“Well, what about you? Are you going to get a boyfriend?” My mom asks jokingly after I finish the story of how my friend and her boyfriend got together. Her voice is light and easy, because this is what normal, straight people do. Tease each other over not having boyfriends and not some homophobe yelling at you and your metaphorical girlfriend for holding hands.
“Oh my god, no.” It comes out forceful enough and lighthearted like I wanted it to, but my heart still stutters like came out wrong. My mom glances back at me through the car view mirror, and it’s enough for me to start worrying if she really does know before she returns her focus back onto the road. I’m ready for a change in conversation when she says, “Maybe you’re gay.”
My heart jumps again, and suddenly I’m wide awake as if someone had woke me up with an entire bucket of cold water. My mind panics as my hands tighten against my phone. I’m careful enough to not let my anxiety show too much. She’s joking, I say to myself. She’s smiling and nothing’s wrong. It’s ridiculous, but every time anyone says the word gay or even implies it, I always find myself bracing myself for the worst. It wasn’t always like this.
“You should know by now,” she continues. “You’re.. sixteen? So you would have known probably even earlier.” Her voice becomes more and more serious as she talks, but it still sounds easy, like she’s not expecting to be surprised. “So. Are you?”
Our car stops in front of the light, and the roar of the cars surrounding us quiets down. My mom looks at me expectantly through the car view mirror. The entire world feels like it’s waiting for my answer, and all I want to do is avoid it and look at my phone. Maybe I’m just lying to myself and pretending coming out doesn’t matter, but what else can I do? Say that I’m gay and face the consequences of them yelling at me for hours? What’s the cost of being yourself? My heart aches against my ribs, wanting something more.
If I had no problems saying it, what would I want?
I don’t want to avoid it. I know what I want. I want to say it now. I want to say that I’m gay with the confidence I used to have, before the Pulse shooting in Orlando, before all the homophobic things that people said to me thinking I was one of them. I don’t want to lie anymore. I look up to the mirror. My gaze is so intense that it even takes me aback, and the moment is long enough for me to hesitate.
There are reasons why you haven’t told your parents, I remind myself.
That time you told them your friend was bi and they were in a such a complete shock you were scared. That time she said she had such a great gaydar and oh, he seemed gay so I was worried that he had an attitude, but he was fine. That time trans people came up in the news and all they could say was I’m so tired of this, no one cares, aren’t those transexuals getting enough coverage already?
I taste salt on my tongue. All I have to do is say one word. Yes. Yes, I am gay. I have known this for years, I’m sorry for not telling you, please love me still, I’m still me and I’m still here, I love you, I love you. My parents aren’t all that bad, really. Maybe they’re not the most liberal, but it’ll be fine. I’ll be fine. I open my mouth.
I’ve gotten my tongue around the y of yes when fear suddenly grips tightly on my shoulders. This was all the same thing April thought. She almost got sent to a conversion camp, because somehow those still exist. Her parents were fine with gay people until she came out. You can imagine so many scenarios, but you’ll never know until you actually do it, right? Why can’t I just say it?
The light flickers orange.
“Yeah.. there’s no way I’m gay.” I say it with as much scorn as I can muster. I lean back as much as I can and laugh like I’m someone I’m not. I deserve an Emmy.
The light turns green.
My mom meets my eyes before she returns to the road.
The car rushes forward. A wave of exhaustion hits me as we move. There’s a contemplative silence. I kind of hate myself.
“Well,” she murmurs. I feel myself tensing up again. “I don’t mind if you’re gay.” I perk up a little. “But.. I think I’d like it more if you were straight.” I can’t even get the energy to be mad about her saying that. Don’t I want the exact same thing?
“Yeah.” Guilt makes my voice quiet. A few years ago, I would’ve never done this. I was proud enough to say it with little hesitation. I certainly didn’t hate myself for being gay. Lying wouldn’t have been second nature. But lying doesn’t help, does it? Especially to yourself.
Maybe I wouldn’t get over this overnight. But I could start trying.