The Gay Cousin

They say that everyone has an internal clock, but I think mine has been broken for years now. However, a broken clock will be right at least twice a day. At two in the afternoon on a Wednesday, my internal clock fails to count the seconds that I stood silently whilst staring at my forty-something year old mother. My room suddenly feels two sizes smaller and the hum from my television gives sound to my trembling hands.

“You’re gay, right? I mean, you are. You are.”

Was I? At twenty-three years old and after figuring out my — dare I say it? — sexuality years prior, I suddenly had no idea how to answer my mother’s question. Through my mostly blank mind ran hundreds of thoughts and answers. What does my mother even think the blanket term gay means? The Internet is always helpful for things like this:

Gay: a homosexual, especially a man.

Queer? A slur to someone like my mother. Bisexuals, of course, don’t exist. Lesbian? Oh, God. That word has been banned from my house since as early as I can remember. There are a few words and ideas that I remember being banned from my household when I was a child: lesbian, Eminem, racial slurs, atheism, and liberals. My mouth hung open as I prepare to check off one more thing from the list. But careful now; my mind raced with the very low numbers in my bank account and the names of people I could stay with that night. How fast could I pack a bag to leave? How long until my father got home? What would my dog think of me?

Suddenly, my thirteen-year-old self flares up from somewhere deep down inside of me — somewhere that I’ve tucked her away into like an old embarrassing prom photo — to remind me of what happened when I tried to tell my mother this years ago. Years ago when I walked into her old bedroom, small hands trembling, to tell her that I was bisexual. Thirteen-year-old Amanda had finally figured it all out; little did she know how wrong she was. Note the sarcasm.

“…Bisexual? That doesn’t even exist. You do know that, right? You better be confused. This…This is just a phase. You’re either attracted to one or the other, understand? And don’t you ever want to have sex? Actual sex? Don’t you want to — ” No way. I shut her down immediately before this situation can spiral even farther out of control. I’m past hoping this is a dream, and stuck realizing this is it.

Years of mental practice and preparation had not prepared me for the moment my mother came out for me, to me.

“I — Yeah, yes. I am, yes.” My voice shakes like I’m thirteen again and trying to explain that bisexuality is in fact a thing that I probably maybe definitely am. But nowadays the queer umbrella acronym is LGBTTQQIAAP (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual, ally, and pansexual). Yeah, I know. I can’t even remember my own birthday most of the time, much less the full acronym for what I’m supposed to fall under.

My mother’s arms are crossed, and although her eyes are piercing and dark, they are still patient. At this point I cannot even remember how we got here. How I got to standing in the middle of my room with my mother forcing me out of the closet is a mystery, but now it is the only thing in the world that matters. I realize I have no money and nowhere to go, my body trembles from the ensuing panic attack, and suddenly all I can focus on is that I didn’t get to pause my X-Files episode before she walked in.

I am a strong woman at this point in my life. I have been through more things than most people at my age have. There’s been death, stalking, health issues, bullying, loss, financial terrors, family traumas, and many emergency trips to the hospital. There are few things that make me lose it and cry without my own consent; but when Scully starts telling Mulder that he is insane for thinking El Chupacabra exists, my lungs suddenly shake my chest awake and my vision is blurry from the tears pouring out. I am reminded that I must not be able to exist to my mother. Not really. Not fully. This elephant living in our house with us for over ten years is suddenly shown to the both of us via a spotlight and my fears from every younger age start crying, all at once.

My twenty-three-year-old self remembers that it has been ten years for my mother as well as she engulfs me in a slow hug. It’s the kind of hug that you see on TV when a teenage boy admits he got his girlfriend pregnant, and now his mom has to help him fix it. It’s the kind of hug that reminds me that I can’t exist to my mother anymore, and that this is it. The moment. The moment of realization that we cannot have a gay person in the family. The moment that my mom tells me to be gone before my father gets home. The moment you never hear about on the news.

She pulls away from the hug and takes her hands off me. “You must be relieved. How long have you been keeping that in? Fifteen years? It’s okay. You’re okay. Stop crying.”

And so a lifetime of terror about my own sexuality, given from both the media and my family, is released in the span of five minutes. Maybe less. I have no concept of time; for all I know, three hours could have passed. Or thirty seconds.

Years of mental practice and preparation had not prepared me for the moment my mother came out for me, to me.

“You knew.”

A beat. A pause. A lifetime.

“You knew?”

The two words tumble out of my mouth and shake in such a way that even I cannot tell if they are a question or an accusation. It is at that moment that my blind dog wanders into my room and sits at my feet, ears cocked, wondering why something has gone wrong between her people.

“You’ve known this whole time and…and you didn’t…” I trail off because my anger hasn’t fully formed its thoughts. All I know is that this massive moment in my life, this turning point of everything, the moment I’d been terrified of for years, was not a surprise for my mom. Suddenly, I remember that I’m an adult and I have a voice, and it’s pissed. “You’ve known this whole time and you didn’t say anything? Everything I had to go through because of my…my sexuality, everything terrible I had to deal with that I kept secret because I thought you didn’t know, you actually knew about?”

My mother has dark brown eyes, but suddenly they were a few shades darker. I can tell she’s biting her tongue — a rarity for her — and I take that to heart. Her words are clipped and controlled, but she is remembering that she’s my mom and it has been ten years since this topic has been brought up. Neither of us are the same person that we were ten years ago.

“I was waiting for you to say it. This isn’t my burden to talk about; it’s your decisi — Your…your life. But it became obvious that you were never going to admit it, so I did it for you.” A pause. I’m crying, suddenly a little child again, and my mother seems larger than life standing over me. She’s uncomfortable, and she reminds me that she doesn’t accept what I am, but she tolerates it. My anger bubbles deep in my chest for all the times I had to hide bruises and horror stories of what happened to me at school because I couldn’t let my secret out. But I still find myself hugging my mom once more and crying about everything I could never say but is now out in the open. I push down my anger because my mother pushes down her shame over me believing I’d be kicked out and disowned because of who I am. It’s a silent agreement between us; and despite the sudden proof that years of silence can be terribly painful, this is a silence that is necessary and mutual.

Five minutes worth of unleashing a lifetime of pain takes a toll on me, and I manage to say a thank you before my dog barks to add in her two cents. I think she accepts me for who I am. My mother tolerates it, won’t tell the family, and suddenly has to get back to work. My internal clock reminds me that the world is still spinning. I still have a home. I still have a mom. This is one small step for us, and one giant leap for my blood pressure.

I’m not gay, per se, but baby steps. My mother helped me learn to walk on this world, and now it’s my turn to help her walk in my world. The only difference is that both times the first step was taken, she was the one who had to pick me up and give me that first push. I look down at my dog, who is vaguely looking in my direction, and I let out a sigh heavy enough to knock five letters off the queer umbrella acronym.

“So, did you know too? If I give you a treat, will you not give me any shit about this?” A tail wag and a little yip. Baby steps.