Sunday, September 30, 2012

And Then There's Coming Out of the Closet...

Coming Out has a special meaning in the GLBT community...its a phrase filled with anxiety, fear and tension for many of us. Some people are militant about being Out. Others choose to be in the closet for their entire lives. Many others choose paths that that steers a course between the two...Out to some people - friends or family - but not out to others - friends or family. Some keep their lives totally private from their place of employment or worship. I have seen people pressure others to come Out, and other people point out that in some cases, the damage caused by coming Out can be more detrimental than beneficial - to both sides. There are some who will Out other people, taking the choice out of their hands. (and not all closets are necessarily GLBT closets, either.) I have from time to time been in several various closets in my life, a few not GLBT related...and been Outed once. That's a tale for another post and another time, save to say it was a horribly damaging thing, and did harm.

I am Out of the closet as GLBT with my brother and his wife, and I also have a nephew who was sharp enough to spot it (really, it doesn't take much! Argh!) But we have long and long been in the closet with my parents, for a number of reasons. Or maybe rather, for ONE Dad.
My father just turned 85 this year. I was born when he was in his thirties, and that has put an interesting age skew with us...he is more the age a grandfather would be, then a father. He is an incredible, loving man and he has been a wonderful father, friend and mentor to me all my life. However, there's a reason, or are reasons rather, that I remain closeted to him as gay and/or transgender.

That would be because he is a conservative fundamentalist individual who, as he has aged in the last decade, has become extreme in his beliefs. He has never been particularly tolerant in his views and outlook...but he has moved in his old age to being extremely paranoid, vehemently prejudiced and basically is a fundie, right wing, irascible old coot who can be very hard to live with. Politically, he is a wingnut Birther conservative, and religiously he is convinced Armageddon will occur tomorrow and buys into every single conspiracy theory that goes by him, irregardless of whether or not there is any proof of said conspiracy. He absolutely refuses to let a fact get in the way of a good opinion, and when he gets going on a political or religious rant - or both, which he can combine very nicely - there is really no talking to him. He also can be very judgmental, and his love can be very conditional.  What makes this so confusing is that he often behaves very differently from what he on one with someone, he can be enormously respectful, thoughtful and would not dream of applying what he believes in the abstract to a person individually. We mostly at this stage of our lives limit political discussions, and when they cannot be avoided, I bite my tongue...A LOT.

A huge part of his sharpness and anger and paranoia simply comes from fear of change. He has always had a fairly rigid personality that has been resistant to in his 80's, his veiws and opinions are militantly set in concrete. Some of it may have some basis in mild cognitive decline with age as well.

And he is very homophobic. He said to me one time in a memorable conversation that Gays were the reason God had turned his back on America....and then at the end of the same conversation, asked how Dreamweaver was doing, and said that he and mom sent their love to her. It left me banging my head on the nearest flat surface. Repeatedly. Mom and Dad have accepted Dreamweaver with open arms from the very beginning. They have welcomed her, loved her, called her their other daughter, insisted she be invited for holidays, and family reunions. And the words, Gay or Partner, or Wife have never, ever been spoken. EVER. For to say those words would be to change the entire dynamic. Whatever internal process or reasoning in Dad's subconscious that allows him to lash out at Gays on the one hand, and yet still love and accept Dreamweaver into the family with such love - well, its balanced on a knife edge. And the word "Gay" could destroy that balance fatally for him. (I can't even begin to figure out where he would be with me being transgender!)

My Mom is a different proposition altogether. She is smart, savy, and doesn't miss a damn thing. She is also profoundly committed to unconditional love for her children, and will listen without judgement. She may or may not approve, but she would never, ever cut off a friend or one of her children or turn love into bitterness or division. We have long said that whatever Dad may or may not know about us, Mom has nailed it in one, she's just never said anything. She has to live with my Dad and his political, religious views and rants, God bless her.

So, our reasoning has always been that, given the precious love and acceptance we have with my parents, that "coming Out" was not necessary. We are included in the family and treated as a couple, and putting a name to that could destroy that relationship we have with my parents and my Dad, in particular. A clear cut case of when Coming Out could actually cause more harm and damage than good. And that meant not telling either of them, because we have felt that it was an unnecessary burden for Mom to carry, as a secret from Dad, and not fair to ask her to do that. Even when I have wrestled with whether or not to tell them, Dreamweaver has advocated that this was the best way to go, in terms of dealing with them, that we should cherish what we have with them, as it is. Of course, this also means we have lived in some fear and trepidation of discovery from some secondary source - its a rather interlinked community I live in. Which is one of the concerns of being in the closet in the town you grew up in.

