When I first “came out,” it was only to myself. There were no Pride parades and there were no parents marching in PFLAG rallies. Back then, it was definitely not okay to be anything other than straight. Heterosexual was normal, so if you weren’t straight, there was something wrong with you. And you learned to hide that something.
The only “gay” person I knew was my high school art teacher, who was routinely slandered by parents and students alike. When I was 18, I wrote this in my journal: “It’s awful feeling something so overwhelmingly powerful, yet at the same time realizing it’s entirely wrong in most eyes. I want to talk, but I can’t risk it.”
Over the next few years, I hid who I was, continuing to date a boy when my heart definitely wasn’t in it, but slowly gathering information through books (there was no internet then!). At around age 20, I made my first gay friend. We didn’t actually have much in common, but she did take me to my first gay bar. I remember looking around in astonishment at an entire room full of women, some holding hands, some kissing, some dancing close. All things I had never seen. It was like suddenly entering a whole other world – that was the happy shock of it.
And while I was glad to not feel so alone anymore, and to know there were others like me, and there were places they hung out, every time I left the bar to head home, I was filled with a deep sense of shame and confusion.
I had never heard a positive thing about being gay but I knew without a shadow of a doubt that I was this thing that was so loathed. I remember thinking that if my family or my friends could only crawl inside me and see how good my feelings were, and how happy this made me, then they would understand there was nothing disgusting or wrong about it.
Over time, I summoned the courage to be fully me while surrounded by people who didn’t approve. In a sense, I had no choice. It was becoming more and more clear that to continue to pretend I was something I wasn’t would make me deeply unhappy. And although I couldn’t quite articulate it then, I knew that to deny myself real and true love would actually harm the deeper “soul” part of me, no matter what anyone else thought or said.
That was about thirty years ago and it’s amazing how much has changed, not only in my family and my peer group, but in a societal way. Now, kids are coming out to their parents in their teens, there are gay-straight alliances in schools, and there is open conversation about the continuum of human sexuality that cancels out the dated belief that being heterosexual is normal and anything else is not.
This isn’t happening everywhere. There are kids who are still being bullied and beaten and ostracized for being different, and there are still countries where being anything but straight is not only illegal, but can get you imprisoned or killed by your own government.
But there has been a seismic shift in perception, and it continues to evolve. Of course, I have felt this acutely on a personal level, but I have also witnessed it in the lives of so many people around me who have surprised themselves by falling into “genderless love.” There is a new and fresh emphasis on love, and love alone, no matter who is loving who.
Elizabeth Gilbert’s announcement a few weeks ago is a perfect example of this. When the acclaimed author of Eat, Pray, Love told the world that she was in a new relationship and it happened to be with her best friend, who happened to be a woman, there were no labels involved. She didn’t say “And now, I’m a lesbian.” Or “I’ve just realized that I’m actually gay.” She said she was in love with Rayya Elias, who she had come to realize was “her person.”
True and simple. No hiding. No lying. No labels. No apologies.
And also, not easy. Gilbert talked about the fact that realizing she was in love with her best friend caused her to leave her marriage to the man she wrote about finding in Eat Pray Love. Sometimes when we open to love, it changes our lives entirely.
Truth is the force that guides us to where we need to be in life, but love is the power that heals us once we arrive there.
I remember sitting in a car with my mom when I about 15 years old, gathering up the courage to ask her a question that had been festering in me. The root of the question, I know now, came from the place of already knowing I was different and not being able to see this difference reflected in the relationships around me.
I was worried that I would never find someone who would love me. I don’t remember her exact words but the feeling of her answer has stayed with me all these years. It was a clear and emphatic: “Of course you will.” The feeling it gave me was that even though I couldn’t see the future right now and I couldn’t know who that person would be, love would not fail me. It was my first real sense that love was an intelligence, a mysterious and powerful force that would reveal itself to me over time.
She was right.
Love beckons us in a million different guises. I truly believe that it invites us in, inciting us to open, and then transforms us if we let it.
Have you let it?
Love is the most universal, the most tremendous, and the most mystical of cosmic forces. Love is the primal and universal psychic energy. Love is a sacred reserve of energy; it is like the blood of spiritual evolution.
—Pierre Teilhard de Chardin