn't sure if he heard me.
I waited for about ten, long seconds, then I got up and went back into the house. I went downstairs and started watching LOGO, my new favorite Direct TV channel, to sooth myself. I was a little freaked out that he hadn't said anything, but I was glad the announcement was off my chest.
About a half an hour later, my dad came downstairs.
“Come here and give me a hug.”
I got off the couch, smiling. I let him envelop me in a big bear hug.
“I love you."
“I love you, too, dad.”
And that was all that was said.
The person I was the most worried about telling was Mr. Paulsen, my choir director, even though I ended up telling him while school was still in session, before I told my parents, since I didn't know when I would see him after the school year was over.
At that point, Mr. Paulsen was my main mentor and practically a supplemental parental figure. I really valued his opinion, and I didn't know what he was going to think of my news. But I just had to tell him since it was the truth. The last thing I wanted with him was a shallow friendship where I'd have to be shifty about who I really was.
On one of the last days of the semester, I hung around his office after school. We got to talking, which was normal for us. Then I told him about being bisexual. I'm pretty sure I teared up again. He took the news in stride but was definitely pensive the whole time I was talking.
“Do you still love me?”
“Of course I still love you,” he said very seriously, with a smile.
“Will you still come to my wedding someday?”
“I will still go to your wedding.”
Ah, sweet relief.
I was free. All the major players in my life were in the know, they all still loved me, and I knew they'd still be there for me if I needed them.
For anyone else I wouldn't have the opportunity to tell in person, I commissioned my little sister, who was pretty excited about this new label of mine, to be my “Outing Fairy” and gave her permission to tell anyone she wanted, including members of our extended family, except maybe my Catholic grandma, and my sexagenarian Catholic Godparents.
I spent the rest of the summer planning and preparing for my big adventure of a gap year, all while pondering whether or not I should post a letter to my French teacher before I left Fargo.