Mashed potatoes, overcooked stuffing, and an antibiotic-infused Butterball turkey: these are the markers of the American holiday known as Thanksgiving. Unless, of course, you were at my house on Novem- ber 26, 1998. If that were the case, you would have also found a slightly tipsy, wine-drinking mom; a smiling, story-telling dad; a sullen, pre- pubescent little sister; and me at the age of seventeen, clad in Salvation Army–sourced clothing, about to tell my parents that I was gay.
First, some background. Until my senior year in high school, I identified as a straight girl with very close girlfriends and a deep adoration for Liv Tyler. My very observant mother, however, had asked me countless times if I was a lesbian. My answer was always the same: “No, Mom, calm down and stop asking me!” Then, in the fall of 1997, I met a girl. We became friends. We hung out. We kissed. We liked kissing. We did some other stuff. This happened a few times, and then that thing happened. That oh-dear-God-my-stomach-is-squeezed-and-my-heart- is-in-my-throat thing. I liked this girl.
In addition to my oh-my-God-I’m-gay panic, I was horrified that my mother had been right all along. As we all know, telling your parents that they are right about anything is almost impossible between the ages of eleven and twenty-four. I didn’t breathe a word of my gayness to any- one but my close friends for almost a year, which brings us back to the Thanksgiving Day surprise.
Once my sister had left the table, I began to complain about an awful translation of the Bible that had been given to me by a relative. I said something like, “They make it sound like God hates gay people, but that is a load of BS.” My mom looked up from her stuffing, her eyes troubled by my angry tone, and asked, for the hundredth time, “Kristin, is there something you want to tell us?” Then . . . it just happened. I dug my fin- gers into my palm, mustered up as much teenage courage as I could, and answered, “Yes. I want to tell you both that I’m gay.”
The first thing my parents said to me, and the thing I will always remember, was that I was their daughter and they would always love me. For that, I was (and still am) very thankful. After this initial reaction, however, my mother began what would be a very long journey in rec- onciling her love for her child with her deeply instilled religious beliefs. The first few years were very hard. My mother and I fought a lot. She cried a lot, and I yelled even more. Through all of it, though, we never stopped loving each other.
Over time, the yelling calmed into a dialogue. She allowed herself to meet my girlfriend. Our conversations progressed, and she began to ask me questions. Slowly, girlfriends were invited over for dinner, and my mother and I found common ground amid differing beliefs.
The thing about coming out is that it isn’t one moment at a Thanksgiving dinner table. It is a process that takes patience, understanding, and com- passion. It is different for everyone. All we can do is share as much of ourselves as we feel comfortable with and work diligently at accepting who we are, with or without the understanding of those around us.
Kristin is the CEO & Co-Founder of both Everyone Is Gay & My Kid Is Gay. She also hosted & produced the first season of First Person, a video series on gender and sexuality from PBS Digital. She co-authored the book This is a Book for Parents of Gay Kids (Chronicle, 2014), is the co-director of A-Camp, and holds a Master’s in Gender Studies from the CUNY Graduate Center in Manhattan.