As this day, this “National Coming Out” day comes to a close here in America. I am reminded of something Bashert and I promised ourselves about 16 years ago; we will never hide again.
You see, Bashert’s first ‘real’ job after graduating from college was teaching art at a local, private high school. Thing is, this private high school was also a Catholic school, complete with their very own nun and moral turpitude contract clauses. Bashert could not reveal the fact that not only was she living in ‘sin’, she was also living in sin with a woman. So, for the first year of our relationship, we lived in hiding.
Every morning before Bashert left for work, she took the ring off her finger. It broke my heart each time. We were careful not to be seen too close together when out and about town. There was many a time I took off for other parts when one of her students or their parents were spotted. Even as far away as Atlanta, we had to watch out. We ran into a student of hers up there in a jewelry store, of all places. We became professional level dodgers.
Why did we do this? Fear. Bashert was our only means of support. I was still in school with no job. Our livelihood depended upon her livelihood and she could be fired for being openly gay.
After a year of this exhausting life in the closet, Bashert said she didn’t want to hide anymore. She couldn’t stand all the avoiding and having to take a ‘beard’ (false male date) to school functions. So, we quietly began living our lives in the open. Well, sort of. She still took her ring off and I just became an unnamed entity in Bashert’s life: her unspoken partner, her ‘friend’. I attended fund raisers and didn’t leave her side when kids or their parents came up to her. I helped with community projects and we attended Pride festivities in Atlanta. We went to dinners with other faculty. Some knew our relationship, others chose not to acknowledge it and others didn’t like it a bit.
What did this cost us? The least thing was a keyed car. The biggest thing was her job. At the end of that school year, the principal stated that there wasn’t enough money to continue the art program. They were cutting back and didn’t need a full time art teacher for the next year. Her contract was not renewed. Next fall, the art program was suddenly back on – with another teacher.
It was that year, we told ourselves no more hiding. If we lived in the closet and shamed ourselves, how were we to expect others to treat us with any dignity or understanding? How could be expect my daughter to accept us as the family we were if we didn’t set the example? We decided then and there to just be us. No fancy or dramatic coming outs, no topless marching in the Pride parade (although eventually I did get to ride in the Dykes on Bikes segment thanks to some very good friends who owned motorcycles at the time). Nope, we just went about our lives as matter of fact. And for the most part it was okay and became more and more natural as we practiced what we preached.
The only other time we shied away from the full truth was when I went to work. I got a part time job at the local library. I didn’t really go back into hiding or so I told myself: Bashert and I continued to live in the open outside of my job, I just didn’t talk about it at work.
This was my second time working at the county library, the first being 20 years earlier and with many of the same people. From what they knew, I was no different from that young student, except a good bit older and greyer. As said, I didn’t talk about my present outside life.
I worked there two years before the rumours and comments began. Of course, a lot of it probably had to do with the timing of Yoda’s birth. Not many ‘roommates’ get that excited about the other roommate’s pregnancy and birth. I took my vacation around Yoda’s birth for goodness sake and kept a picture of Bashert and him on my desk – not so subtle.
One coworker kept dropping the hint that she loved watching the HBO show “Queer As Folk”. If I hadn’t been so exhausted from now working two part time jobs and having a newborn and a teenager in the house, I might have recognized an ally, but I was pretty blind.
Another coworker, actually, my boss at the time kept making side comments as to how she was grossed out by seeing two women kiss on television. These were never made quite in my full presence, but as I was passing through the room or loud enough so that I could hear them through the doors in my area next to hers. I got that picture.
Why didn’t I stand up? Why didn’t I fight back? One reason alone – fear. At this point, I was the sole means of support. I needed my two part time jobs and I lived in a state and worked for a county government where I was not protected under the law. I could be fired for being gay. Money won out, plain and simple.
I was fortunate enough to be offered a full time position at my other job not too long after Yoda was born. At that job, I was protected under their anti-discrimination policies. I said goodbye to library and the last time I ever avoided the truth of my family.
Bashert and I reaffirmed our stance with each other after my stint at the library. No job was worth lying about ourselves even if it was by omission. Yoda and Nene would not know parents who were together, yet separate. We were a family and took our place in the world.
For the last ten of almost 18 years, Bashert and I have just lived our lives, no fanfare, no dramatics, just matter of fact. We are lucky. Despite a few, short rough patches in other family relationships and our initial forays in the job market, we have met with few who deny our place. Yoda’s school and friends know he has two moms. Nene has grown proud of her relationship with Bashert and considers her a stepmom of the best character. My job continues to support and expand their anti-discrimination policies and Bashert is now a substitute teacher for the same government that could have fired me ten years ago.
It did get better and we have kept our promise to each other; we will never hide again.