However, all this came to a explosive moment in time this past February, when my sister in law who is friends with us on Facebook contacted me and said Mom had decided to enter the 21st century, acquire a laptop and join Facebook. We are rather Out on our FB, blatantly so. Um. So, there's my sister in law suggesting she unfriend us so Mom won't trip over us on her friends list and wall, there we are checking privacy settings and looking in dismay at some thousand odd posts and comments about GLBT issues, Pride flags, articles on transgenderism and so forth and all of us freaking out. My Dad does use the computer in the back study in a limited sort of way, for email and playing solitaire, but he regards the Internet as a necessary evil where something might jump out of the blue and eat his computer, and Facebook is Satanic. Which has been a distinct relief, as we've never had to worry about him tripping over us on line. He can barely figure out how to run his email, he could not copy/paste if his life depended on it, and I am just as glad not to have him sucked into the world of conspiracy theories on line, its bad enough as it is with his books and print publications! But it does mean that we've never had to worry about him. Mom on the other hand...oh boy.

And my calm, rational Dreamweaver, who for almost 9 years has advocated for not coming Out, has pointed out the good things about our relationship with my folks, and that we did not need to say the word, as long as we had the reality behind the words; who has always said that Coming Out or not Coming Out has nothing to do with whether or not you love your partner, went ballistic on the spot. The gist of what she said was that she did her best to live her life authentically, she wasn't about to shut down her whole FB page or the way she posted on it just because of this, that this put my parents on her territory and she flat refused to be my dirty little secret and I had no right to make her be so.

Actually, she was yelling all this at the top of her lungs. It was sort of a "Who are you and what have you done with my Dreamweaver?!" moment. I expected to see her head start spinning around 360 degrees at any moment. I couldn't get any words out, I was so shocked. I just stood there with my mouth hanging open.

After a couple of go rounds and escalating repetitions, with me mostly managing to intelligently interject "But....but...but...", we finally went to sitting there stunned and speechless on my side of the bed, and Dreamweaver lying on her side with her back very pointedly and eloquently turned to me, and loudly not saying anything. So, I sat there. And then I did the only thing I could do.
I reached over, picked up my phone, and dialed my parents number. Dreamweaver, of course had no idea who I was calling or what I was about to do, initially, so she was still turned away fuming, eloquent shoulder blades and all...

....right up until I said "Hi Dad, I need to speak to Mom."

Dreamweaver levitated about three feet straight up, spun in mid air and landed sitting bolt up right, eyes shocked wide open, mouthing "NO! No! Wait, WAIT, HOLD IT!" at me frantically.

Frankly, it was hilarious, after the fact!

I waved at her to desist and said to Mom, when she came on the line that I really needed some time with her, just us, her and me and could we maybe go to lunch together sometime the following week. She said she would love to, we set up a time for the following Tuesday, restaurant to be named, and I got off the phone....and turned to see  Dreamweaver going "But...but...but..."! I just said that she was right, and it was time to call the charade off and Mom and I would just have to figure out what to do about Dad. If she felt he didn't need to know, all well and good, but if she felt she did have to tell him, then we'd have to weather that as we came to it. Dreamweaver, reluctantly agreed.

So, the following Tuesday, I went out to Mom and Dad's, already to pick her up and go out to dinner. Now, my mom has limited mobility due to a severe chronic untreatable back issue and uses a wheel chair and a walker - which since I drive a van, posed no great trouble to getting around. And I was going to let her pick the restaurant because she would probably choose one nearby, and we could watch our time and her stamina as to how long she could comfortably sit. And despite my colossal case of nerves, I was looking forward to one on one time with her which I seldom get, since detaching my Dad from her warrants dynamite. So I got there and hit the immovable object - my dad.

My Dad immediately began saying that Mom was not feeling well, and not up to going out, and he would gladly go down stairs to the finished basement floor which is where his studio and his music is (read man-cave) and put on music and close the doors and give us total privacy and wouldn't attempt to listen in and...he was all but babbling. Meanwhile, every time he paused for breath, MOM was saying, "I will be glad to go out with you and have lunch, its totally your choice!"

