Hi, I’m Jill and I want to be your first gay friend.
Okay, I know that you probably don’t need a gay friend. You probably already have a gaggle of them… or whatever a group of gays is called. (A swaggle? Maybe a glitter? A glitter of gays!) You may be one of them. But there are still plenty of people out there that are lacking a queer friend.
When I came out as a lesbian at age 40, leaving a relationship and marriage of nearly 20 years to my one and only serious boyfriend, I realized very quickly what it means to walk the earth as a queer person… and it’s not the same path as the straight and narrow I had become accustomed to.
Silly me for thinking that in 2019 things were fine and dandy for the LGBTQ+ community.
Silly me for thinking that the shock, fear, and hate spewed towards Ellen DeGeneres after her monumental coming out in the ’90s was a phenomenon of the past.
Silly me for thinking that legalizing same-sex marriage in the US in 2015 somehow meant things were equal.
My Own Gay Friends
I had queer friends before I came out; long before I realized that I, too, might be one of them. They rarely complained or vented about any hurtful words or fearful moments they may have experienced in their lives, and most never shared their history or coming out stories. They simply went about their days, sometimes stealthy sliding through their day-to-day activities in such a way that nobody would know anything about their private lives if they weren’t directly asked. (And even if they were asked, they had become masters of redirecting the conversation). Their stories of love and family, religion and relationships, weren’t there… unless perhaps some vodka was involved.
I get it now.
Coming Out Today
My own coming out was during a period of time and in a place (Tampa Bay) that by all accounts was pretty darn accepting. And even still, I have received my fair share of ugly, vile, and hurtful comments. I have felt scared. I’ve been stared at and looked at with disgust. I can see now why so many of my friends chose to keep their stories hidden from the mainstream gaze. It wasn’t necessarily out of shame, it was more about safety and self-preservation. Their era of coming out was not my era of coming out. I can only imagine what things must have been like for them.
I struggled as to whether I should create this blog space. Who was I to have a voice within the LGBTQ+ community? Who was I, as a middle-aged, homeschooling mom, to suddenly hop into the arena of advocacy, armed with a bevy of pride apparel and enough rainbow flags to look like the United Gaytions (See what I did there? Does that qualify as a dad joke?). My family took pleasure in reminding me that I was neither the first nor would I be the last queer on this planet, and that I absolutely did not need to embark on a quest to become the most vocal. The existence of Ellen was their chief talking point. As long as she existed, what was my purpose?
Waiting On Inspiration or Divine Intervention
So, I took an extended break. I stared at my blank screen. I annoyed my fabulously patient girlfriend with circular conversations about life purpose, relevant content, and the overuse of dad jokes. She assured me of three things:
1) My story had value.
2) Building connection and understanding is key to affecting change.
3) Someone might smirk at my lame attempts at humor.
So here we are, you staring at my words. Me, envisioning you staring at my words. You forwarding the blog link to your friend who finds the content relevant. Me, envisioning your friend reading my words and telling you that I’m the equivalent of a queer cheeseball… but that the information was interesting. You, envisioning exactly what a queer ball of cheese might look like.
Divine Intervention from an Ally
Serendipitously, as I was writing this very blog, something happened. I was sitting on my computer at the martial arts school where my kids and I train, having my usual internal struggle as to whether I deserved to throw my hat in the ring, or just defer to The Queen Mum, Ellen in regards to all things queer ball of cheese. My kids were in a class, leaving me a sweet 30 minutes to pray that brilliance would fly forth from my fingertips and onto the computer page. It didn’t. Foiled again, Batgirl.
Then, one of the other martial arts moms approached me. She had seen my Facebook posts about coming out and listened to the chapter of my soon-to-be-published book, Perfectly Queer, on YouTube. She asked me how things were going. I blabbled something about blogging and fear of putting myself out there again. She kindly asked why I was fearful since I had already done it before. What else could be the problem?
“Each time I write or post something, I am opening myself up to commentary. And I can have 99 beautiful and heartfelt comments that bring me to tears, and one hurtful one that also brings me to tears. The hurtful one is always the hardest to shake. I just don’t know if it’s worth it.”
Are We Okay with Gay?
She asked if she could share with me how my story had impacted her own family. She started with “I’m a Christian and I read the Bible every day.” I braced myself for impact. “We don’t have anyone gay in our family. We don’t even really have gay friends. So when I heard your story and shared it with my son, he had some difficult feelings. He had heard negative things about gay people and wasn’t sure what to think. We talked about how much we liked you, and how we respected you, and what a good mom and good person you were. And then I reminded him that the person you were is still the same person you are, and there is nothing we need to change about how much we like you or care about you. Our only job is to love.”
I exhaled. She finished, “I’m glad you shared your story so that he could have you as a positive example in his life. I’m glad you’re our friend.”
If there was anything that could convince me to put myself out there one more time, it was that. Understanding. A heart and mind that could have felt one way, now feels another because I shared my truth.
Gay Friend Goals
So that is my new goal. Meet people. Love people and be loved in return. Be someone’s first gay friend. It’s not perfection or equality. It’s not ridding people of homophobia, one small-talk conversation at a time. But it sure is a step in the right direction and I will never again question if my voice has a purpose. It had a purpose. It has a purpose. And it will continue to have a purpose. And your voice had, has, and will too!
Welcome to Queer Abby, a safe space to ask honest questions and learn through stories from myself, others in the LGBTQ+ community. and our allies. Hold on to what resonates, leave what doesn’t. We all have stories that deserve to be told. Let’s build bridges of understanding… one word at a time.
Hey there, my new swaggle of friends. Thanks for being here.