Coming Out Again and Again

Filed under: Gay Parenting, Opinions

To be gay is to have a coming out story -- that day when we finally confided in a friend, confessed to a crush, told the family or found ourselves accidentally outed on Facebook.

Together, these transitional moments moved us from life before to life after, and they deliver us to our new identities -- as members of a despised minority. Hooray!

But unlike other outcasts, we have our secret weapon called "passing." I don't wear man-style clothing or sport a butch buzz cut, so I'm contentedly, anonymously gay when I want to be. I can ride safely on a subway car filled with homophobes any time I want, assuming I don't wear my "Nobody knows I'm a lesbian" T-shirt.

And, for 10 years after I came out, I had the choice of revealing myself or not, as I saw fit. My family and friends knew I was gay, as did most of my coworkers and my closest neighbors. But to the dry cleaner, the crossing guard, the guy at the corner store who sold me milk at midnight, I was just another customer -- no personal details needed, thank you very much.

And then I became a mom.

The minute Em* and I started walking around the neighborhood pushing a stroller, we may as well have had that T-shirt slogan tattooed on our foreheads. At first, there were the double-takes and the cautious questions -- they were actually kind of funny to me (less so to Em, who found them excruciating).

You could practically see the thought bubbles over people's heads: Just where did that baby come from? Whose is it? Are those two women, um, you know?

And we were determinedly matter-of-fact about it. The baby had been born in Russia, and we had recently adopted her. Yes, together.

But that was nothing compared to what followed in the next few years. Once we had Ann*, and then Mary*, there was no more passing -- we were and are out every day. Every stinking day, like it or not, we are out.

We've outed ourselves to potential baby-sitters, to the pediatrician, to the preschool. We've done it in words ("Ann and Mary have two moms") and in deed (as we crossed out the "father" line on emergency contact sheets and Little League registration forms and wrote in "mother" again). We helped one elderly neighbor figure it out ("Are you the mom?" "Yes, I'm the mom." "I thought that other lady was the mom?" "We're both the moms." Pause. "Ohhhhhhhhhh ...")

Sometimes it's easy, and, if I'm in the right mood, it can even be fun. The dry cleaner was fun, to me at least, when he assumed Em (who is younger than I am) was our daughters' grandmother. I got less of a kick out of the mom at the schoolyard who visibly blanched when I introduced myself as Ann's other mom.

Some outings are really hard from the get-go, but surprise us on the other side. After a decade of solo membership in our local church, Em had to walk into the parish office to make arrangements for Ann's baptism, which just may have been the bravest thing she's ever done.

A few weeks later, we went to church together with our 18-month-old baby and 50 of our closest friends, along with half-a-dozen straight couples and their newborns. To our joy, the church was open to naming two lesbians as the parents on the baptismal certificate, but declined to include our choice of godmother because she's a Quaker. We do live in funny times.

We couldn't have "passed" that day in church, but we've had our opportunities and we deliberately don't take them. We know this is for our girls' sake -- if we act embarrassed or ashamed of our family, what message do we give them?

Only if we are matter-of-fact about our family structure will we convey our pride in who we are, absent any labels anyone puts on us. So, we make damned sure everyone knows: the school principal, the baseball coach, everyone. Even the lady in front of us at the checkout line who made a rude comment about Ellen DeGeneres's wedding photo on the cover of a tabloid -- she knows now, too (whoever she was). If I let my kids hear her kind of bigoted remark go unchallenged, what am I telling them about our family?

But, still, I cringed a little inside at that incident. Couldn't I just buy the dang groceries without having to do this again? "I think it's great," I said with a smile I hope she didn't know was forced. "My family is gay, too." I scored points for visibility, and for family pride, but they didn't come easy.

And, so, we out ourselves, or our kids out us, every day. Some days we do it proudly, others we wish maybe, just this once, we could pull the covers back up and not have to say it again. But we know we're doing the right thing.

One recent morning, when a scheduling problem had me doing the school drop-off rather than running for my early train, my kindergartner dragged me up the steps announcing to everyone that this mommy is taking me to school today because my regular mommy is busy. I've never felt quite so regular as I did at that moment.

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.