In the Shadows (Response)

Dear Jane,

I have been thinking so much about your letter. Not only thinking about it, but talking about it to people in my life. I have a response for you today, but I may have some more responses for you, not just from my perspective–but from the perspectives of some other really amazing women who have gone through what you are going through right now. I think it’s invaluable to hear from others. And also, for you to know how truly not alone you are.

First of all, I want to thank you for writing me. That was so incredibly brave of you to share your story. Thank you for trusting me and Nora with it. Thank you for sharing it, not just with us, but with whoever else finds this.

When we take a risk and are vulnerable with our truest stories…the ones we are afraid to tell, that is when the most beautiful things happen on this earth. That is how we understand we aren’t alone.

My response to your letter is… I have 5 assignments for you. I figured as a teacher you’d appreciate tackling this like a list of to-dos. 😉

1. Tackle Operation Self-Love

The loudest part of your letter, was not about your desire to find love, or your fear about telling your father or godmother. The biggest relationship challenge that you have right now is the one with yourself. She is hurting. You said things like “ashamed” “shutting myself away” “something stopping me” “afraid” “living a life I don’t want”, with judgment against yourself about when you should have known, when you should have come out. You talk about stealing time from yourself, and apologizing to yourself.

Stop. Beating. Yourself. Up. Take a deep breath. Look in the mirror. Tell yourself you love yourself, unconditionally. No matter how gay you are, or how long it takes you to come out, or what else happens moving forward. You’ve got to be your own biggest advocate. She doesn’t need someone to be hard on her–life dishes out plenty of that shit. Forgive yourself for all these things you’re blaming yourself for. Say it out loud! Tell yourself “it is OK that you’ve waited to come out. it is OK that this is scary as hell. it is OK that you’ve felt ashamed and hidden this part of yourself. it is OK, and I forgive you.” Maybe also pay her a nice compliment about her hair or something. My dear, you are a gorgeous human with a huge heart. You are clearly a hard worker, a smartypants and a badass, and a great friend and daughter and teacher. Have compassion for yourself! It’s going to be ok. I’m going to say that multiple times in this letter. But you need to say it to yourself. You are going to get through this, but you’ve got to be there for yourself first. You have to have your own back in this.

When you have these negative thoughts and lies come into your head, things like “it’s too late” or “you’ve missed your chance”, acknowledge that voice and then dismiss it. Replace it with the truth. “I am going to get through this. It’s going to be ok. I’m proud of you and who you are. You are doing your best. I love you. I forgive you.” Having to hold something like this in for so long is so hard and scary. DO NOT give yourself a hard time for that. It’s been hard enough! Change the messages you tell yourself. Treat yourself like you would treat a close friend. No matter what happens with other relationships for the rest of your life, as long as you live you will have a relationship with YOU. Make it a good one.

In addition to the positive self-talk (keep saying it until you start believing it), do things that make you feel proud of yourself. Do things that make you feel like YOU and a badass. Do things that scare the hell out of you. Buy yourself some really good pizza and chocolate.

2. Find your Pride (even if it starts out small)

There is no right or wrong way to come out. Some people do it all at once with a big announcement, some people write it in icing on a cake, some people come out to others one at a time over many years. Anyone LGBTQ has to tackle this one way or another, or else live out their days cramped in a dark closet. You and I both know, that’s not going to be you. You are bursting at the seams and you are ready. The good news is that you are out to yourself! That is HUGE. All those years when I was writing Fish Out of Water I was dating Kay, and the whole time we were together she wasn’t out to others, let alone to herself. As hard as that was on me, it was so much harder on her. You have already done yourself a really big favor by recognizing this truth about yourself and accepting it.

I need you to stop all the judgment about timing of coming out. It is not your fault you are not out yet. I mean, technically you could have told people, but it’s the immense pressure and judgment of the world we live in that has made you feel trapped and unable to share this. Don’t take that blame upon yourself.

Unfortunately we still live in a dumb world where people generally assume everyone is straight. Thus, coming out is a reoccurring need if you are going to be open about who you are with people. The other good news is that the more you come out, the easier it gets. The first person I told was a therapist, when I was doing study abroad in Australia. I sobbed for our entire session as I told her. I was shaking. I used up a whole box of tissues. That was 10 years ago. The most recent person I told was a random co-worker who I don’t know well who asked about my weekend and I mentioned my new love. And when she asked “how did you meet him?” I replied without a second thought, “oh! she and I met through mutual friends.”

