Lesbian Vocabulary, U-Hauls, and the Family That Comes Out Together

by Lindsay Miller

Just so you know, I’m straight. You’re the best person to help me because I need to “come out” to my ultra-conservative, evangelical Christian family. I have not been involved in their religion in many years, but I was raised in it. Since becoming an adult and leaving the church, I have some family members who have become distant or cold, some who actively try to save me, and some who treat me like they always have. My entire extended family belongs to this religion.

Growing up in the church, I knew marriage meant that I would find a nice boy, settle down, and be a good submissive wife. Yuck. So, I told all my family for years (since I was a pre-teen) that I was not interested in marriage or children. When I left the church, I had a few short flings, a few one night stands, and a wonderful long-term relationship that I kept private from my family. It ruined my long-term relationship, and I don’t blame him for not understanding why I didn’t feel comfortable sharing our relationship with my mom or siblings. It’s messed up!

My family thinks I’m a weird loner who isn’t interested in love, and I’m OK with being different, but thats not really true. If I tell them I’m in a relationship with someone who is not from the church, they will try to change my mind. If they know I’m having sex (i.e. spending the night away from home) they will shun me. I will be the worst kind of sinner and a bad influence and no longer acceptable to them. I love my family (they’re really nice people and very supportive despite what I just wrote above), and I don’t want to have to choose between them and finding a life partner.

I guess I should mention that I actually do want marriage, kids, the whole package. And I like sex, so giving that up isn’t something I want either. How do I keep enough of my life private so that I’m not treated like the antichrist, but let them in on enough so that I don’t feel like a rebellious teen and alienate all future love interests? Is this even possible? I just want them to understand that I’m the same person they love, no matter what I do in the privacy of my bedroom.

One more thing, after the economic crisis hit, my mom and younger sister (14 years old) needed help. I’ve been supporting them financially for the past three years. Mom now has a good job and hopefully they will be moving out soon. In the meantime, we have to live together which is extra motivation to stay on good terms.

Oh, wow, I totally agree. Living together on your dime for three years is definitely plenty of motivation for your mom to stay on good terms with you. You should absolutely remind her of that any time she gets it into her head to tell you what you can and can’t do with your own personal life. It is not your responsibility to sneak around for the sake of making peace — especially when you’re already sacrificing your money, time, and personal space for your mother’s comfort.

You’re right: you need to come out. You don’t need to say “Mom, I’m having premarital sex, and here’s a list of my favorite positions,” but you need to stop hiding your wants and needs from your family. Pretending to be someone you’re not (uninterested in sex, partnership, having kids) to cover up the person you are (interested in all of those things, just uninterested in religion) is not a feasible long-term strategy. As countless gay people with conservative families have learned before you, it’s not possible to have an open, healthy, loving relationship with someone who fundamentally doesn’t respect an important part of who you are. The fear and distrust will curdle inside you and, even if you never confess to a single non-religion-approved kiss, your frustration and resentment will eventually ruin your relationship with your family.

I think when you boil it down, there are only two basic things an advice columnist ever tells anyone. The first is “take responsibility for your own shit,” and the second is, “understand that the only shit you can take responsibility for is your own.” Right now, you need to do both. Being honest with your mother and the rest of your family is a step you need to take toward being a happy, healthy, grown-ass women, but you’ll also have to accept the fact that their reaction is beyond your control. Chances are good that after an initial freaking-out period, they’ll think it over and realize that having you in their lives is much more important than any differences in ideology. But that part is out of your hands. All you can do is be true to yourself and give them the opportunity to accept you and love you as you are.

So, I’m a lady who doesn’t know how to think of herself anymore, and I could use some advice. My earliest memory of wondering about gayness is when I read some article by a woman saying, “it doesn’t make you gay if you feel attracted to women! It could just mean you think they’re pretty!” And I was like, “oh, thank goodness! That means I’m not gay!” My first crush on a boy a year later was met with similar relief. And from that moment on, I was straight.

I had one serious crush on a girl in high school, but I couldn’t sort out whether I liked her romantically or whether I just wanted to BE her. That’s the last time I crushed on a woman. I also continued to have many crushes on men, and in college I began dating seriously and fell in love with a guy. After we broke up, I casually dated a ton of men. And I enjoyed it, and I didn’t feel like I was missing anything at all. Most of this time, I wasn’t even thinking there was a possibility I was anything besides straight. That one girl crush was a fluke, I thought.

A couple of years ago I started thinking, well, maybe I should try sleeping with a lady just to see what it’s like! But again, I just assumed I could not possibly be bi because I didn’t ‘feel’ bi, whatever that means. I didn’t feel closeted, or repressed, or anything. I felt like a straight women, because that’s what I’d always been. A straight woman who simply… kept thinking about sleeping with women. Totally normal!

