This conversation is with my friend Amanda. I met her about four years ago right after she married her wife, Julie. So, as long as I’ve known her, I’ve known her to be an out, proud lesbian woman who is raising her daughter, Tess, with her wife and Tess’ father Frank and his partner Michael.
I never asked Amanda many questions about her past experiences or present experiences, leading me to make a lot of assumptions…essentially stories I’d made up about her journey, her life and what it’s like in general to move through the world as a gay person in 2020.
In the larger sense, it often seems like progress has been made – gay marriage has been legalized, most of us have a family member or a colleague or a neighbor or all of the above who is openly gay, there are more portrayals of gay relationships and teen coming out stories on tv…So, I think I leaned into the story that the idea of living as an openly gay person had been mainstreamed, accepted. I wanted to believe it.
And after this conversation with Amanda, I found myself wondering…did I make up these stories because they were easier for me to digest or buy into? Did I lean into my ignorance because I wanted it to be the way I imagined without the discomfort of the reality? Or because I wanted it to be someone else’s problem – rather than start doing the work of getting to true understanding? Or maybe I was scared to know because then I would want to fix it and I wouldn’t know how and I wouldn’t know how to talk about it or I might ask really stupid questions and look like an asshole. Yes, to all of this; that is the conclusion I came to. Yes to all of that.
I’m a fixer, my knee jerk reaction is to gloss over things, package them up really nice and neat, throw a little sparkle dust on it just for good measure, but the idea I would even try to fix this is a true disservice on so many levels to those for whom this is their reality. I saw something Glennon Doyle wrote the other day long the lines of…pain and struggle don’t need to be fixed, but they do need to be witnessed. This is the time for me to be a witness and ask better questions, understand how to be a better ally.
In any case, I was ready to know what it was actually like for Amanda; not the glossy story I’d made up sitting behind my heterosexual lens of what it was like for her to come out to her family and friends…or to live day to day… or the road to building a family.
Am I going to be brave today; be myself today? Or am I going to talk without pronouns? It’s constant all the time.
All any of us want is to be seen and accepted for who we are…right? When was the last time you felt seen…like someone got you…like someone held space for you to be really safe to be exactly who you are…where you’ve come from, what you’ve overcome, what you struggle with? Those moments for me feel like breath…a long, slow deep breath…and my shoulders relax and my jaw unclenches and time stands still. And I will always want to know, how I can help someone else feel like that; accepted, understood, safe.
Something that I feel does need to be pointed out is the fact that Amanda and I live in a city in the Midwest. And this is one person’s account boiled down to a 60 minute-ish conversation. I acknowledge that experiences will vary wildly and likely will vary depending on geography –people on the coasts or in more rural communities may have very different stories to tell. If you are listening and that is the case, I’d love to hear from you. I’d love to know if the concepts we are talking about here are universal or is it easier or more difficult depending on where you live?
Enjoy the episode.