by Jacquelyn Delcamp
I always found the concept of coming out terrifying because it defied everything I knew growing up. If you ask me today, I will happily tell you I am a lesbian.
When I was younger, my outward appearance wasn’t really an issue; it was mostly something that many parents would chalk up to me having “tomboy” tendencies: shorter hair, clothes from the boys section, being a sports fanatic, and having friends that were boys. When I was in elementary school, I experienced something that still torments me. I was washing my hands and another girl entered the bathroom. She shrieked and pointedly questioned my presence in the girl’s bathroom since my physical appearance made it clear I should be in the boy’s bathroom. I was paralyzed by this embarrassment and let it fuel physical changes to “look like a girl.” I began constructing my closet of shame as I realized how uncomfortable my life would be if I didn’t change. My parents’ excitement about my physical changes would tell a lot about the years to come.
My physical appearance changed, but my interest in girls did not. I had boyfriends and saw my parents smile. I fell in love with my best friend, a girl, at age 15. Being with her turned my world upside down. I was aching to spend every moment with her. My parents allowed it, thinking nothing of the sleepovers. After a noticeable change in how I acted about her, my parents begrudgingly asked if I “liked girls.” I was used to hearing my parents drop comments about how gay people deliberately disobey God and that they had to remember “to love the sinner, not the sin.” I wasn’t ready to lose them, so I panicked and told them no.
Following my first year of college, wearing baggy shorts, a cut off t-shirt and terrified, I told my parents that I was gay.
Initially it was all anger, yelling, obvious disappointment, and fear. It was clear that they were scared and feared that my lifestyle would jeopardize their friendships, their livelihood, and their daughter.
“How? Jacquelyn! Why? You lied! I am so disappointed. What did we do wrong?” they asked.
After the anger, tears were the only communication I received from them for about a week. Whenever my mom saw me, she just cried and shook her head. Her tears radiated disgust, disappointment, and despair. They questioned why I hadn’t told them before and proposed religious counseling. They contemplated having me get my education closer to home. For them, I was choosing to live this life of sin and by doing so I was choosing to jeopardize our relationship. They didn’t understand that this wasn’t a choice for me. I would never choose to lose my family. I shut down. I feared their reaction and decided not to tell them I had been raped twice in the past six months. I don’t want them to think that’s why I am gay, I told myself. My closet of shame was the strongest it had ever been.
They let me return to school only because I promised to focus on school and soccer. A mere two months after my return I had a girlfriend, but I waited six months to tell them. I nervously sent an email filled with random updates, including that I was seeing someone, mostly to avoid their initial reaction. I hoped it would provide them time to digest the information before we discussed anything. All I got back was a few words along the lines of “We need time.”
At this point, I began to internalize everything I was feeling. I sought control in a way that would make my parents proud of me again. I decided that a fit body, the best grades, and professional success would compensate for being gay. I figured I could use these accolades as redemption for the shame I had deflected onto them. Instead, I developed an eating disorder, visited a psychiatrist to help my depression/anxiety, continued to suppress the nights I was raped, and turned to self-harm.
I started wishing my eating disorder would grab my parents’ attention, showing them there was something with me they could fix. Unfortunately, they didn’t believe that was real either. I was lost. I was searching for help in all the wrong ways and hiding my sexuality in ways that put my life in serious jeopardy. Ultimately, I didn’t care because without my parents, life didn’t seem worth living.
Five years have passed since I came out to them. On a weekend morning, I shipped a hand-written letter detailing everything I had been afraid to say to them before. I was raped. I have an eating disorder. I didn’t need medication, I needed acceptance. I am in love and want to get married. I miss them and I love them. The letter gave me the power to deconstruct my closet of shame. It stored all my fears about my parents’ perception of me and I was finally facing them. I was coming out again, in a big way, acknowledging things we had shoved under the rug for a long time and giving myself the safe space to do it.
My parents received the letter in May and visited in September to help my girlfriend and I move in to our new place in Chicago. I was anxious the entire time, afraid for what they might say or do. Surprisingly, they were cordial, providing help to compensate for the stress of moving. Their last night in town we had a conversation, just the three of us. Like something out of a movie, we sat on a bus bench and talked for hours. For the first time, we had a mature conversation about my sexuality. None of us could hide behind time or distance. We all communicated that we were upset with where our relationship was. My parents said they felt they were at a crossroad. My mother vocalized that she didn’t want this to ruin our relationship. However, they reiterated that they didn’t agree with my lifestyle, a belief that, five years later, remained steady and unwavering. Both asked that I live a more reserved, less open, life. My dad stated his plea for me to not get married because it would never be real. I felt ashamed and wanted to run back to the closet I remembered so that I wouldn’t lose them. But I didn’t.
I cannot change my parents’ beliefs, but I can change how I carry them. Shedding the shame I carried by accepting myself has helped me see how real and true my love is. I hope someday they can see my love the same way I see theirs.
Jacquelyn Delcamp is a music and sports junkie with a homegrown fondness for my family and the Nebraska Cornhuskers. She was born in a small town but has now become the small girl in the big Chicago city. She holds an office job during the day as a means to pursue her passion for writing. She’s a lifetime dog lover with a little ten pounder named Jazz that keeps her happy and warm in the awful Chicago weather. She’s a learning lesbian, embracing who she is in a place that lets her, and even talks it about it sometimes at JRD Chalk Talk.
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