I was very nervous about coming out to my oldest daughter, then 11. This was a new feeling for me in the coming out process, the nervousness. Aside from my best friend, I didn’t give a shit about what people thought, and fortunately, coming out was very easy for me. But with my baby girl, it was different. I was worried about what she would think. I continually asked myself the same questions: Was I subjecting her to unnecessary pain? How will she feel about having to defend me and the legitimacy of our family to her friends and not so accepting others? Will what I have taught her about compassion and acceptance and universality be enough protection against the ignorant, self-righteous and quick to condemn among us? Should I wait until I’m out for at least a few years before I tell her? But then it’ll be like I’m hiding it – hiding me – from her. I didn’t want her to think that it was something to be ashamed of. I was really stressing about it.
As mothers, though we try to carve out an identity for ourselves beyond motherhood, we worry that our actions will cause added stress and trauma to an already crazy, unpredictable life. My overarching goal as a mother is to decrease the amount o time my children spend on the therapist’s couch. They have a crazy mama; I didn’t want to put them through more.
Chicken and I didn’t have the best relationship. She was a grandma’s baby – paternal grandmother at that. After grandma, whom she called mom even though I was always there (which is a completely different story about me and my ego), was her dad, and then me. Me, who carried her for 9 months, labored with her for 20 hours, breast-fed until my nipples bled, swallowed her baby puke. Third place: the one who made sure she got into the “good” pre-k, elementary and middle schools. Last: the one who struggled through undergrad and low-paying jobs until I graduated so I could move us from the tiny attic apartment where they sold drugs outside and bodies were found behind the dumpster, to the nice little suburban two-bedroom only 10 minutes away from her father’s mini-mansion. Those 11 years were filled with the ebb and flow process of two young, self-conscious spirits getting to know themselves, and each other. Our close, bonding moments are memorable, but most times, we just didn’t connect. In my mind, I was trying to do everything right, but it wasn’t working.
One day I read a quote from Banksy’s Wall and Piece: “A lot of mothers will do anything for their children – except let them be themselves.” Sometimes you read or hear something that hits the very core of your being. I realized that the foundation for our struggle was me wanting her to be someone she was not. Me wanting to feed my voracious ego so I could say I was raising what I thought of as the “perfect child”. I wanted a bookish, introverted math and science wizard who penned stories and plays for fun. Chicken is a video game head who loves to watch scary movies and make music. It wasn’t her; it was me. Once I accepted these truths, everything changed. I realized that she is not here to be what I want her to be. She is not here to be what her father or her grandmother, or any of us want her to be. She is here to live her life, not my ideal of her life. As her mother, I am here to guide her, to show her through my own freedom what loving yourself and living your truth looks like. At the end of the day, this revelation led me to take the step to come out to her.
After weeks of thinking and over-thinking, I sat her down. I took a deep breath and explained to her that I was in a relationship with another woman and that we loved each other, like boyfriend and girlfriend. We’d previously discussed queer relationships, so she was familiar with the concept. I told her that I’d had feelings for women for a very long time, but was afraid to tell anyone. I decided that now was the time because I was tired of hiding my true self, and I wanted her to know, because I didn’t want us to keep secrets from one another. There was a long pause, and when I asked her how she was feeling, she said it was “kind of weird,” because it was different, but that she loves me and wants to see me happy so she didn’t really care. Then she proceeded to tell me about a boy in her school that she liked who kept ignoring her.
And that was that. No tears, no “you’re ruining my life, you big gay mom!” outbursts, nothing. My issue was a non-issue. She took it all very well. To my relief, I had again misjudged and underestimated her. Lesson learned. Time passed and life resumed as normal. Just to be sure she wasn’t harboring any resentment, I approached the topic a few more times after that. I always got various versions of: “it’s really no big deal, mom.” Maybe all those talks about loving and accepting people for who they are really did sink in – imagine that.
Every now and then, I have to stop and do an internal motherhood inventory. I ask myself what I am teaching my children about life and love. What I am showing them as a mother, as a Black Queer Woman. And my hope is that I’m showing them that the freedom to love who you love is worth fighting for, worth the risk of being socially outcast and rejected by your family, and ultimately, worth dying for. And that loving someone is just an extension of who you are. The point is to always be all that you are. I hope that I’m showing them to love themselves, to fight to be themselves with no apologies and no explanations. I hope that they are learning that although I am here for them and I love them and I love being their mother, I am not here to live for them, through them, nor they through me or for me. I have my own path that I have to follow and following that path awakens the joy inside of me, and when I can allow that joy to flourish and manifest outwardly, it has a positive impact on the way that I mother. It reminds me to allow them to do the same. I want my girls to be strong healthy, self-affirming women. And the best way I can do that, is to be that. In the relationships I have, both romantic and other, in the decisions I make, and in the life I live, I hope to show them that being Queer – however they choose to define it – is empowering. It is revolutionary.