Closets, Scarlet Letters & Memories

I have a love/hate relationship with Facebook. I hate that it’s become a tool to divide our country, but I like keeping in touch with family and friends and I especially love seeing memories from years gone by pop up in my timeline. These are always a gentle reminder of where I used to be, and how far I’ve come.

Three years ago yesterday, I wrote the following post after a magical weekend of reconnection in Washington, DC with some fellow members of my high school band, (ironically organized through a stealth Facebook group):

DC Class of 73 cropped43 years ago when I graduated high school, I couldn’t wait to get the hell of out dodge because I felt I had a scarlet letter tattooed on my forehead…my mother was mentally ill and was institutionalized at the state hospital. Few people knew and I didn’t let many people get close enough to me to find out, so high school was a pretty painful place for me. To the select people I’ve discussed my family situation with, I’ve said coming out of the closet for having a relative with a mental illness has been FAR more difficult than coming out of the closet as an older lesbian.

Fast forward to our 40th class reunion, it felt great to rekindle friendships and make new connections. Then a group of ~35 classmates, friends & family made a stealth plan to descend on DC the weekend of December 3rd to celebrate the season and the wonderful career of our classmate Army Colonel Tim Holtan, the Commander of “Pershing’s Own”. During the weekend, I reflected a lot on my journey…my military service, how band was my one high school joy, how proud I was of Tim’s success, and how tired I was of living in a closet. In short, the weekend was magical and I feel so very blessed to be a part of my beloved Class of ’73 family.

There, I said it publicly…closets & scarlet letters be damned.

I re-wrote that last line five times as tears were streaming down my face. I waited 10-15 minutes before I gathered up the courage to post on Facebook. Brené Brown describes describes the nausous feeling you have after disclosing something deeply personal as a vulnerability hangover. The old fear of judgment reared it’s ugly head and as was my habit, I wanted to delete the post and shrink away in shame. Not this time, I’m done, I reminded myself.

Five days later as I read the post comments and bathed in the love and support of family and friends, I was reminded of the power of sharing our stories. The truth does set us free, but there is still the hard work of untangling the emotions surrounding that truth.

Three years ago my post was behind the Facebook privacy wall. Now, it’s public. Closets and scarlet letters be damned.

 

Happy Coming Out Day

img_3280-1Eight years ago, after an amicable divorce, I came out quietly to a few close friends and family members. I was starting over and like Groundhog Day, had returned to my secretarial roots. I wasn’t sure what my life would look like, but the words stenciled above my bed in the basement bedroom of my daughter’s house reminded me every day I had made the right choice and finally faced a truth that I’d buried my entire life.

My daughter tucked me under her wing until I felt financially ready to get my own place. In the meantime, a therapist helped me navigate the changes in my life. During therapy one day, we talked a lot about coming out and she said because it’s a big deal, why shouldn’t people should have a party to celebrate, like a bat mitzvah or a quinceañera. So with my daughter and a few friends, I threw myself a coming out party on October 11, 2011. I wasn’t ready to announce it to the world, but it felt good to be seen for who I was.

Pride

A lot has changed in eight years. I’m fortunate to have been able to come out at a time when it’s socially acceptable and safe for me, unlike the Stonewall equality warriors of 50 years ago that generated a movement. With marriage equality, I now have the 1,138 rights and protections I enjoyed when I was married to a man. But we can’t take those rights for granted. We must remain vigilant and continue the fight for equality that began at that New York inn.

In the words of Barack Obama, “When all Americans are treated as equal, no matter who they are or whom they love, we are all more free.”