It was almost summer break during high school, the year I’d come out. I was on a date. With a girl. Who I liked. Who liked me.
We met in the gay neighborhood of our city. Here, no one cared that we held hands, that Aisha was black and I was Hapa (half Asian), or that we both were girls. They didn’t want us to “do whatever we do behind closed doors” or “keep our private lives private” or any of those other phrases thrown into the discourse by people whose tolerance stops just short of acceptance. Mostly, they wanted us to make a decision about where we were going to eat and to stop loitering in the thrift store.
I didn’t think I’d be judged, especially by someone I knew, or that my life(“style”) would affect anyone else. I didn’t see my friend’s mom drive past us as we held hands on the corner, waiting for the light to change.
I had a crush on my friend Nina before I even came out. Nina’s mom, a member of black Christian church, was afraid I would “turn” her daughter after seeing me in the gay neighborhood holding hands on a date with another queer woman of color. I got along with her mother otherwise. As a single mother, she was determined to do everything in her power to ensure her daughter grew up strong, successful, and straight.
I can theorize that if I’d been with a white girl, Nina’s mom could see queerness as an out-group issue that wouldn’t affect her family or community. Or that if she hadn’t been divorced herself, she could chalk it up to the lack of a strong male presence in my own life. As it was, she believed the reality of my proximity to her daughter was nothing less than a threat.
After seeing me that day, her mother discouraged her from spending too much time with me and we were forbidden from having sleepovers. If Nina hadn’t explained it to me, I never would have understood why.
Thankfully, we remained friends, albeit outside of her mother’s eyes. A sleepover with me, as platonic and secretive as it was, became an act of defiance and of her defining herself and her own boundaries. Her loyalty as a friend, despite her mother’s concern, was enough to ensure me that she was someone I could trust to be there for me through thick and thin, a rock amidst the chaos of my finding myself and finding comfort in her consistency.
Eventually, a couple of years later, Nina came out herself and has been much happier and more outgoing as she’s become more comfortable in her own skin. It was finally my turn to support her.
After going away to college, Nina came out to her mom, who is still struggling to accept her daughter’s orientation. Through is all, NIna remains a strong and successful in her own right. I just hope it doesn’t take her family much longer to all that I see in her.
And you reader? Have you faced a similar situation? How did you address it? What can we do, as a community of queer women of color, to support our sisters? How do we create our own families and then engage the ones we were born into?
* All names have been changed to ensure anonymity.