“It wasn’t as fun as I thought it would be.”
I had imagined the day would consist of an outpouring of emotion to my family followed by rainbows sprouting from my feet and lifting me up into the air, multi-colored confetti cannons showering my flight, ending with a landing among the powerful hands of drag queens ready to give me my new “gay” look. If only it were that exciting.
Instead, I was confronted. My mother sheepishly walked into my bedroom, and made herself comfortable as though the subject of our conversation would be relaxed. She started slowly and then built up to the line I could only imagine her practicing in the mirror in order to get the delivery just right: “Are you gay?” My heart fell to my stomach as my sophomore self quickly stammered and attempted to deny all accusations.
“Brooke, I saw your neck this morning.”
If you think your stomach can only drop once, you’re wrong. I felt my heart drop to my toes. To be completely honest with you, I blacked out for the remainder of the conversation and have no idea what was said. All I remember are my immediate reactions: cold sweat, heartbeat in the middle of my throat blocking all other modes of speech, and fear. So much fear.
My family has never been exceedingly welcoming to the gay community. To be fair, I have never witnessed them be averse to the LGBT+ community but they remained cautiously friendly around my best friend’s moms. I have always been part of a hard-right family politically, complete with all-grey cars and a father who only drinks Pepsi, and there was a minor uproar when my cousin brought an African American man home for Christmas. I had no idea what can I would open if I came out, and that’s why I didn’t.
My mother did it for me.
Yes, I take full blame for accidentally leaving the 12 hickeys imprinted upon my chest in full view, but they were noticed while I was asleep. They could only have been from one person who was lying beside me who happened to be a woman. Thus, followed the former story with my mom.
I’ll be honest: it’s hard. It’s been harder than I ever thought it would be. I felt like all the cards were stacked against me. I went to an all-girls Catholic high school where my petition of 200 signatures (which was about 4/5 of the school) to create a Gay-Straight Alliance in the school led to the Archbishop of the state creating a ban against its formation. There’s an awkward conversation with each new roommate in college just to make sure they’re okay to room with someone who’s gay. It’s been a lot of sneaking around, secrets hidden, and numerous guilt trips as a result of expressing my true self.
I took my long-distance girlfriend to my senior prom. My mother didn’t talk to me for that entire week and then some. I couldn’t get ready at my house, but at my best friend’s house (who didn’t even go to my school) because others did not want to see that part of me. I had to find my girlfriend a place to stay because she wasn’t allowed to stay with me at my own home. Even at prom I kept looking over my shoulder because of all the glares from the teacher chaperones. These were just some of the various difficulties that arose throughout the weekend. I spent all of this extra time planning, which I would have much rather spent with my girlfriend.
This isn’t all to say it isn’t worth it. I am unbelievably happy with the woman that I am growing into. I am blessed with an incredible support system of friends and mentors who keep me going when times get tough. They are the ones I lean on when I can’t stand up for myself. They guide me through what seems like the darkest of nights into the lightest of days. Apart from my immediate support group, I know there are tons of people out there that have very similar stories to mine. With the Internet at our fingertips, I can easily find those stories and reach out to those who have been impacted. For every fight that I have, there is a pride I celebrate. For every uncomfortable conversation held about sleeping situations, there is one of my best friends ready with cuddle puddles and movies.
College has been a blessing in disguise. I am given the opportunities to be 110% me in both social and professional settings. I’ve learned that there are plenty of people who are willing to help with any situation, you just have to find the courage to ask. I have become more devout in my faith while also immersing myself deeper in my studies. Being surrounded by best friends all the time lets me explore different facets of myself and choose just the right ones. They don’t force me to fit inside of a box and help me learn more about who I am. They empower me to be the strongest woman I can be, because my sexuality doesn’t determine who I am. It doesn’t determine what I can and cannot do. I am a strong, beautiful, woman… who also just happens to kiss other women who possess the same qualities.
If you’re currently struggling with a similar situation, stay strong. There is light at the end of the tunnel and people you can turn to for help. You can even reach out to me and we can chat about how amazing it is to be queer! A strong, queer woman once told me “your emotions are always valid” and I live that day in and day out. You are expressing a part of yourself that is beautiful and incredible, and that is something to celebrate. Find the small victories in each day: waking up in the morning, finishing all your homework before the deadline, or even just eating breakfast. There is always something to celebrate even when everything seems so bleak. Never give up hope. There’s so much left in the world for you to discover – and so many PrideFests to attend!
Brooke Stiles is a rising junior at Denison University and a contributor at GlamSalad.com. When she is not in a costume shop or thrift store, she can be found snuggled up with her puppers watching “Gossip Girl” for the thousandth time. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cover photo captured by Peter Hershey.