by Amanda Vodola
I probably smoked about five cigarettes on my work break before I decided to just call. I danced around it for a couple of minutes before I finally just said, “I’ve been meaning to tell you and Dad… I’m bi.” There was a pause, and my mother responded with something along the lines of “We kind of figured.” After I told her to tell the rest of my family, I abruptly ended the conversation and had to go back to work.
Later, after my mother processed it, she sent me an e-mail asking why it took so long for me to tell them, that they were somewhat hurt that I wasn’t honest with them. To be honest, my family has always worked hard to be accepting, so most people wonder why it took until I was 21 to tell my parents.
The reason I should have known how accepting my parents would be was also the reason why I resisted the idea of coming out to them – normalcy. I was adopted from South Korea as an infant, and they are my family. Period. I have the privilege of never questioning their love for me, of their unrelenting support and protection. My family, all white, is bordering on cookie-cutter normal; I never felt like the odd one out in the family, but I was quickly introduced to racial discrimination upon setting foot in the small town’s school system.
There was nothing I could do about my race, but I quickly learned to police my behavior. I did as many things as possible that screamed, “I’m just like you!” I didn’t want to be different. So I’ll always remember being about nine years old, when Titanic was a big deal, asking one of my brothers what it meant that people were saying Leonardo DiCaprio was “bide.” My brother corrected me, and said, “It’s bi. It means he likes girls and boys.” He had pulled a face, and I remember chastising myself for asking; it wasn’t normal to be bi.
I didn’t grow up noticing outright homophobia, but I knew the negative associations. By middle school, I partook in saying things were “gay” because other people were saying it; I didn’t want to risk being associated with anything gay. I became a bully, putting others down to distance myself, claim what I was not. It was during this time that I began to learn on my own what it meant to be gay, and it wasn’t a good thing. I heard “faggot” and “dyke” hurled as insults, and I feared what it meant if those accusations held truth.
It wasn’t until high school that I realized that my unrequited affection for the guys in school mimicked the plot lines of TV teen dramas more than my actual desires. I was genuinely attracted to them, but something wasn’t right. I wasn’t sure what because at this point I was pretty decent at acting like someone else.
When a close friend of mine came out around this time, her family told her she needed help, that it was just a phase. It horrified me, and my parents’ pity made me think, “At least my parents wouldn’t be that bad.” Then I became familiar with the idea that “It’s fine when it’s not your kid.”
At a family dinner, an Elton John song came on at the restaurant, and my dad insensitively noted, “This song came out back when Elton John was normal.” I yelled at him, told him he was offensive. I had confessed to my friend that “Maybe I wasn’t straight.” I was just beginning to open myself up, and this made me slam the closet door shut tight. I insisted adamantly that I was an ally, that I would do everything I could to support her. I didn’t know at the time that I was mustering up the strength to discover the part of myself that I kept hidden.
Because I insisted for so long, even two years into college, that I was a straight ally, it was even harder to tell those I had constantly assured I was straight that I might be bisexual or “queer.” Maybe it was my stubbornness, but telling those people felt like saying, “Surprise! I was lying to you the whole time!” I didn’t want my friends to question my motives for befriending them; I wanted things to remain as they were – normal.
I came out on campus first, and my friendships really blossomed because of that, but family visits filled me with anxiety when I worried that I might get outted. As if testing the waters, I often openly talked about my involvement in the LGBTQ alliance at school. I made it political, and I found strength in learning more about LGBTQ organizing. Still, I began to see myself as this “other” within my family. I was their only daughter, and part of me felt like I was failing the role I was expected to fill.
Once I was to become president of the LGBTQ alliance at my school, I knew I couldn’t be this person LGBTQ students would meet with and not be out to my parents. I couldn’t hold that position honestly without being honest with my parents. I had learned from coming out to my friends that heavily planning a speech typically just made me want to throw up, so one day, when it was all too heavy, I went on break and called my mom.
I wasn’t raised in a homophobic household, but a heteronormative one. I felt the weight of normalcy put on my shoulders by a heterosexist society. My family, loving me in the only way they knew how, wanted me to excel and be happy in this world, which comes with the expectation of being straight. They’ve come a long way, and I speak as honestly as possible about what it means for me to be queer. This has led to my mom asking about my dating life, and one awkward exchange where my father asked if I ever went to a lesbian bar before. I take these moments as moments of them asking to know how to love and support me, as moments I can educate them. In growing into my queerness, I accepted that normal is pretty overrated, and I appreciate how my family has loved me throughout all these growing pains.
Amanda Vodola works part-time at a health food market, and she also does freelance writing. She moved back home last year after being diagnosed with DCIS, and – having stepped back after moving – she hopes to jump back into political organizing. When she is not working, she enjoys creative writing and studying social and literary theory.
Want to become a volunteer writer? Tell us here!