Coming Out across the Decades

Christine and MJ

Coming Out across the Decades

Youth and Elders from the LGBTQ Intergenerational Storytelling Project tell stories about coming out in all kinds of ways.


Hey, this is Christine.

Hey it's Lexie.

And hi, I'm Maria.

Maria: And we're interns at outLoud radio. outLoud is a youth organisation that gives LGBTQIQA...

Lexie: ...(that's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered, Questioning, Intersex, Queer and Ally) youth...

Maria: opportunity to produce radio shows. We recently worked with the Intergenerational Storytelling Project, which brought together LGBTQIQA elders and youth to share stories.

Christine: Today, we will be discussing coming out and all of its perks and challenges. In a queer community, coming out is not always an easy thing to do.

Lexie: The term "coming out" has a lot of meanings.

Christine: How so, Lexie?

Lexie: Well just think about it. There have been cases in which some straight male cheerleaders have had to come out to their families about cheering. Even some athletes have to come out to the public about using steroids. People come out every day, all the time, in different ways.

Maria: A young woman by the name of Trelly told us her story about coming out as an ally.

Trelly: Actually, before I was comfortable with the LGBT community, my first-ever friend to tell me that she was a lesbian or was bi, she lived in Stockton and I used to live in Stockton with my sisters and my stepmother.

Well, before then, like, when I was very very young, my mother and her side of the family they wouldn't really broadcast, like, the LGBT community, but every time we would see someone who was transgendered or in drag they would always tell me that that was wrong and I shouldn't do that and if I do, I would be punished for it. Basically, just telling me that the world wouldn't accept me if I was to become that way and that, like, they wouldn't accept me.

But when I moved to Stockton when I was in the ninth grade, my friend, she told me and I was shocked! I was very, very shocked. She told me in math class. I was like, I couldn't even do my work, like, couldn't finish cause I was so shocked. And I just looked at her and I was like, "do your parents know?" was the first thing I ever asked her. And she said, "no."

And she just explained to me that she didn't feel that anything was wrong with it, and that she was open with it, and I just didn't understand that at all.

I just thought, "Oh my, I have to fix her," like, I just thought that I could help her, like, "Well, do you like him? Cause he likes you. You know, maybe you guys should hang out."

And I didn't realise that I was actually hurting her, because she thought that I didn't accept her, and she thought that I wouldn't be her friend. But it was just like, that was how I was brought up. Like noone ever told me hey, if someone ever tells you that they are gay, you accept them no matter what. Just be their friend, be there for them, love them unconditionally.

I thought that I could catch it. Like, I thought it was contagious. I know that's very ignorant but that's exactly what I thought. Like, maybe if I hang around with her too much I might start liking girls. And that's not what I want to do, because it shouldn't be that way, it's not supposed to be that way. And my Grandmother always used to read the Bible in my face, like "No, it was Adam and Eve, no."

But now I'm just okay with it, like I love everyone, like. everyone loves me back, I hope. Now I actually try to get to know people that are in the LGBT community and they're just like me, like everyone's normal, we're just all getting along together. And I'm an ally.

Maria: So, Trelly's coming out as an ally was difficult. Patricia, an elder I interviewed, also had an untraditional coming out. I asked her at what age she came out.

Patricia: I guess to associate it with "coming out" in terms of finally confessing your undying love to another person, uh, was like I said, like 24. Which is, when I think back on it it's like, wow, you know. You lived 24 years of your life not as who you were. So I've certainly made up time since then. [laughs]

But, um, yeah, it was quite interesting and for a while after that I still was kind of in the closet, because I was still teaching school, and at that time you could really be fired for being a lesbian if they found out.

Maria: Now, what age did you come out to your parents?

Patricia: Ah! You know, I never came out to my Dad. Um, but we didn't have a very good relationship. But my Mom, I'd already left home, I'd been through being not hired to teach school because they kinda found out, and I'd hid the road.

There was a period in the 60's somewhat into the 70's where all of us who were really out and being active in the LGBT movement, some of us just took to the road and drove around and stayed with other gay people, and went to different cities, and got involved with whatever they were doing. And so I'd been travelling around, and went back home.

And we were just sitting at the table, and Mom said, "Well, do you love women?" Just right, like, out of the blue. And I said, "Yes!" She thought a while and she said, "Well you know, I think any woman who says, if she says she's never loved another woman, she's lying."

Now, we never had another conversation like that again, and you know, I also wondered, did Mom love another woman? You know? I don't think so, Mom is pretty straight. After that it was great, because all of my friends and lovers always came home and they were perfectly comfortable with it.

Lexie: You just heard Patricia's story about how great it is to be out. But not everyone comes out. MJ told us about how in the Black community in Chicago during the 60's, people got "turned out."

