I’m afraid of coming out to my grandmother. Thank god Grandma Moore doesn’t have any clue what Google is or has never read that thing I wrote about what it feels like getting a rim job. You know, I don’t care who else knows or “finds out” — other family members, coworkers, friends, students, people on the street, whatever. I’m not ashamed to be gay, and I’m definitely not ashamed of the fact that I like guys a whole lot, nor have I ever felt embarrassed by the wet dreams I’ve had about Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Louboutins, etc.
I’m past the age now where coming out to your family might involve the danger of getting kicked out of the house or cut off financially. It’s a real danger a lot of queer youths face. But that’s not why I’m afraid to come out to her. What scares me is not that she’ll think it was all her fault, and I don’t even think she’ll feel like she did something wrong. I’m afraid to tell her because I don’t want her to see me as a failure. I don’t want to let her down.
My grandmother raised me when my mother wasn’t around, which was basically all the time. Do you know what it feels like to have the sense that your mother, the person you’re supposed to look up to, the person who gave birth to you and brought you into the world, doesn’t seem to want to have anything to do with you? Welcome to my childhood. Mom and I have always been distant, whether I was living with her or not. Maybe it’s because she had me at such young age and I reminded her of where she went wrong. I often got shuttled back and forth between my mom’s fancy townhouse in the city and my grandmother’s modest house in Saint Louis, the same working-class household my mother grew up in, a social class and history she does everything to distance herself from now.
Things are much better between us, but she will always be a distant acquaintance to me, not that I have anything in particular against her. I don’t. But the point of having close friends and family is that you’re close — you know things about each other. You can finish each other’s sentences. My mother doesn’t really know anything about me. But then, I guess, if I can’t come out to my Grandma, neither does she.
Being closeted to my (VERY Black baptist) immediate family never really bothered me until I started preparing for graduation this month. I ran into some friends recently when I was on my campus for a spring concert and one of them said, “I can’t wait to see you at graduation! What is your graduation look going to entail? I KNOW you are going to be wearing some heels.”
Girlfriend knew me right. The thing is, I can’t wear the heels if my grandmother comes to graduation — or any of my family, for that matter. I can’t bedazzle my doctoral gown or wear gold sequin leggings underneath it and I can’t wear an orbital headpiece on top of my graduation cap.
I can’t really be me.
When I tell people that I’m not all the way out to my family, the first, most annoying response is, “But have they met you?” Ha, ha, ha. But it’s really not funny, because I know that I’m free and liberated when they’re not around, and everyone who knows me knows that that I do me all the time, no matter what anyone else thinks. With my graduation coming up in 17 days, I should feel glad and excited and proud of the accomplishment. But all I feel is dread and worry — dread because I want to FIERCE those gothic buildings UP. I’ve been waiting almost a decade to do it. And now, in my big moment when I should be the proudest, the most outrageous, and the fiercest, I have to pull back.
Every once in a while when I talk to Grandma on the phone she’ll ask me if I ever plan on having children. My cousin Courtnee recently got engaged, my sister has a 3 year old, my other cousin just popped out a baby. It’s what you’re supposed to do. But what I tell her — what I’ve always told her — is that I’m too “busy” for a girlfriend right now. I’m too “focused on my career” to have a family, which is true. I’m much more goal-oriented than I am family-oriented — for now, anyway. But straight people don’t have to pull out that excuse as a reason to dodge questions about why you don’t already have 5 kids and a house in the suburbs.
Part of me thinks that Grandma Moore knows. She has to know. Remember when Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake had Happy Meals at McDonald’s? Yeah, Grandma Moore got me the Justin one. IIIIIII know, right? Plus everyone in my family always talks about how fashionable I am, how I have an innate eye for style. Oh you know, the fabulous secret gay that exists in every family, the one who lives with his “friend” Brad. One time when I was home from high school for the summer she found a VHS tape of some gay porn in my bag that one of my roommates at school gave me. She played it — OMG!!! — and I told her that it was for a school project, that it was “research.” She bought it…maybe…
But the other part of me wants to let her live in ignorance. Grandma Moore came up in a time when she couldn’t pursue her own educational goals because of her class but also because she had a family very early. Once she told me that she wanted to go back to school, but my grandfather told her that her place was at home, raising the kids. Grandma Moore is proud of the things I’ve done because she wasn’t able to do them. My fear is that if I told her I was gay, whatever image she has of me would be shattered. I’m afraid she would be disappointed. I’m worried she would worry herself sick or have a stroke — seriously. I’m concerned that she would cry for weeks. I’m scared that she would go to church and ask the Lord for forgiveness.
And still another part of me, somewhere, thinks that if I stay closeted to Grandma Moore, I’m sort of protecting her. Maybe then I will still be that cute little boy in the hot pink overalls who drew on the walls in crayon.
The best thing about being queer isn’t the month of Pride we get every year and it’s not even all the amazing gay sex we get to have. It’s that we get to craft our own families. My family isn’t so much where I was raised as it is my friends, lovers, and close people I get to see every day — the people who don’t mind that sometimes, this bitch is going to work a pair of heels.