Not only do people assume everyone is straight, but unfortunately far too many people seem to still believe everyone should be straight, and that there is something shameful about being anything other than that. This is where Pride comes in. It sounds like you’ve done some seeking out online of queer connections–reading blogs, finding books or shows with positive gay role models. Those things were key for me. The next steps I took after that were to meet people who “get it”. I know you live in a small town. Maybe take yourself on a weekend getaway to a bigger city, somewhere with a gay bar or queer center. Some kind of events or meetups or anything LGBTQ-related. I’m so proud of your for joining tinder! I know that must have been terrifying. I think it could be valuable for you to get outside of your town for a bit and feel a little more free to be yourself. Go somewhere where you are anonymous–where no one knows you as gay or straight or a teacher, or anything about you! (Note: if you do this, just let someone know where you went for the weekend and be safe/check-in.) Put on a favorite outfit that you feel confident in and go dancing. Buy yourself a tiny charm with a rainbow or something and wear it somewhere hidden if you’re not ready for people to see it. But you’ll know it’s there! And it can be the tiniest act of secret rebellion and pride. Start somewhere.

Make an epic gay playlist. Sing “I Kissed a Girl” by yourself in your lovely cottage and scream it and dance.

More than dating right now, I feel like you could use some friends who are LGBTQ. Some apps let you specify friendship. That’s just a thought. It was years before I started finding lesbian friends. But before then I went on OKCupid searching for friends and found some lovely humans who were allies or who identified as queer. I used to just go hang out in the evenings at the only gay bar in my small city, and it felt so good to be around people who got it.

3. Build Support

That leads me to your next assignment. You need some support. It can be just one or two people. But you need to say the words out loud. It will relieve SO much of this pressure that’s building up. It sounds like your sister and best friend are great candidates for this. Think about if this situation was reversed, and they had a big part of themselves they shared with you but weren’t ready to share with the world yet–wouldn’t you be happy they trusted you with this important thing? Wouldn’t you be willing to keep that for a secret if they asked you to? Don’t worry about asking them to keep it a secret, that is a perfectly reasonable thing to ask! And you’re not saying keep it a secret forever, you are eventually going to get all the way out of that closet. Support is essential. It will help you keep up your courage when you start telling others, knowing you have someone on your side. It will help you not feel alone.

Allow those that love you to love all of you. Find one or two people you feel MOST safe with, and trust them with this part of you.

They might also have helpful advice when you decide to move forward in coming out to others, such as your father and godmother.

If not one of them, maybe there is someone not as integrated in your life that could be good to reach out to. When I came out, before I even told my siblings, I reached out to my older gay cousin, who I didn’t necessarily know super well. It was really helpful to have someone who was a little more objective, but still really cared about me, tell me it’s going to be ok.

Also think about finding a therapist. Therapy has been a lifesaver for me. Especially during defining times and big steps. Having an objective, non-judgmental person who has no ulterior motives and no vested interest in the direction of your life is so powerful. Because they literally just want what’s best for you! And can help you guide yourself through this. It would also be invaluable to have someone you’re meeting with before, during, and after coming out. They can provide a good perspective and watch your evolution and growth. They are also bound the secrecy by law! Haha. So you are safe there. Just something to think about!

I cannot describe the immense freedom you will feel telling this truth to someone face to face. You will take the a little more of the power out of the shame each time you tell someone.

4. Prepare for Various Outcomes

Sit down with a sheet of paper and draw a line down the middle. On the left side, write “what will happen if I never come out” and make a list of how you think your future will go if things remain as they are. What are you gaining? What are you losing? What do you look forward to? What do you miss out on? What are you excited about, and what do you fear? Take your time and really think it through. Then, on the right side of the page, do the same thing for “what will happen if I come out?” and envision your future in that scenario. Obviously you don’t know what’s going to happen in either case, because we can’t know the future–but take an educated guess.

Essentially it’s a pros and cons list. I’ve made lists like that for so many things in my life. What’s helpful, is it usually shows you where your heart lies, and which direction to move in. Not only that, but you can see it’s going to be ok.

Here’s the truth: you might lose some people when you come out. Or at least, they might not be as close as they were. But you distance yourself in your relationship with YOU as the alternative.

Think through your different outcomes. Think through worst case scenarios. Think of how you will feel. Think through best cases. Think through 20 years from now, what will matter. 5 years from now, what will matter. 6 months from now, what will matter. Think about what you want, in your soul. More than a job or car, what do you really and truly want out of life. Yes a partner, but also, authenticity of being yourself.

