“You’re so far in the closet you’re in Narnia!”
Yeah right, when I was 13 I boldly decided to cut my hair short, I’d always dressed a bit on the tomboy side wearing trousers or jeans religiously, I guess in those early years you could say I looked like a stereotypical lesbian. If you think that would make things easier, that as if by appearing gay that it wouldn’t shock people, you’d be wrong.
I already had one foot out of the closet, my closest friends knew and we could talk openly about it, I was happy to answer their questions, that wasn’t awkward at all, if I didn’t have an answer for them it didn’t matter. They didn’t label me confused or say things like ‘I’m sure it’s just a phase’ they were great.
Little victories like that spur you on. Make you forget that all the world isn’t as accepting. The relief makes you a bit delirious and you think you can shout it from rooftops and no one would care, after all we’re living in the 21st century, right?
Only one friend felt the shock, Kirstie… now in my last post I freely admitted that I didn’t mind my friends talking things over with each other, maybe even telling other people by way of gossiping. What I didn’t imagine is that any of them would discuss such news with their parents, albeit out of shock, but still… mothers if they know each other, gossip worse than anybody else!
It transpired like this. Our lower sixth form prom was fast approaching, a gentleman from the year above me called James had asked me to go to the prom with him. I declined not wanting to mislead him, but I wanted to go to the prom with all my friends, so I did. I recycled my dress from the previous year and was getting ready for the night out the preceding week. At this time when parents bump into each other they have something do talk about… ‘Oh hi, how are you, is Elena going to Prom? … Yeah so is Kirstie, I’m sure they’ll have a great time … is Elena going to wear a dress? I just can’t picture her in a dress? … ‘ When I received the second-hand account of this conversation from my mum later that evening it set off alarm bells.
‘I just can’t picture her in a dress…’ seemed such an odd and poignant thing to say, especially given the timing, and that just the year before I’d been photographed at the year 11 prom in a dress, makeup, heals, the works. I was suspicious that one of my mum’s friends by no fault of my own had become privy to information that I wasn’t yet ready to share with my parents. The unsettling feeling stemmed from the niggling idea that Kirstie’s mum appeared to be testing mine to see if she knew what she did. I got worried that if Kirstie’s mum hadn’t read the situation well that she could have dropped a bombshell.
For some time the one thing I was certain of was that the news that your daughter prefers girls shouldn’t come from anyone but your daughter. I didn’t feel ready, since I had my amazing self-revelation I knew I couldn’t put it off forever, but I wanted to be forewarned in some way, gain some insight to how the news might be received. My parents seemed pretty liberal, we had the birds and the bees talk very early on, too early on maybe, but we weren’t one of those families who share every sordid detail. I still get embarrassed if we’re all watching a TV program with a steamy love scene in it, while my mother usually makes some comment like ‘why do they have to show that…’ It was almost as if, OK I’ve told you about the birds and the bees that’s my duty done, we won’t speak of it again. I was OK with that, I didn’t think that would ever change.
I kept an ear to the ground, trying to feel the situation. Watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer on a Thursday night with the lesbian plot in full swing between Willow and that other one was pretty good timing. I remember a comment being made one evening, I can’t even remember what my mum said exactly but I know for the first time is rocked my confidence and made me wish I could put off coming out to her forever.
So even after having this sinking feeling that made me want to put off this inevitable chore, I realised that if I didn’t clue in my parents, given enough time someone else would. I was still too chicken to act immediately, when I was in class the following day with Kirstie I asked if she happened to share my confidences with her mum. She had, she admitted that she was shocked and needed to process the information, I wasn’t mad, but it made me feel that I had to act now. The drawbacks on living in a small town, news travels fast.
I formulated a plan, my best friend Farrah was key in orchestrating this plan. I was too much of a coward to speak with my parents face to face. Also being a complete daddy’s girl I didn’t want him to know at all. I decided to tackle mum first and that my mode of communication would be a letter.
To call my ‘outing’ a letter is a little generous, I’d scribbled something down on a scrap of paper very hastily and gave it a quick proof read. Hmm… problem number one, I hadn’t actually said that I was gay! So rather than start over I wrote in block capitals at the top of this scrap of paper ‘I’M GAY’ just so there could be no confusion. In a completely coincidental manoeuvre Farrah had turned up bang on time to provide a timely exit for an hour or two, we were heading for McDonald’s. I vaguely remember I had written something instructing my mum to dispose of the letter just so that I knew she had read it.
I can’t remember if my mum called me and asked me to come home, but I do remember very clearly the scene that I came home to. The house was too quiet, I checked and saw that the note and been read and disposed of as requested, then I went up to bed.
Yes this was very cowardly of me, but at this time I hadn’t talked to anyone about how they came out to their parents, I hadn’t seen it done on any films or dramas, I was going rogue here. So when my mum literally came knocking on my door I thought I could stick my head in the sand and ignore all her questions. I mean, I’m her daughter, it shouldn’t matter what I am, she signed up to the unconditional love thing and only wants me to be happy right?
All the questions that felt like natural curiosity when my friends asked them felt like an intrusion, an awkward interrogation when posed by my parents. Maybe it was because when I tried to answer the questions for my mum I had the feeling that no answer would be good enough, there would be a counter argument for each possible answer I could offer, and there was. Worse still, when I left the house earlier that evening I had informed my parents that I’d left them a note in the kitchen, otherwise they might not have moved all night from the sofa, I may be paraphrasing here since it has been about 12 years… ‘I knew it was something bad, but I’d rather you’d have come home and tell me that you were on drugs or that you were pregnant…’ When I heard those words, my world literally fell apart, I was so disappointed.
My mum had been my hero throughout my whole life, the one always fighting your corner, the one that would always take your side no matter what. She had risen to every occasion previously, from the countless times I had problems with bullying, not getting on with teachers at school, even the one time I got in a fight and put some boy in hospital she was remarkably cool. Yet with this, she struggled, we argued, my every move was put under the microscope and I couldn’t cope with the disappointment. Being a teenager is hard enough, you are easily antagonised by your parents anyway, but to have your whole being relentlessly questioned and doubted by the people who love you most is terrifying. I thought I might have lost them for good.
Meanwhile with my non-love life. My 17th birthday was fast approaching, Dani and I were still very much talking, she’d moved from long distance to other side of the world, but our ‘connection’ stayed the same. There were still letters, calls, texts, isn’t technology a wonderful thing. Although the situation gradually dawned on me, life was OK, I had nothing to fear, things were out in the open with my family, my friends accepted me… so why was I sticking my head in the sand by attaching myself to someone so unavailable? So the emotional distancing started, that doesn’t always go too well. I think I was finally ready to come out to play.