It was a reunion of sorts. Back in the early 90s, before children and divorces and career changes, we were a group of friends who met every Wednesday night at a local dive to drink beer, eat cheap appetizers, and generally celebrate making it over the “hump” of the week. But in the wake of early-morning feedings, followed by soccer and play practices, then band and track and school projects, the tradition disappeared. So this past November, one of the original members requested a reunion. All knew that Bob and I had divorced, and I’d told some in the group that I was gay. Others had really just been acquaintances, so they hadn’t made it to the top of any need-to-know list. But there we were, and as I was trying to tell this story about an event in the little hood where I now reside, I found myself suddenly stuck… There was this conversation with Christy that had occurred in bed in the middle of the night–a conversation that was integral to the story. No doubt, this table of bygone friends might wonder about this woman in my bed. I could leave out names and doctor some pronouns… awkward. Or I could pretend the name was Chris as I had done with my younger son for a month or so after I’d started dating her. Or I could just be out with it.
I opted for the latter, and one of the women with whom I’d had little contact over the years said, “Okay,” in that snarky, superior way that lifts into sarcasm, then followed it with “moving right along.”
Are you kidding me? Why moving right along? You came of adulthood alongside Ellen for god’s sake. This can’t be that hard for you. I was a little taken aback because, after all, this was Central Denver, not Colorado Springs, and I’d gotten nothing but support from anyone I’d told up to that point, INCLUDING my ex-husband (who sat across from me at the table that night) and sons. So much support, in fact, that I was beginning to think that the nation was truly beyond its gay-hating hetero entitlement, a sensibility that could now be relegated to a handful of extremists.
I was wrong, of course, and I need only look to the news in states like Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia, each considering legislation protecting the right to discriminate against LGBTQ citizens, to know that mine has been a somewhat privileged coming-out story—privileged, in large part, because I’ve been pretty cowardly about who I’ve told.
One of the groups absent from my need-to-know list was my students. I adore them, but I wasn’t willing to risk the potential for making a difficult job MORE difficult if I happened to have some punchy parents—gutless on my part, I know. But lately, as I now have 1.75 feet out the door of an institution that treats its teachers with such contempt and disrespect that I no longer fear losing my job, I’ve taken an attitude of If the opportunity presents itself.
And on Friday after school, it did.
A group of five girls came in because they didn’t want to wait for their parents in the cold. We were chatting and laughing when one of the girls said, “Ms. C., do you have a boyfriend?”
“No,” and I began to wonder if this was that opportunity presenting itself.
“Well, we need to find you a man because, you know, when people are excited and in love, everything becomes more exciting… like maybe your class.”
I reminded her that anything she thinks is exciting (SpongeBob is the only offer she’s ever given me, and I actually looked for a SpongeBob episode that featured one of the themes of our reading) is way beneath her abilities, and man or no man, I wouldn’t be making my class easier for her.
“I still think you need a man.”
Deep breath. “What if I don’t like men? In that way, I mean.”
All five stop and stare.
“You don’t like men?” and they’re looking a little bug-eyed and incredulous.
“Would it matter?”
And now they’re fueling up and wanting truth.
“No. But Ms. C., do you like women?” with such boldness and immediacy that I’m fearful of pretending.
I glance over at the picture of Christy on the wall above my desk and point, “That’s my girlfriend.”
Squeals of delight erupt, and as classmates come in from the hall they announce, beaming and proud, “Ms. C. is gay!” and each starts to tell me the story of an aunt or a cousin or a friend.
And apart from the day I met Christy, this is perhaps my sweetest coming out moment yet.
My fears are rooted in that same history that informs the bias of a 50-year-old acquaintance who is stuck in time, and status, and fear. Yet the evidence, as I experienced it through the voices of five thirteen-year-old girls, suggests that we are, in fact, moving right along, thanks in no small part, to so many with the courage to stand up and challenge the course of history with their rights to be just exactly who they are.