A few things will happen when you come out. Some people may be unhappy or hurt, or say hurtful things. Some people may surprise you with much better than expected reactions. Some people may be confused, or scared, or excited. But no matter what, you will be FREE and you will be true to yourself. That freedom is immeasurable. You will find your people, they will be drawn to you living genuinely and being brave. If your family doesn’t stick by you, or if they can’t accept you, and it will break your heart. But you will be ok. Also remember, sometimes these things take time with people, and they come around. Think through the worst cast scenarios and then picture yourself in that moment. Tell yourself, you will be ok. Think through how you will be ok. Have a game plan for taking care of yourself afterwards. Built that support.

When I came out to my father, I braced myself for the worst. He is a religious man, and holds fast to the Bible in the traditional sense. I knew he believed it was a sin. I told him, and he did not take it well. I was shaking, I was terrified. The conversation turned into an argument, and point by point he came at it as a debate that he was going to win. “You’re not gay, it’s just the ‘cool’ thing right now.” “You’re not gay, you just haven’t been able to get a guy yet.” “You’re not gay, I found your old journals once and you had a crush on a boy.” “You’re not gay, this is just a perverted channeling of your sexuality.” “We must have done something wrong for you to turn out this way.” “This is a choice, you are choosing this.” And it went on. And at the end of it, I did ask him, “Dad, would you rather have me be happy, or have me be straight?” and he couldn’t look me in the eye and give me an answer.

But many years have passed now, and we’ve revisited conversations. And I’ve seen him shift in the way he views this. I’ve seen how he’s treated partners I’ve brought home. And I have forgiven him for negative things he said in that moment. And he is so different now. I have NO doubt that if I framed that question again, he would say he wants me to be happy. Not only that, but I believe our relationship today is closer than it’s ever been because I am completely myself with him. My point is, it’s taken time. Prepare for the worst, and even if that is what happens, it’s STILL going to be ok. And it doesn’t even mean that relationship is lost. AT ALL. Even if people like your father and godmother react poorly in the moment, give them time. They love you.

Believe that love will win.

If the alternative is to not tell them, and keep the relationship… what kind of relationship will that be in the end? Each comment, like the one your godmother made, will slowly chip away at what you have. It will create a gulf between you. The more you accept yourself, without giving them a chance to accept you, the bigger the divide will be. And in the end, you will have only a partial relationship remaining.

If they fail you in this way, if they cannot accept you, you will find a way to form a new family. A family who accepts all of you.

I don’t think that’s your future. But even if it is, you’re going to be ok. I know I keep saying that… but it’s true!

5. Know that the Best is Yet to Come

I am going to tell you what someone told me when I was going through a dark time. “This bright path awaits you.” There is a bright path waiting for you, my dear. There is a bigger, fuller life waiting for you. A life that is something you will be proud to own and embrace. A life with a true love, a life where you are fully known by those who love you, and a life where you’ve shed your shame and walk with your head held high.

A life where you are most proud, not of your success or your work, but of your authenticity and bravery.

For your last assignment, I want you to write your future self a letter. Thank her for going through the hard things you will go through, thank her for fighting for your life. Thank her for being brave. Tell her all the things you want for her. Tell her you love her, and that you’re going to put in the work to get to that future.

YOU GOT THIS.

Who on earth told you 20s are the time of your life?? As a 30 year old looking back at that decade, I can tell you that the 20s is just a “work” decade. It’s a decade where you work on yourself. You work on finding your way in the world. And figuring out what you want in life. And who you want around you in life. And learning hard, hard lessons. And fucking up. And finding yourself. I was so relieved to graduate from my 20s! I can tell you 30s is already my favorite decade and I’ve just started it.

The BEST parts of life are still ahead for you, my dear.

Stop with all this nonsense about you having missed the best parts. They are waiting in your future until you’re ready! And it sounds to me like you are ready. You’ve put in a lot of work already in your 20s, and you’ve still got plenty of time. I didn’t come out until 22. I know quite a few strong women who waited until after 26 to come out! And who are now living fulfilling lives being openly gay. These opportunities don’t expire. You deserve all the good things this world has to offer–including a partner and a big love. It’s not too late. It is never too late.

You are not alone. It’s going to be ok.

Sending you love, light and strength across the ocean.

Your friend, Ruth

P.S. Write back with updates anytime! I’m also going to be sending you more things.

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