MJ: I didn't need to rationalise why I was who I was. I was. Period. And all that needed to happen for it to be official was I had to sleep with somebody of the same gender. And when you slept with somebody of the same gender, you were turned out. And it had to be somebody who was already a lesbian, or studbroad, or dyke, or whatever you want to call them. It had to be somebody who already had a reputation as being gay. And once that happened, you were official. And I think that it was a lot less stressful than trying to sit down and politically figure out where you're at and why, you know.

I am 64 years of age now. All my little cousins and things are crazy about me because they are openly gay and nobody does anything to them! But I was the black sheep in the family. We had to go through all the hell so they could walk out and say, hey, I'm gay, and everybody say, oh that's alright, we don't care! They had to show me first of all that they did care, and it wasn't a positive caring. And now when my cousins and things come out, everybody's there for them. I like that.

Christine: So, MJ just shared her story of getting turned out and her family's reaction.

Daniella's coming out story is different. Daniella decided not to tell her Grandpa about her sexuality because of religious views.

Daniella: I love the fact that my parents are so open about it. My family is actually pretty open about it. There are some people I know not to tell, cause of their religious views. And they're really Mexican and so they're really religious. So I tell most of them, but my Grandpa, he doesn't have a problem with it, but since he's so old and it's... my Mom just doesn't think it's right for me to tell him.

I don't know why, because his son's gay, but they never talk about it. So they know it, but they never talk about it. So, he's getting old so we're just not planning on telling him. Unless the day comes that I bring a girlfriend to Mexico or something. Then I'll have to explain it somehow. But I don't think there'll be a problem.

Christine: Some people, like Daniella's Mom, think that old people can't take the truth of family members being gay. But some people disagree. Here is a coming out story of James, who I interviewed. He decided to come out to his parents when he was 40.

James: My mother was a serious Catholic, and my sister is also gay. And my mother could never accept the fact that she had two gay children out of three. I'm sure she thought that the Pope was going to send her to Hell. She got around that by just thinking we would change as we grew older, that it was a temporary thing. Well of course it hasn't been, for either one of us. That's how she managed to live with it.

My father, on the other hand, couldn't have cared less what our sexuality was. It just didn't matter to him. It was kind of curious. When I did finally come out to him, he said, "Oh I always knew." Why didn't you tell me, Pop?

But, when I came out it was really, and was in the process of coming out, which took a long time, frankly, to do it publically, I was living in Seattle. In my context, we didn't really call each other gay or queer. We didn't call each other gay because we didn't use the term but queer or homo, but it was all, you know, pretty scary stuff in those days, and the world was certainly different in that sense than it is now.

Lexie: It's clear to most of us in the LGBTQIQA community that there still are places where identifying as gay or queer isn't acceptable. In 2010, the terms gay and queer have been used against me negatively.

When I spoke with Nicky, he told me about when he came out to his mother, in a time when being gay was much less acceptable than it is today.

Nicky: My mother didn't come out and say, her generation, they don't talk about it, they didn't talk about it, no. It was the only time that I knew, cause my partner says that we have to tell her. I says, oh no. You don't tell a Mexican mother that your son is gay. Uh-uh.

So he says, well, why don't you just call her, and, she knows she loves to cook, call her and tell her we're coming over to visit. Okay, so I did. My mother was very meticulous about herself, she was always keeping her hair up and her makeup on when visitors come, in fact I told her many times she resembled Elizabeth Taylor. She loved it, cause she was an Elizabeth Taylor fan.

Well, my partner was sitting there at her house in the backyard and everything, and he just winked at me and says, watch. Cause we're sitting there nervous. He smoked about, I don't know, 10 cigarettes, the ashtray was full, he was so nervous. Cause he was gonna tell her that we're a gay couple. Well, we were together 10 years already, don't you think she knew? But he wanted to make sure. Okay, yes, alright, you insist, I'll do it.

"Consuelo, I can't get over the fact of how much you look like Elizabeth Taylor!" Oh that's all she needed. She smiled. "Oh my goodness!" She goes into the house and we hear clang, clang, bang, bang. The kitchen was right off there and that's where she was. She comes out with a big tray of food! Mexican food that she prepared. Stuff that she doesn't bring out for Sunday or family gatherings or whatever. She puts it down there and I reach for something, she hits my hand.

"Nicky, yours is in the kitchen. This is for, this is for him. This is for your friend." And then he winked at me again when she went back in the house. Said, "See? it was so easy to tell her. She knows now." That's the way we told my mother that we were a couple and I was gay. But she never talked about it after that, nothing, you know.

Maria: You have just heard different stories about coming out, whether it's coming out as an ally coming out in your community, or coming out to family in untraditional ways. We would like to know, in what ways have you come out in your life?

Maria, Christine and Lexie: For outLoud Radio, this is Maria.

This is Christine.

This is Lexie!