April 2018

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

NL #5: And the envelope please...

NL #5: How do you prepare for brain tumors? Come out as a lesbian--though coming out, for me, was in many ways harder.

Saturday night Ann and I celebrated our 15th U-Haul anniversary (anniversary of living together.) That means that it was also about 15 years ago that I came out to everyone I knew. It was a hard time.

The hardest part of coming out, for me, was coming out to myself. I’ve never believed in a God who creates beings to hate, so I never had the religious struggles that many gay people have. The fact that some others thought this meant I was “condemned”, I found ridiculous. Clearly, we understood the messages of the old and new testaments, the ways of the spirit and of God, differently. I thank God and the church of my youth for that hippie upbringing and the radical notion that all people are created to be loved.

Still, the notion that I had lived with myself for so many years and had not realized I was gay was hard for me. The realization made so many things clear: why I could not marry the first person I fell in love with, why I always found girls walking down the sidewalk more attractive than guys, why I felt so attached to so many female coaches and teachers, why I was so afraid that I would always feel lonely, not alone, but lonely.

I remember the only line in the final Ellen Degeneres sitcom that I really liked. Coming out to her parents, Ellen says, “Mom, Dad, I know you’ve always wanted me to be honest with you.” Her mom interrupts her to say, “No dear, that’s what you always wanted. We don’t need you to be honest.” Perhaps I was the one who needed to be honest, but I felt I couldn’t really be in relationship with these people if I was hiding an essential part of my life.

I decided that letters would be better than phone calls or in-person conversations. That way, family and friends could deal with their initial reactions and could decide what they wanted to say to me. I mailed individual letters to all of my family on the same day and then mailed letters to everyone I knew. I didn’t want any more pretending; I didn’t want to wonder who knew and who did not; I didn’t want to worry about a hierarchy of who knew first. As my letters travelled east, I received letters from both my mother and my sister asking what was going on. Each wrote that she no longer felt the closeness we had once had. This is especially remarkable in that members of our family do not as a general rule write letters to one another. Though I thought I was just hiding a part of me they didn’t want to see, I couldn’t be close to my family if I wasn’t being honest with them about who I was.

Reactions ranged: my mom called immediately and then came to visit. Not that she was comfortable with it, but she wanted to communicate clearly that her love was stronger than anything else. My dad and I wrote letters back and forth for over a year, dealing with our lives over the years in the context of dealing with my coming out--a different way of living his love. My sister was immediately joyful as she had never really liked my husband. My brother was also supportive, writing a letter saying that he understood that since I could not be with him, he being my brother and all, of course I couldn’t find happiness with any other man. Both my sister and my brother helped my parents come around and helped them to see that if I was going to be part of their lives, Ann would be, too.

Telling my family about my tumors was not so hard as coming out because I could better predict that they would be supportive. While I fell from the Christmas card lists of a couple of childhood friends after coming out, no one said “they didn’t understand” or judged me in any way when they learned I had a tumor.

When I was first coming out to myself, before I came out to everyone I knew, I felt alone with my anguish. With my tumors, without hesitation or explanation, I came out immediately to my family and my community and they embraced me. When I was first coming out to myself, my emotional system was so upset with me that I punished myself: I exercised endlessly, slept little, lost a lot of weight. With my tumors, I took care of myself and so did my partner, my family, colleagues, my community. I felt scared sometimes, but I never felt alone.

After coming out, I eventually came to trust myself and my place in the world and to believe that I could make a positive difference here. I also learned through coming out that I could face a very dark time and emerge from the darkness. I learned that I could struggle and be okay.  I came to believe that, though I could not know the future, I would not be lonely.

This trust and belief, in myself and in my community, has sustained me in this difficult time. I have been stronger in the face of both life and death than I would have suspected.

For your companionship, for this community, for being with me through it all, thank you. That's mostly what I feel: grateful. Mary


  1. I really like this one, Mary. You are very brave and wise, and your family is very cool. Thank you for sharing! xo May

  2. This is my favorite post ever. The end.

    Thank you for writing it.

  3. Thanks for sharing-I've learned a lot about you through these posts! I'm with are very brave and wise.


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