Coming out of the closet 101: Never come out in a car. Or on your birthday. Or when it’s raining. Or when you’re looking forward to that evening’s dinner. Basically, if you have a mother like mine, wait to come out until you’re 30 and don’t need your parents for anything, let alone a ride home from the store.
I was sixteen and thought coming out was the next logical step. My mom suspected. She had to. I mean why else would she have encouraged fourteen-year-old me to have casual sex by handing me a fistful of condoms? And let’s not even start with wondering how me being gay was somehow far worse than me using those nine condoms.
Anyway, we were in the parking lot of the Kroger they’d just built at the end of our road, sitting in the van trying to wait for the rain to lighten up a little.
“What kind of frosting you want?” She asked me. She’d forgotten it when she shopped earlier in the week. “Rainbow chip? Same as usual?”
I felt stupidly safe in what was about to come out of my mouth. Why? Well because she’d just voluntarily said “rainbow” which in my mind was synonymous with gay. She was cool with buying me rainbow chip frosting so naturally, she’d be fine with me being gay, though wasn’t ready to actually be gay in the technical sense but knew that when I was ready, well, I wouldn’t need her condoms.
“I’m gay,” I told her and didn’t dare turn my head enough to look at her.
The rain had suddenly stopped, just in time for her to reach across the van and slap me in the face. The smack was deafening in the sudden silence and her ugly wedding ring cut a gouge into my top lip. She’d never hit me before, but I wasn’t entirely surprised. How else was someone supposed to react to their child telling them they weren’t normal?
“You are not that! Don’t you dare say that! How can you even know? You’ve never been with a boy. You’re too young.” She fired at me.
“I’m gay, I just know,” I insisted again. “Did you have sex with women before you married dad? Is that how you knew you weren’t?”
“Is that why you look the way you do? You want to be a man?”
“No… I… Being gay doesn’t make me a man. It just means I like women.”
We were both silent for an uncomfortably long time until she got out of the car in one rushed movement of unbuckling her seatbelt and grabbing her purse. She slammed her door which knocked my door loose, and I followed her into the store, trailing behind her as she walked at a pace I didn’t know was possible for her. We went down the baking aisle and when I picked out the can of rainbow chip frosting, the flavor I’d had for every birthday since I’d been old enough to choose, she snatched it from my hand and slammed it back onto the shelf. She picked up a different can. Buttercream, a nice, straight flavor.
We stood silently in the checkout line, waiting behind six other people, and I noticed her looking around nervously like we’d committed some crime. God forbid someone look at me and know the horrible news I’d just told her. When it was finally our turn, the cashier sensed the tension and knew better to do anything but smile at me and ring up the frosting. Bag and receipt in hand, my mom stormed back out of the store just as fast as she’d gone in.
Back in the car, we sat again in a moment of uncomfortable silence. I fastened my seatbelt and waited for her to do something. Anything. Hit me again, drive, whatever she had to do to break this silence.
“I only told you because you’re gonna find out anyway. My friend, Joanna, she kind of came out for me at a school assembly.” I finally admitted. I wasn’t trying to make things even worse, honestly, I just needed somebody to say something.
“You better never tell your dad. Just don’t tell anyone. Try a boy. You just don’t know any better.” She carried on with her party line of trying to get me to sleep with guys.
I wanted to scream at her, THAT’S NOT HOW IT WORKS, I DON’T NEED TO SLEEP WITH MEN, I DON’T WANT MEN, but instead, I just said, “I kissed Joanna.”
In my mind, my kiss with Joanna was scandalous because she was two grades ahead of me but had flunked a grade. I, plain, bordering-on-ugly me, had my very first kiss with an upperclassman. Not that I had a whole lot of options when it came to women to kiss. Joanna was the only other gay person in my school of 2000 students. Who the hell else was she going to kiss?
My mom looked at me, absolutely disgusted, and said, “If you ruin my business, I swear, you’ll regret it.”
And that’s when I said it, the thing which must never be uttered, the thing my brother did six years ago that my parents conveniently forgot ever happened in their desperation to keep it a secret.
“I’ll ruin your business? Seriously? I’m not the one that raped a little boy because I was ‘curious.’ If anybody’s gonna ruin your daycare, it won’t be me.”
My mom turned to me looking like she could have murdered me right there. “Get out of the car.”
“I said get out. Now!”
I conceded and struggled with the door handle. The door on my side wouldn’t open anymore unless the driver’s side door slammed first. I looked at her like she was stupid until she figured out that she needed to let me out. When I was out of the car, standing alone in the parking lot in a sudden downpour, she peeled out and left me.
An hour and a half later, I walked into my house soaking wet and burning with a renewed hatred of my brother who was eating my cake without me, and was greeted by my “boyfriend,” a friend I’d made at my after-school job that my mom took a liking to and took it upon herself to invite over like he was her friend.
He tried to kiss me, and I pulled away like I always did. I changed out of my clothes and went down to eat my birthday dinner and cake alone, which I realized was a perfect metaphor for my new place in life. One of invisibility, where what I did and said didn’t matter. She carried on encouraging me with condoms and I carried on kissing Joanna.