I was waking up from a wild night in the Castro, on the couch at my best friend's house. The day before, I had driven down from Portland to the Bay to celebrate my friend. I was thrilled when she told me we would be hanging in the Castro, a place that is really significant for me. It's where I realized that I was queer, and it's always felt like home.
I woke up happy to have danced so hard in a club that I frequented when I was younger. Despite a hangover, I reached for my phone to check text messages and read the news.
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What appeared on my screen was horrifying: Orlando, shootings, mass murder at a gay club. I instantly longed to be back in Portland, a town that had welcomed me as a queer person who identifies as gender queer. I wanted to be around all of the other queer people, to love on them and hold them.
The Pride Parade was about to start, which I was happy I'd be in town for—an especially powerful and meaningful celebration this year. Despite being away from my kids, I was happy that night, dancing hard with other queer folks in a space where I first felt at home identifying as queer. Little did I know that, at the same moment, all those people in Orlando were being killed.
My daughter asked if my mom knew that I liked men, women and people, which caused me to pause.
Over the next few days, I received so many texts from people who knew of me as a queer person, just checking in and saying they loved me. I also talked to my children about the realities of being a person who is gay/queer and how the fact that I'm gay/queer makes some people uncomfortable and angry. I told them about how sometimes I'm nervous that, as a black person, not only is my skin color seen as threatening but also who I'm attracted to might also be threatening to people.
My kids mentioned how they were happy that I talked to them about how I see and appreciate people. My daughter asked if my mom knew that I liked men, women and people, which caused me to pause. I thought of the parents who found out after the shooting that their children were gay. That perhaps some of these kids had gone there to dance because it was safe—the way I felt when I was in the Castro. They were surrounded by so many people similar to them. And that perhaps they weren't ready to come out to their parents.
Until that moment, I swore I wouldn't come out to my parents. I didn't feel like they needed me to or that I needed to. It was none of their business.
It's important that my parents know who I am, because I am proud of who I am. Its important that they understand how I'm living and who I'm loving.
We aren't particularly close, and I'm not open to my parents coming at me with their religious beliefs. Over the years, though, I've watched my mom soften a bit. She's listened when I explained why I wasn't monogamous. She accepted my divorce and the friendship I continue to have with my ex-husband. Of course, this hasn't stopped her from sending me prayers and bible verses via text messages—or calling me to leave me a message of her saying prayers over me. I used to get angry, pointing out I didn't believe in any of it. But I've learned that it's one of her ways of loving me, and I appreciate that. At this point, I receive them and thank her.
I sat with this idea, of potentially telling my parents. My parents, who had told me often about homosexuals and their future in hell. Two years ago, my dad kicked me, my children and my ex-husband out of his house because my ex was wearing a shirt that read "Gay OK," a shirt he got after Pride a few years ago. I remember sitting in the car with my ex-husband trying to find a place to stay, and he said, "They don't even know that you're queer! I hate that this is their response to just a message supporting people being gay."
That scared me, so much so I didn't want to ever tell them. Since then, there has been what seems like a war on people of color. My life doesn't always feel as if it has value. Most weeks, I wake up at some point to news that another person of color has been murdered. The nightclub in Orlando was full of people of color. The majority of folks killed that night were people of color. I sat with this. It's important that my parents know who I am, because I am proud of who I am. Its important that they understand how I'm living and who I'm loving. Even if they don't support me or agree with me, the future isn't promised.
So I called my mom.
It was early in the morning. I was sitting in my new kitchen, looking out at the river that lays below my house, trying to be calm. I waited for her to pick up. Of course, she was so excited to hear from me (I'm terrible at calling her). I asked her if she had been reading the news, to which she went into a long speech about how sad she was for the families of those who died in the club. I interrupted her and told her I needed to tell her something. It got a bit silent. Then: "Okay, please tell me."
She said she didn't understand all of it, but she loved me. She said she appreciated me trusting her enough to tell her.
I took the deepest breath, thought quickly if I was sure this was what I wanted to do and let it all out. I explained that I've never felt like a woman, that I've never been straight, that I've gotten to read as straight based on my partners. What followed surprised me. I had braced myself for bible verses and a long monologue about Jesus.
Except that's not what I got. She responded with love.
She said she didn't understand all of it, but she loved me. She said she appreciated me trusting her enough to tell her. We talked about what happened in Orlando, and I've never wanted to hug my mother so badly. I never thought I would have the relationship I do have with her. I always assumed that once I was an adult, I wouldn't even bother with her.
As I went to hang up she asked me if she could tell me a story about when she met me for the first time at the hospital. I knew which one it was; it's my favorite story. She told me about when they brought me home from the hospital that I couldn't stop crying, because I was addicted to crack from my birth mother. She said she would just rock me and sing to me.
I asked her if she ever got bothered or frustrated, and she said no.
"I had waited so long to love you and take care of you," she told me through the phone, sounding for the first time so far away.
Photographs by: Margaret Jacobsen