My Coming-Out Story(ies)
Credit: Steve Johnson
I was very unhappy living at home during high school. My father was an alcoholic with some anger issues and a propensity toward putdowns that seared into your soul. My mother was extremely passive and inhibited about her own feelings. Her depression immobilized her and her inability to understand emotions made her unsympathetic at times. Because of my father’s money, I have characterized my childhood as “Everything we wanted, but nothing we needed emotionally.”
I had somewhat run-of-the-mill prospects for college based on my general SAT scores, but when I got a 798 out of 800 on the English speciality test, schools came knocking on my door. I chose Macalester College in St. Paul, where a couple of my friends were also going, some of whom I am still in touch with.
I had skipped third grade and therefore graduated at 17 and three months, a very immature 17 at that. But I was finally going to get out of that house. I was ready to see if I could find some emotional support and understanding.
I had a boyfriend, JN. He was cool; we did a lot of interesting things together. Continuing the tradition of my male cousins, he regularly told me I was fat. As my cousins unkindly pointed out, “parece un barril” (she’s shaped like a barrel), but I was not actually obese in college. Anyway, one Sunday we were biking from St. Paul to MInneapolis when I turned my head mid-bridge and smashed my head through a windshield next to me, also bruising the living hell out of my left leg. Apparently I flew off the bike and was out cold for three minutes. I just remember waking up on the pavement and seeing a lot of people’s legs. The wiffle-ball bat I was holding also flew and landed in the Mississippi River at almost the midpoint between St. Paul and Minneapolis.
In the hospital, I had a roommate whose bed was kitty corner to mine. I was by the window. She had a strange and delightful visitor, what I now know was her butch girlfriend. I was openly staring at them, nosy as I am. The butch started laughing during one of these visits and said, cryptically, “It won’t be long.” What she meant was, before I come out. I carried on with JN for a while but I had a dream one night that I was making love with a woman. I told JN I thought I might be gay.
Somehow I got wind that there were a lot of women in Iowa City. That would be my next stop. I diddled around until I dropped out of Macalester before finishing my second year. (Full ride from my father at a well-respected school...had no notion of money, privilege or opportunities then. I was too troubled to think clearly.)
So JN agreed to accompany me to Iowa City via our usual mode of transportation, hitchhiking. We had hitched our way to the West Coast previously, so we were pros by then. We got there, and I landed at the University of Iowa Women’s Center, a beautiful three story house in the row of affinity houses on campus. Lo and behold, there were women living there surreptitiously! They invited me to live there. One young sweet woman was living in the attic, and a lesbian couple lived on the second floor. The femme cooked for us; her apple pie was amazing. I was young, fresh, cute and clueless about everything. I remember the femme asking me to contribute to food costs if I was going to eat with them. What a concept!
After a few weeks of observing me and my interest in becoming a lesbian, the sweet young woman took me by the hand, led me up to her attic room and made love to me. I was 19 years old. It was thoroughly amazing to kiss a woman. All the confusion I’d had about what was wrong with me (at least sexually) disappeared. I remember saying in my head, “Thank you, thank you, thank you” over and over again. This was so right! She only did her lesbionic duty of bringing me out. We did not have any sexual interaction after that. I don’t even remember her name. But she changed my life!
I was so happy and excited to be a lesbian that I told my father about it the next time I saw him. (The reader can imagine an old-school Cuban man’s reaction to the news. He had his eye on a Cuban major league baseball player to marry me off to.) So at 20, my father disowned me, a rejection that would be repeated a couple more times. It hurt like hell to be alienated from my Cuban family. Felt like I had to decide between being a lesbian and being Cuban. I moved to San Francisco in 1974 and enjoyed the Pride parades and general openness of the times. However, my old friend depression has never left me. During one very low period I convinced myself that I should give men a try. So at 30 I went to visit Rafa, who I had met two summers earlier and ended up marrying him. At the wedding my mother was visibly excited at the possibility that I might be straight. My father was unhappy that I had ‘married down.’ (Limosnero con garrote!) (Adding insult to injury!) This led to two beautiful children and the need for a ‘second coming’ at the age of 39. Still, the Gonzalez family was the first loving family that I became a part of, and I now consider Rafa a brother and his ex-wife Lori my sister-in-law.
I had developed my pattern by then: Depression, looking for love in all the wrong places, poor decision. Lather, rinse, repeat. Once I went through menopause, my mood swings seemed to die down. But my old friend depression still haunts me. My 65th birthday was lesbian themed. Attendees received their own Card Carrying Lesbian calling cards. Fort Lauderdale gives my lesbian and Cuban identities full rein, with wild green parrots as a bonus blessing. The knees may have become a bit creaky, the depression may poke its head out from time to time - but now my spirit has been reborn.