After a few minutes of watching this back and forth ping pong match going, I finally, reluctantly sighed, and told Dad that Mom and I would stay in, and that I appreciated his willingness to give us private space to talk. That part I wasn't worried about, oddly enough. Dad, for all his quirks, has very good boundaries. If he said he wasn't going to listen in, well, he wasn't going to listen in. I could trust that. So off he went downstairs and shut the doors, and there sat Mom and I.

After a few minutes of random, "how are you doing" conversation, Mom asked what I needed to talk about. I took a deep breath, and said, well, I know you are getting on line and on FB and I would love to friend you. But if you do, and we do, I need to tell you...(deep breath) well, you can't possibly have missed that Dreamweaver and I are not just friends. We are a couple, together. You did spot that, didn't you. She nodded and gravely said, well, yes I did. (Knew I was right about her spotting it. One smart woman.) So, I talked for a bit, about having wrestled with the knowledge of being gay my whole life, and how hard I tried not to be, and that I had also realized I was transgender. I talked about things from my childhood that had been indicators, but that even I hadn't realized them at the time. (Mom, you must understand, is my step mother - she and my Dad married when I was 19. And that is a blog post unto itself for another time, but suffice to say that I am blessed she's in my life and love her as much as my birth mother, who passed away when I was younger.) She agreed, upon hearing some of the things I related to her about my childhood, that if she had been there as my birth parent, she would have spotted it too.

Now, all through this, she has been grave and quiet, listening intensely. I was not worried about her cutting me off or lashing out at me, because she has always made it clear that her love for me was totally unconditional. She has always lived that unconditional love towards all her children. But her reaction was really, really hard to read. I was starting to mentally chew fingernails and panic, because I really couldn't tell what was going on behind those intense quiet brown eyes. Finally, she jumped in at a pause in the conversation and asked a question of her own, good Episcopalian that she is; "Does your church know about this?"
I said "Absolutely, I told them from the very first day. They accepted me and they have accepted us, Dreamweaver and I, totally, as a couple. We sit together in church like any other couple and are totally Out to them, to every one."

And that is when the smile broke out on my Mom's face and she said "And that is how it should be!"

I nearly melted through the floor in limp relief. You have no idea...or maybe you do. But I felt as if the weight of the world had been lifted off my shoulders.

After that, the conversation immediately turned to the big question. Dad. I told her that one of the reasons I had never told her, come Out to her, was that I really hated placing upon her the burden of what to do about Dad, and that if she looked at me and said, that we had to tell him, because she wasn't comfortable keeping secrets from her husband, I would go get him. She smiled and said, "I really don't think we should tell him anything - I don't think he would understand." (that's ONE way to put it!) We discussed FB and agreed that if she got on it, she would probably not actively friend me, as much as neither one of us liked that solution, because it would keep Dad from nosing over her shoulder and possibly seeing something he shouldn't. She told me she loved me, and Dreamweaver.

And that was that.

All those years of worry, and panic...gone. Done. Over. Of course, there's still Dad. But there will always be Dad. Mom now knows, and loves us and is allied on our side! I haven't had much chance to talk to her since then about this specifically, as they live some distance away, though within driving, and she doesn't talk on the phone much. Not to mention Dad hovering like a small buzzing over protective irate conservative fundamentalist humming bird. But we will have more conversations as opportunities arise, I feel certain, and Dreamweaver and I feel a relief that is almost beyond words. I went down and got my Dad who was happily sacked out on the sofa with the music turned up high, and he never asked the first question. Whatever I had wanted to talk about, in his mind, belonged between Mom and me, and he would never dream of intruding. That's my Dad at his best! That is the father I love. And we all sat down to dinner, a happy family. And of course I called Dreamweaver on the way home and babbled with relief; she totally melted with relief right back. And I also told my brother and sister-in-law, who had been aware this was taking place and had their fingers crossed! And there was much rejoicing all around!

Coming Out doesn't turn out this way for everyone. Some people choose not to, and knowing their own situations better than anyone else can, they may be choosing very wisely - I was fortunate. It brought love and healing. For some people, it destroys and permanently divides. It is a choice that each person must make according to what they know and understand and feel about themselves, their family and their situation. And each person's choice should be respected.

But for me, Coming Out turned out to be one of the best things ever!

And as my lovely, GLBT Welcoming and Affirming Episcopal church would say...

"Thanks be to God!"

Maybe someday we will live in a world, where closets won't be necessary....