By Emily Lane
“Mom. I lied.”
The text lit up my phone like an atomic bomb.
Chloe wore a goofy smile every time she mentioned Miranda’s name; my instincts told me they were more than just friends. I’d finally decided to ask her. She laughed, shaking her head with startled embarrassment, and said, “I can’t believe you just asked that!”
“Oh,” I answered. “Sorry about that.” I apologized for my intrusion, my miscalculation about her sexuality.
But I’d been right.
Chloe came out to me at the age of 17 years and 27 days. Why count the days? Because I need to give her credit for every single day I’d misunderstood her.
“It’s okay if you’re still finding out who you are,” I naively told her.
“Mom, I’ve always known who I am. I just didn’t let anyone else know.”
I’d again been one step behind, as parents often are.
Chloe has always been a tomboy. Hot Wheels instead of Barbies. Blue instead of pink. Baseball instead of ballet. My little Chloe-the-Bear, her nickname from early on. Until she was three, I adorned her with dresses and bows and gave her dollies to play with. Until she was three and old enough to tell me what she wanted.
Chloe cried when the boys’ Little League coach told her it was time to play girls’ softball. She politely declined all glitter and lip gloss. She asked for boys’ character underwear for her sixth birthday.
She’s never had a boyfriend, never gone on a date.
My daughter who prefers girls.
Chloe’s girlfriend reached out to me. “I feel like I should talk to you, but I don’t really know what to say,” she texted. “I’ve always been so unhappy, but didn’t know why. With Chloe, now I’m happy.”
“Just be yourself,” I told her. “That’s all anyone could ask of you.”
“But my mom won’t understand.” Miranda was terrified of her parents finding out.
The struggle for gay rights suddenly became so much closer to home.
Chloe doesn’t much like going to church, and after confirmation, hardly went at all. But a few times she actually asked to go. Wanted to go. I’d fancied that maybe she needed absolution for a sin committed, or strength to deal with it.
Years later I brought this up with Chloe.
“When I was little, I always asked God why he made me this way,” she confessed with tearful brown eyes. “I’d keep asking myself, ‘Why do I have to be like this?’” Though she knew who she was, she also suffered through the pain of being different from her tribe.
But why should she have to ask herself that question? She’s always known. It’s the rest of us who haven’t. She’s the same person; it’s our perceptions that have been wrong.
That’s when I realized I’ve always treated her like someone she wasn’t. Why did her family unjustly assume she was a certain way; why did we approach our parenting with a preconceived notion of who she was? I knew she didn’t like girl stuff. But why had I always assumed she’d like boys? It wasn’t fair for her family to just assume.
“How should I refer to you?” I asked her, to treat her with the respect she deserved. “Lesbian, gay?”
Chloe was embarrassed. “Why do we have to use labels? Why do we have to decide what to call somebody?”
She was right. Hopefully her generation won’t need to label people. But unfortunately, older generations tend to find categories helpful when dealing with differences.
There are only three people in our family who know about Chloe; she’s still not ready to come out to the rest. I think she should trust them, but she’s afraid they’ll treat her differently. I reminded Chloe that it takes time for people to reconstruct their image of a person. Right or wrong, we all have preconceived ideas that take time to change. But she’s still afraid.
My heart is breaking under the weight of her secret. No one should have to hide who they are.
I know we’ll have a struggle with some family members, with some of Chloe’s classmates, with some parents. With many others out in the world. I’m still teaching my husband to be more sensitive—no “gay wad” comments about effeminate men on TV, no “she’s-so-pretty- it’s-such-a-shame-she’s-a-lesbian” comments. Chloe said that most kids at school are cool with classmates being gay, but there are still some who pull out the God card, believing it’s a sin punishable with a trip to hell.
I pray that other family members will accept Chloe for who she is and realize she’s the same person she’s always been.
Hopefully with love and growing understanding, there will be no more Hushed Up Life of Chloe-the-Bear.
It will just be Chloe’s life.
Emily Lane writes about her imperfect parenting at Mamaconfidential.net