#InvisibleGrrrl: “Pete and Repeat” - Dispatch 10

If you read last week’s post, you know that I recently had a long, awkward conversation with my friend “Pete”, who was afraid to attend the Chicago Pride Parade with me because he thought some of The Gay might rub off on him.

I’m writing to this report that I had another long, awkward conversation with Pete after writing that post. I felt like I should let him know he was making an appearance on the Tumblr, even anonymously. He was upset. He wanted to talk.

I made the quick trip over to his place, and we sat in his living room, the air conditioner loudly beating back the 90° temperatures, the sun streaming in through the blinds, and we just talked. Through the afternoon and into the evening. And something maybe a little miraculous happened.

I think he’s changed his mind.

We talked about his father, who taught him that racism was absolutely wrong, but homophobia was a-okay. We talked about his mother, who had trained him to worry about his projected levels of masculinity, or risk being rejected by women. We talked about his friends, who had always taken the “whatever” route when one of them came out, and how he had masked his discomfort by feigning a similar nonchalance.

We talked about why some men find male homosexuality terrifying, but think female homosexuality “doesn’t really count”. We talked about the fact that he finds bisexuality utterly confusing and impossible to understand. We talked about the disconnect between who a person is, and what a person does, and the essential link between who a person is and what a person does.

It was an amazing conversation. Difficult for both of us, but so, so honest. 

And, in the end, useful. Very late that evening, after a long pause, Pete turned to me and said he understood why he had been wrong. And he apologized. He was really apologizing to everyone whom he’d ever treated differently because they were LGBT, but I just happened to be on hand. And then he asked me what he could do.

We talked about what it means to be an ally, that it’s not just thinking and acting a certain way yourself, but encouraging others to do the same. That it’s about speaking up for what’s right. And I think he got it.

So thanks for coming aboard as an ally, Pete. I’m so, so proud of you.


#InvisibleGrrrl: “Something to Be Proud of” - Dispatch 9

So last weekend I was in Chicago helping a friend (let’s call him “Pete”!) move. Which means I happened to be there for the Pride Parade. I went with another friend of mine (let’s call her “Chloe”!), who is an awesome ally, and we had a great time. Chloe asked why I hadn’t brought Pete to the parade. I told her that I just couldn’t see him going. Pete is about my age, straight, liberal politics, but with a streak of the conservative in his own life. I felt bad about not asking him, though. So when I saw him that night, I apologized, asked if he would have wanted to come.

What followed was an excruciating conversation in which Pete admitted that he didn’t want to go to the parade because people would assume he was gay. “What people? Who’s your audience?” I asked, at first thinking he was joking. It slowly dawned on me that he wasn’t. I then asked why that was a problem? Presumably he wouldn’t care unless he thought it was something awful and disgracef oh.

Pete, perhaps to his credit, didn’t try to lie or reassure me. And I was left stunned. This guy who has been one of my best friends for years now, who was among the first people I came out to because I was sure he wouldn’t care, secretly thought I was…well, something he’d be ashamed to have others think he was, or was even associated with.

I needed to calm down. I called my mother (let’s call her “Mom”!). I was pretty upset. “If I can’t get someone I thought was my friend, someone my age, someone who is already pretty liberal, to respect me even if he would vote for me, how I am ever going to change the mind of anyone in the family who’s already against us?”

She expressed shock and dismay about Pete, and said that she was sure he would come around, and that others would, too. Then she paused. “I want to tell you something.”

I waited.

“I registered to vote.”

My mother has never voted. She has always regarded politics as something beyond the reach of one person. But this year, she registered. To vote yes on R-74. 

I am almost crying, but trying not to let her hear it my voice. “That’s great, that’s great!”

Later, I realize that I cannot let the Pete incident spoil the weekend. 850,000 people, according to the papers, showed up to cheer the parade through Boystown. Chloe was there, because she loves me. She loves us, as a community. Mom finally registered to vote, in order to lend her support. Because she loves me. She loves us

And that, regardless of anything else, is really something to be proud of. 


#InvisibleGrrrl: “+10 Peace of Mind” - Dispatch 8

I play a lot of video games. Mostly RPGs, role-playing games. I am personally responsible for saving many imaginary worlds, and am proficient in several types of electronic combat, from shooting futuristic sniper rifles to wielding elaborate magical staffs.

(Yes, this is going somewhere. Bear with me.)

In these games, one of the most interesting elements is the creation of your character — what skills will they have, what spells will they learn? Will they talk their way out of a bad situation, or use brute force? And part of this is what sort of armor they wear. DIfferent armor comes with different bonuses. Not only does your defense get better, but you might get faster, and better able to evade attacks, or gain the ability to carry more ammo or cast more spells.