Well, so it finally happened recently, at age 25. I did sleep with a woman. And I found it to be pretty awesome and something I’d love to do more of. But now I feel like don’t know what my deal is, and I feel like I don’t deserve to call myself queer. I’m terrified that I’m actually really straight and just being a ladysex tourist, or that I’ll get serious with some girl and then realize I can’t do it, and that no one wants me around in any sort of lesbian context whatsoever.

I don’t know how to go from here. I don’t know how to explain my identity to anyone, or to myself. And I’m really, really worried that I’m in the same class as sorority girls making out at a party for male attention. Eep.

If I could wave a magic wand and change one thing about the world, I think what I’d like to do — more than getting rid of the Tea Party or making student loans payable in mediocre poetry — is get rid of the entirely natural, entirely human, entirely useless impulse to “explain our identities,” specifically when it comes to sex. Sexual identities (gay, straight, bisexual, queer, etc.) were created as descriptors for behaviors and feelings — whom you fuck, whom you’d like to fuck, whom you’re attracted to, whom you love. What you do and what you want determines what you call yourself; what you call yourself doesn’t determine what you’re allowed to do.

So: if you want to fuck girls, but you’re nervous about calling yourself a lesbian, you should just go ahead and fuck girls. That’s really the fun part of being a lesbian. The rest is just vocabulary. If you’re trying to pick up on a lady, and she’s like, “So are you gay or what?” you can just shrug enigmatically and say, “I don’t really like labels, you know?” and she will probably find you complicated and sexy.

But, for what it’s worth, I think you can go ahead and call yourself gay or queer or bisexual or whatever sounds right to you. You like sex with women but you’re unsure whether a relationship with a woman will work out (spoiler alert: it won’t! At least not the first few times! Everyone gets their heart broken right out of the gate, so have fun with that!). That’s perfectly normal and in no way similar to making out with girls at frat parties while dudes cheer you on. You’re not a tourist; you’re more like someone on a work visa who’s thinking seriously about emigrating and staying permanently, or at least trying for dual citizenship. As far as we’re concerned, you’re welcome to stay as long as you want.

It’s not at all unusual for people to discover — or at least get around to exploring — their queerness later in life, and it doesn’t make your feelings any less authentic. I get that you’re nervous about committing to a label other than “straight,” but don’t let your fear stand in the way of who you want to be — or who you want to be with.

Six months ago, my mom started dating a woman. Her very first girlfriend. Most people I tell this to say “Yay! That’s so great! She’s finally OUT!” but the relationship she has is incredibly off-putting for reasons besides gender.

My parents have been divorced for about eight years, since I was 18, and my mother has dated a few men in varying degrees of seriousness. She met her current girlfriend through work and things happened pretty fucking quickly. On both ends. My mom, who has never even considered dating or being attracted to a woman before, fell pretty hard. The now-GF quickly exited an eight-year relationship in another state, leaving behind her car, dog and several properties she co-owns with her former girlfriend and moving to be in the same city as my mother. A little strange, no? But my mom insists this breakup had nothing to do with her.

I can believe that there was no overlap between these two relationships and that their breakup was a long time coming. I can believe that my mother fell in love with a woman without necessarily having been a repressed lesbian her whole life. However, I can’t believe that my mother had no inner turmoil whatsoever about suddenly dating a woman. Right? I mean, she says she didn’t have a second thought about it! I can understand if a person grew up with someone as open-minded as my mother raising her/ him, but she grew up in a super Catholic family in the ’60s. Isn’t there some inherent discomfort one might have to overcome?

Furthermore, we all know love is grand, but on the flip side it’s super blinding and consuming. It just seems like… no brakes here. They are talking of international travel and even moving to New York together (and in the process my mother will leave her job and start to do the work her girlfriend does. NYC also happens to be where I live, not that I’m a factor in her moving whatsoever. A whole other ball of crap). Again, they have been together for SIX MONTHS. And it is the first relationship my mother has had with a woman. And also is she going through a mid-life crisis? Am I being small-minded to see this first lesbian relationship as almost like the first time you fall in love all over again? It feels like that. Except this isn’t the first lesbian relationship her girlfriend has been in, and she’s still renting a car instead of you know, just going to get her car from the house she used to live in with her girlfriend of eight years. These people seem like they should know better, only based on the fact that they have years of experience. My mom has been so consumed by this relationship that she’s stopped doing shit she used to do, and even pushed back a professional exam. Then she almost FORGOT about this professional exam and had to cram for it in like a weekend and mom, you’re in your fifties, what is going on.

Is there any way to be like “can’t you chill for a minute?” before she goes to crazytown or is she already there??? I’m trying to get over the discomfort I feel with like, hey, there’s a person sleeping over while I’m staying in the next room and they’re giggling all night (FOR REAL) and here she is christmas morning and I have to pretend I know her well enough to get her a gift? And why is she being so nice to my mom and paying for everything and driving her everywhere? And why is she sooooooo boring to talk to and where is her personality? But ignoring all these other standard uncomfortable “parent in a new relationship” feelings, I’m still left with thinking that this is a bad idea that will end in tears.

