When I came out to my Dad, it was perhaps, the most beautiful coming out story I’ve ever bore witness to. And it was all mine. A gay human’s dream of love and acceptance. I watched it play out before me like a moving drama film.
My Dad looked, with kind eyes, at the scrunched up mess of wrinkles my shame formed on my freckle splattered forehead, and spoke unwavering, “I had no idea. I thought you grew out of it. Be who you are. I’ll do anything to help. I love you.”
I curled up in his words like my beloved grandmother’s blanket: purring under its softness, and inhaling its perfume of toiled love. As quickly as I curled up in it, I kicked it off with feet of deep seated shame. While internal fire alarms deployed little fighters in my brain to extinguish the flame of vulnerability, I stuttered out a promise:
“I won’t fly any rainbow flags.”
I wouldn’t be too loud about it either. I wouldn’t embarrass him. Couldn’t make his religious leaders question his moral and spiritual worthiness by this thing his daughter turned out to be.
I meant it.
Partly because I felt, too deep, the shame, sitting there with him. Throwing out the posts of a white, picket-fenced life I advertised as mine. But mostly, because there was no part of my bruised, flesh eating blemish of gay, that left any room for me to be braver than just quietly existing with make-up over it.
That was 2 years ago. I sat in that speech, quietly massaging it in my brain, an entire year, before publicly scrubbing off the makeup to reveal my au natural. Yet, I still wasn’t brave enough to fly a rainbow flag high. I had gripped the rope, hand over hand, to move it to half-staff. An effort that blistered my hands as it tore off my perfectly functional, straight skin, and left this raw, vulnerable, incredibly painful layer of gay skin in its place. I winced under its constant sting.
I began dating women again. Held hands on busy sidewalks. Kissed across tables in crowded restaurants. Posted pictures of untamed happiness. Each moment, both liberating and scary. In my half-staffed, blistered bravery, I hadn’t become oblivious to the lack of universal love and acceptance for homosexuality. I knew, even with my most altruistic love for humanity, there were strangers rolling eyes at my partner wrapped in my arms. Deaths broadcasted in the news: hate crimes against us. Laws specifically written to deny us the same rights liberally handed out to other citizens of our country. They still persecute us. An unkind reality that startles my devotion to altruistic thinking.
My Dad, so vocally supportive, still uncomfortably shifts when I bring my partner to a public event. My brother stumbles on conversations about girlfriends. My Mom asks questions that feel more like interrogations than discovery. Slight discomforts that would compel me to bandage up my hands and grow new skin if it weren’t for my wise cousin’s knowing words:
“You had 31 years to process being gay. The rest of the people in your life have only had 1. Just keep showing up. Keep being honest. Keep bringing the woman you love around. They’ll see you’re still the same Shaunna we’ve always loved. We still do.”
Despite the sting of uncomfortable, I keep inviting my partner to family gatherings. Still slow dance to our song under the street lights on Mill Avenue. Interlace my fingers with hers in Target while laughing at the items in the clearance section. Hold her tightly in the Starbucks line. Move strands of hair from her beautiful face in subtle caresses, and smile instead of shudder at the butterflies taking flight. I do these things, not as an act of flying rainbow flags, but as an act of love.
There are kids tormented by their truth. Teenagers kicked out on the streets after bravely shedding masks to their damning families. Young human beings, robbed of ever becoming adults, hanging themselves from bedroom closets because the only way to fix gay is to quit breathing. They gasp their last breath, feeling inadequate for this life. They weren’t old enough to be courageous about love yet. The world hasn’t grown kind enough to give those babies time to grow.
This is our reality. Real tragedies that propel me to recant that shame induced promise not to fly a rainbow flag, and damn near tattoo it on my face in support. Those beautiful childrens’ faces make me brave enough. They make me show up. They make me love openly.
I got old enough. Brave enough. Open eyed enough to realize behind the disgusted adult looking on with a stench face of disapproval, there’s also a gay kid looking at us. One who has only had few years to digest the idea of being gay. A kid who needs my 31 years of brave enough to show up for them. For all of us.
I love, so one day, they too, can love. I surrender and accept my place, pioneering a path in this world where love, in any form, becomes so normal, there’s no inclination to shame it. I stand just as I am, for the shamed and broken hearted. I keep showing up for them.
I am flying rainbow flags.