Before I came out to my family, I always thought of myself as doing just that. Putting on magical mental armor. Armor that kept me from telling the truth. A visit home became an ordeal of sorts — dragging out the old chestplate and greaves and remembering what I could and couldn’t say. I used to spend the long flight back getting ready for “battle”. Slipping on the gauntlets that could deflect questions about my love life. Donning the helmet that pushed any LGBT-related literature or music or movies to the back of my mind (for someone who speaks almost entirely in pop culture references, this was pretty hard). And picking up the shield that would keep me from feeling how painful it was to embody a lie.

It is the beginning of Spring Break, a few weeks after I sent the coming out email. I am in the airport, waiting for my flight to board, staring restlessly at the planes on the tarmac.

Mentally, I begin the process of divesting myself of the truth and getting out the — wait! I realize suddenly, that I don’t have to do that. Whatever consequences may result, I have told the truth.

Boarding starts. I get on the plane. I am nervous. But I feel free, and strangely light — the armor of falsehoods isn’t weighing me down anymore.


#InvisibleGrrrl: Aaaaaannndddddd……Scene! - Dispatch 7

Narrator: Submitted for your approval: an ordinary tumblr, on an ordinary website, and a conversation between two seemingly ordinary strangers…

IG: [enters stage left, extends her hand] Hello, Internet. I don’t think we’ve met before, have we? Well, not here, anyway. Is this seat taken? Great. [sits down]

IG: So, what are you in for? Me? [shakes her head] I’m here because I did a silly, daring, self-indulgent, reckless, brave thing. I told the truth about myself to some people that I was pretty sure didn’t want to hear it.

IG: [gestures wildly] I know. The truth! In an email. Who does that, right?! Someone recently asked me why I did it at all, in that way, at that time.

IG: Well, because I didn’t do it just for myself. Because I did it to try to get them to think differently about the world. To vote differently, if it came to that. Because it isn’t just about this ballot, this year. It’s about all the years to come and all the battles we’ve yet to fight, in and out of the voting booth. I wanted them to see me, but I wanted them to see us as well. To see that at the end of the day, we’re all just people. And we should all be playing on a level field. 

IG: [sighs, chagrined] Yes, Internet, you may be right. I might have an inflated sense of self-importance. But if it gets through to any of them, I’ll be happy. Right now, I’m not sure if I’ll succeed or not.

IG: Well, I’m not sure I failed….Someone asked me about that, too. Told me I shouldn’t think of silence as a failure. Which is right, you know? I mean, they didn’t expel me from the family. Which could totally have happened! And I’m so, so grateful it didn’t, but I still feel….sick about it.

IG: Why? [shrugs awkwardly] I thought about that for a long time. And I realized that if I had just come out for the sake of honesty, maybe it would be a success. But I totally admit that I was trying to use that moment to accomplish something — to change their minds. And to break the silence that has always been typical of my family. So if I can just do one or both of those things, then I’ll feel like it was all worth —

IG: [starts, hearing something] Oh, that’s my post. Uploading. Gotta go, Internet. Listen, I really enjoyed this chat. Take care, okay? Maybe we’ll run into each other on another superhighway, some other time. Later! [picks up her backpack, walks quickly toward a giant progress bar at stage right, disappearing as she reaches it]

Narrator: An ordinary girl, indeed. But this is an extraordinary website, where stories are shared and the world changed, one person at a time. Something like this could only happen in….The Courage Zone.


A Long Journey For Dad; Easy Answers for Son

There’s so much to say about JC’s Story of Courage! A Presbyterian minister, J.C. grew up not knowing what “gay” meant, but knowing it was bad. He tells of how it took a journey of 20 years before he felt really comfortable affirming his support for LGBT people - because he had to ask, “What does it really mean to embody God’s love to each other?”

And just wait until you hear the story about his amazing son seeing a sign that read, “God hates gay people.” Amazingly hopeful!


#InvisibleGrrrl: (Sadly) Not the First - Dispatch 6

My grandfather was a good man, a principled man, a man who set the expectations for our entire family. When he was alive, we were all probably a little afraid of disappointing him.

I think we still are.

It is about a year ago. I have been out to my mother for a little while, and have asked her to help me figure out how to come out to the rest of the family without the screaming matches and hurled lamps that I expect. She seems optimistic that neither insults nor objects will be thrown, but I detect some uncertainty. She is nervous. I ask why.

Sadly, she tells me what ultimately happened to cousin D. D. and my mother are around the same age and were great friends as children. When they were about 11, D. realized that she was gay, and came out to my mother, who wasn’t shocked or scandalized. However, D. wanted to tell the rest of the family, and Mom was afraid for her. D. put it off, but eventually she went through with it. The resulting fight caused a terrible schism; D. left the family.

