In the early ‘90s, my mom and I were in the living room watching a talk show. On the bottom of the screen, a caption said the topic was homosexual teens. Growing up naïve in rural Alabama, I did not know what that meant. My eyes widened and my heart pounded when I realized what it was.
Jumping off the couch excitedly, I declared, “I’m one of those! I’m a homosexual!” Up until that moment, I believed that I was the only one in existence. My mom cried while telling me that I was in for a hard road but that she loved and accepted me for who I was.
I tried to learn about “my people,” but it was not easy without the Internet. I did find a book that had “coming out” stories and read in horror of teenagers who were kicked out of their homes and even severely beaten by their own parents for being gay.
Hearing that people were not as closed-minded outside of Alabama, I moved in with my Jewish grandma in a retirement community in Fort Lauderdale, Florida after I graduated from high school. My grandma was a widow, so I would take her to appointments with her doctors, grocery shopping, and to bingo, which was her favorite.
We watched soap operas on the highest volume, and she told me stories about her and my grandpa’s love for each other. I yearned to tell her about my own romantic desires, but my mom insisted that I would give her a heart attack if I did. I thought she might have a point because my Nanny always wanted to know when I was going to meet a nice, Jewish boy.
Then I met a girl and decided I would risk her heart with the revelation. “Nanny, I have to tell you something.” She turned her head away from her soaps and looked at me. “Nanny, I’m gay and I have a girlfriend,” I proclaimed nervously.
She was quiet for a couple of seconds that felt like an eternity and then asked, “Well, is she Jewish?” I smiled, “No, Nanny.” She rolled her eyes and turned her attention back to her soaps. Later on, she would invite my girlfriend over for dinner.
In a world that pushes people to behave according to socially acceptable conventions, I am thankful for having a family that lets me be myself.