Please please please help. I feel like I should be reacting like everyone else to this news and being overjoyed with how awesome gay people are or something. Like I’m wondering, do I feel weird about this because deeply in my heart I don’t want her to be a lesbian? And then I’m just picking and choosing these details to support this? Or is this sounding a little bad to you, too? I think I’m very open! I’ve even had a girlfriend before, too! A relationship that lasted longer than this one has. But I just don’t see why they can’t take it slow. What’s the rush? I mean, the joke about the lesbians and the U-hauls and is that seriously true? UGH.

I’m sorry, folks; I hate to perpetuate stereotypes, but yes, lesbians and U-hauls are totally a thing. They’re not a thing across the board, but women who are heavily into early, intense commitment make up a sizable minority of the lesbian community. (Shoutout to my friend who coined the phrase “Big Lesbian U-haul Party” to describe one of her relationships.) It’s also a thing that women experiencing girl-on-girl love for the first time after a lifetime of heterosexuality fall way hard and way fast. For some people, discovering same-sex attraction is like starting over from adolescence — with all the giddy optimism, swooning romanticism, and annoying the living shit out of your family members that implies.

It does sound like your mom is going a little overboard with this new relationship, but ultimately, that’s her decision to make. It is a truth universally acknowledged that there is nothing an outside observer can say that will make a person in an obsessive, all-consuming relationship reconsider or withdraw from said relationship.

And, honestly, nothing you’re describing sounds unduly worrying to me. Yes, they’re rushing things a bit, but it’s far from unheard-of for people to move in together after six months, and getting distracted by New Relationship Madness and forgetting important professional obligations is something everyone can relate to. It’s often true that people who have been around the block a few times will move more slowly and be more thoughtful in their romantic choices; on the other hand, sometimes a few failed relationships is exactly what a person needs to figure out exactly what they really want — and jump on it when they find it.

Maybe your mom’s new love affair is a bad idea and will end in tears. On the other hand, maybe they’ll live happily ever after. If you voice your disapproval, you stand to gain nothing besides the possible eventual satisfaction of saying, “I told you so” when they break up — which usually turns out less satisfying than you think it’s going to be. But if you decide to look past the weirdness and be supportive (or at least fake it), you might find it possible to be happy that your mother is happy, even if you don’t completely understand her choices.

And the next time you have to get your mom’s girlfriend a present, remember that no lesbian can ever have too many Home Depot gift cards.

My parents have five kids, in two ‘sets’, if you will. There’s me, my brother and my sister, who range in age from late teens to late twenties. Then there’s the two little girls, who are five and 10. The problem is this: us three older ones are all gay. As in, in Kinsian terms my brother and I both rate ourselves as a six, and our sister as a 4/ 5-ish. None of us are out of the closet to our parents. We suspect they are beginning to suspect my brother is gay because he’s nearing 30 and still hasn’t had a girlfriend that they’ve known of (he hasn’t had a girlfriend full stop). We don’t live in America and our country is, I suspect, more tolerant than over there (same-sex marriage is legal, for instance) and we do think they’d be accepting once they found out and got used to the idea, although they wouldn’t be best pleased. The problem is more that we all currently want to be out of the closet within the next few months but don’t want to give them a heart attack. Do you have any advice/ tips on how we might go about this? In your opinion, would it be easier to go about it all at once or one by one and giving them a little breathing space in-between? The internet is surprisingly reticent on this subject.

I could theorize about how your folks might prefer you to handle this situation, but since I’m not a parent myself, I decided to call in the expert witness: my mom. She knows all about having your kids come out to you, having been through it three times now, all with me. (It stuck the third time; I haven’t had to come out to her for years now.) She said she’d much rather find out all at once, and I agree with her. Full disclosure is the best way to handle it, especially if you think your parents would ultimately be okay with things.

If you decided to go the other way — to stagger your coming-out stories over a period of several months — you’ll have a few complicated decisions to make. Like, who gets to go first? Who deserves those extra few months of being out? Who should have to listen to your parents express their surprise over Gay Kid Prime while having to hold in the truth about their own identity? And then, like, won’t your parents want to know why those of you who wait to come out didn’t want to tell them sooner, like do you trust them less than Gay Kid Prime does, or what? It just sounds like more trouble than it’s worth to save a little bit of difficulty in the short term.

And I don’t really think it will be more than a little bit of difficulty. Invite them over to whichever one of your house or apartment is the nicest (coming out in public places is generally a no-no), have more than one bottle of wine on hand, and spit it out before you lose your nerve. Designate a spokesperson ahead of time so you’re not all trying to talk at once. Pour more wine. Depending on wine consumption, be prepared to drive them home. Good luck! It’s going to be great!

Previously: Weird Boyfriends and Height Differences

Lindsay King-Miller is also on Twitter. Do you have a question for her?