My mother tells me that when she advised D. not to tell anyone, she was afraid of my grandfather’s reaction above all. And that my grandfather was part of the catastrophic break that eventually occurred.

I am shocked by this, but perhaps I shouldn’t be. For all that he loved his family, my grandfather was a very conservative man. And his keen sense of right and wrong has continued to guide the family in his absence. It is not unusual for his example to be followed.

Suddenly, I feel cold, as if physically chilled by this news. I thought my family harbored the generic, if deep-seated, homophobia that can stem from religious beliefs. It was sickening to hear that they had essentially ostracized someone for being gay.

Something distracts us, and we uneasily change the subject to something banal that I no longer remember. No decisions are made that day.

I am tired of lying. But I am now more afraid to come out than I was before.


#InvisibleGrrrl: Not the First?! - Dispatch 5

I used to think I was the only LGBT person in my family — at least, in recent memory. When I found out that I was wrong, I was both reassured and afraid.

First, the reassuring part.

It’s about 6 or 7 years ago; a gay friend of mine is having troubles dealing with his extended family, who are extremely conservative. My mother has known him since we first became friends in grade school, and often asks after him. Over lunch one day, she does so, and I tell her that nothing has changed.

She shakes her head, sadly, and says she doesn’t know why people have to be so hateful because someone isn’t just like them. She then says that it’s especially ridiculous because everyone must be related to someone who is gay.

[It should be said that my mother isn’t conservative like the rest of the family, and that she’s had LGBT friends going back years, of whom some others disapproved. It should also be said that she didn’t care about their disapproval.]

My mouth goes a bit dry. I take a sip of my water, and say, “Uh….Well, we aren’t, are we?”

She shakes her head. “Your cousin D. is a lesbian.”

I am taken aback, and pause for a beat before answering simply, “Oh. I didn’t know that.”

Everyone knows about D., at least the broad strokes. She has dropped off the face of the earth, and is living in what seems to be self-imposed exile. I feel oddly validated to hear that she is a lesbian — I am not alone — although I have never met her, and probably never will.

For some time, she remained a mysterious but strangely comforting idea. Someone else in the family is like me. But then I found out what led to her exile, and my own tentative plans to come out were disrupted.


#InvisibleGrrrl: Moment of Truth…no…Lies - Dispatch 4

As Spring Break approached, I got more and more nervous. I was plagued by the irrational(?) fear that, regardless of how my family reacted, having told them the truth, I would be unable to live in that truth. To really be myself. I had so many years of practice at not doing that.

Someone recently asked me when I first decided that I had to lie. I can pretty much pinpoint that moment:

I am 18. It is an unreasonably warm day in late spring. In a few weeks, I will graduate from the high school that I despise, and in the fall, I will start what I tell myself will be a better life as a college student.

The prom is approaching. I hate school functions, but the prom is supposed to be this huge rite-of-passage-y thing, as if you have to go. I had considered going, if I could go with my friends, as a group. But they started finding dates, and I decided that I’d just skip the whole thing.

On this day, I am running errands with my aunt. We are waiting for a prescription when she asks if I am planning to go to the prom. I shake my head, say something banal (but entirely true) about how stupid I find the whole enterprise. And then say, carelessly, foolishly, “Anyway, I refuse to embarrass myself by going alone.”

She frowns kindly, obviously concerned. “Well, honey, aren’t there any boys you might go with? Anyone you like?”

My heart stops. Why is she asking me this? We don’t talk about these things in this family. I am terrified. I have made a mistake. There is as it happens, someone I “like”. A girl. A good friend, on whom I have had an intermittent crush going back to middle school.

I cannot look at my aunt. I stare into space, at the dust motes dancing in the suddenly heavy air. Everything feels surreal.

I pull myself together. “No,” I somehow manage to say, hoping I sound as nonchalant as I am trying to appear. “There’s no one interesting.”

She pats my knee, smiles sympathetically, and says, in a tone I know she intends to be reassuring, “You’re just a late bloomer.”

I feel slightly ill. She is wrong. I am not a late bloomer. I am a creature I cannot identify. I have known since I was middle school age what being gay is. But that has always sounded like an either/or proposition — boys or girls, pick one. I am…I am something else altogether. I am convinced that there is something wrong with me.

I have managed to hide this because I have never had to talk about it, or anything remotely related to it. 

I smile at her, shrug shyly.

The pharmacist calls her name. She goes to the window, and I am off the hook. But I have realized something very important, something I had known before then without really being aware of it.

She must never know. All of them must never know.

What would they possibly think of me?