“Did you just let it slide?” Sara asked.
“Not really…” I answered. She had asked out of sympathy. But she didn’t know that, for me, not letting it slide was just as unpleasant as letting it slide. The former meant facing my mother’s homophobia head on, rather than the latter, which just required swallowing her slight.
During move-in week, my mother and I were drinking coffee outside of Maison Mathis, and the conversation had drifted to my sister’s college applications. We wondered: Will she get into Yale? Should she apply? Would Yale be a good fit for her? This is where my mother’s obfuscating began. She assumed that others, including the university itself, would have to accommodate my sexuality. She tried valiantly to convey the ideas that my sister’s chances of admission may be jeopardized because of my being out at Yale, that my sister wouldn’t find Yale an attractive environment because I am out here, and that I was generally making a scandalous name for myself by being out here.
I describe her efforts as valiant because she tried to verbalize her feelings without explicitly saying the terms “gay” or “out.” The first pass began with, “I don’t know about her… with your thing…” coupled with forced laughter and a lack of eye contact. Another awkward minute later, I pieced together her point and began to laugh. In response, I articulated what she had been too afraid to say, not because she thought the accusations were hurtful but because the word “gay” was too distasteful for her use.
I didn’t exactly let it slide. I began to list all the queer people she had met over the past few days to prove that I was neither alone nor stigmatized. Luckily, there also happened to be a few gays whom I could spot from where I was sitting, so I pointed them out to her as well. She was stupefied by how many queer friends I had and by how many queer people I could spot.
My answer to Sara continued with a brief explanation. “…Yeah, I told her about how many gay people there are at Yale, and I think it put her at ease.” I also mentioned how my mother had met people I had hooked up with. But my response didn’t betray what rested beneath my words. I wasn’t sure what I felt, mostly a mixture of shame and anger. Part of it was the shame my mother has toward me, which has inevitably rubbed off on me. Another part was the resentment I felt, that her shame was so overwhelming she didn’t want my sister to be in the same environment as me. And I felt sorry that she projected her shame on everyone else, assuming that everyone who knew me was friends with me despite my queerness.
My conversation with my mom reminded me of two themes related to my queerness. First, I’ve been taught to assume everyone around me is homophobic. I don’t feel that way as much anymore, but visits with my parents reinforce the notion. When I’ve thought about expressing my queerness in any way, whether that be talking about a crush or dressing in a different manner, my first thought has always been: What will others think of me?
And second, I have a depth of experiences straight people don’t. I’ve been facing new situations posed by my queerness since age 5 and still do every day. I’ve been coming to terms with my sexuality since then, played straight for more than a decade and made tough calls about who gets to know the real me. Sara’s question was motivated kindly, and this column is my extended answer to her. At times, I wish to share all of this to answer a simple question, but I can’t. It’s not possible to constantly share so much.
I’m writing this column to discuss the complicated questions I don’t always get to answer. To me, this column is a chance to express how my identity as a queer person of color has influenced me. It’s a space for me to expand on the thoughts and feelings, which I don’t always have the bandwidth to explore in daily life. However, I’m mostly writing this column because it feels wonderful to have your experiences validated. I hope this does that for anyone who takes a read, no matter who you are.