December 5, 2013

A Year of Coming Out and Being Out

I always get really retrospective around the holidays, and for good reasons I suppose. Moving from Thanksgiving to Christmas and eventually the New Year marks a year of change, good and bad, and the beginning of new experiences. Looking back a year ago, I was living two lives. I had recently come out to my mom, which she was really receptive of. I expected nothing less since her best friend is gay; she had been an advocate of gay rights since I could remember, and she had always made sure that myself, my brother, and my dad were sensitive to using “gay” as a slur. I guess that’s mother’s intuition, as she wasn’t surprised when I told her. She thought that I might have been gay since I was three years old. In a way, this disappointed me. I wanted some sort of shock factor, not in a negative way but in the “holy shit, I didn’t expect that, that’s dope and I’m happy for you,” sort of way. Following my mom, I came out to all of my high school friends that I still associated with. I suppose this started a ripple effect in my life and the double life I was living was increasingly blurred. My brother took the news with ease, my fraternity was, and still is, extremely supportive.

The beginning of October marked the dreaded time to tell my conservative father. My mo had kept my secret for a year, and it was fed up with not having told my dad. I was accepted to an LGBTQ conference, O4UTC, for members of the community interested in technology. I was going to fly back to California, my home state, and spend the day with my parents on Sunday. I couldn’t just show up unannounced and my dad isn’t dumb, so it came time to burst out the doors, once again. My dad was, well, less than receptive. I expected that much, but it still hurt to see my fears materialize into reality. I quickly ran to my support systems and vented. My mom reassuring me that he’ll come around, in a few years.

This Thanksgiving break marked the end of my immediate coming out journey. I know it’s always a process, but for now I’m done telling people. My dad had instructed me not to tell any of my other family members and I didn’t. But, my social media outlets are pretty transparent. Family on my dad’s side saw an Instagram post of me in rainbow suspenders with a caption that outed me, #sorrynotsorry. Fortunately I went to Chicago, to my mom’s side of the family, for Thanksgiving and didn’t have to deal with that situation right away. In a similar fashion, tweeting was the outing mechanism. I assumed my cousins knew since they followed me, but they were dancing around the subject for days. Eventually I just said it, and as I thought, they already knew. What took my by complete surprise was when my aunt casually asked me over breakfast if I had a “boyfriend?” My jaw dropped as I looked back and forth from her to my uncle. The word “boyfriend” rang in my ears for minutes as the look of disbelief waned from my face. She informed me that my whole family knew, including my extremely Catholic grandparents. She assured me that no one cared and that everyone still loved me the same. This time, I didn’t care about the shock factor. As my personal astonishment subsided, I was happy I didn’t have to tell anyone anymore. My mom’s family sees me as me. I’m still Alex, the same as I have been.

For now, I’m happy with who knows and if anyone else finds out, that’s cool too. Being gay isn’t going to change for me anytime soon, or anytime at all. I’ve come to terms with myself and have countless people who really care about me. It’s been a whirlwind of a year in terms of personal growth and I’m excited to see what the new year will bring for me. Until next time.


December 2, 2013

What's in a Name

Once upon a time, I had just started dating my girlfriend Jacqueline. It was senior year of high school and my mom wasn’t quite used to me dating a girl yet.
I knew that; I expected most of her reactions – double takes, awkward pauses when someone at church asked her if I had a boyfriend, a slow sort of uncertainty when she asked me any question about my relationship.

She was good about it. She wasn’t really shocked to hear that I was gay even if she wasn’t quite ready for it. She might not have been delighted about it but she was never cruel or angry and she was always supportive, and I know that that is a blessed, lucky experience.
But as always, little golden accidents make the best stories.

Freudian slips are a natural part of life – little kids call their teachers “Mom” all the time, and all through high school I accidentally (and eventually on purpose) called Pep Rallies Prep Rallies instead.
So: senior year of high school. All my friends and I (and Jacqui) spent most afternoons at a little independent coffee shop near our high school. I lived near the coffee shop, so we ran into my parents as often as not.

Now, it’s worth noting that my parents had met Jacqui several times – they certainly knew her name. I saw my parents in the other room and we all went to say hi. They hugged me, greeted all my friends by
name, until my Mom got to Jacqui.

“Hi, Jackson,” she said.

And that was an awkward pause. Like the catch in your chest right after you fall flat on your back, a little forced moment of silence until she laughed.
“I don’t know where that came from! I was thinking about Jackson Pollack earlier, and I guess since you’re into art…”

What’s in a name?

It’s a good question. Obviously my mother hadn’t forgotten my girlfriend’s name. But she tweaked it just enough to be pretty unquestionably male.

Jacqui gets that kind of thing a lot. Just this past Saturday we went on a Thanksgiving hike – a frozen trail two miles up a mountain, but that’s another story altogether – and at a rest stop, a kindly old lady warned her that she was about to walk into the women’s restroom. Obviously she meant well, and she apologized upon realizing her mistake.

My mother, though, that was unique. I still don’t know what to make of it.
I saw it again over Thanksgiving. I was chilling with my favorite cousin, who is trans. He is not out as trans to his father’s side of the family – which is the side our relations are on. So I heard his “female” name half a million times over the meal. Considering the discomfort I felt, I can only imagine how he felt.

What is in a name?

According to my English teacher, a misfit name can lead to a crisis of identity, as in Faulkner’s short story “A Justice” and in Saul Bellow’s “Seize the Day.”

“Ma’am,” and “Sir,” and misappropriations of our names often coincide with how we present. My name, Gabriel, is traditionally male, so it is misspelled and mispronounced as Gabriella more often than not since I present as fairly traditionally female – I have long hair, at least.

Maybe this anecdote doesn’t say anything significant about sexuality and society, but I think it speaks to our reaction to the disconnect between expectation and reality – or maybe I’ve just taken too many English classes.

What’s in a name?

Maybe nothing. Shakespeare wasn’t overly concerned, as long as the rose by any other name still smelled as sweet. But Faulkner’s Sam Fathers and Saul Bellow’s Tommy Wilhelm would beg to differ, as I would. I appreciate the androgyny of my name. Considering the assumptions I already face based on my gender, I like that someone reading an email from me or even an application can’t necessarily tell my gender by my name. In a situation where my gender is irrelevant, it’s not unnecessarily revealed. But names, nicknames, the way we choose to communicate with others, it’s all a part of our identity, our presentation. The way others react affects us, one way or the other – So I think I’m with Sam Had-