Saturday, May 2, 2009

Broken Open

So, I turned 40 a couple of months ago. Yikes! I remember when I was a in my mid-20's. I'd poke fun at the older women on my rugby team who were, as I insultingly called it, "mid-to-upper 30's." Nice. Well, now it's my turn to be up there in age, and ironically, today, I'd actually enjoy being called "mid-to-upper 30's" by some smart-ass, younger version of me.

But seriously, a lot happened for me in the months proceeding and immediately following my 40th birthday that I want to share. Maybe my story will help someone experiencing a similar thing. Maybe it just feels better to get it out on the screen. Who knows. But, I do know that some of my personal changes probably happened because of the number '40' and the impact this had on my psyche, and some were definitely a result of a soul-stirring break up I experienced this past September. Whatever the cause, the biggest result was that I faced my fears (that have been mounting for 15 years) and came out to both my parents (pause for applause, here).

Actually, I had come out to my mom 3 times previously, but, she had a special way of ignoring the issue 'hoping' that I or it would go away. I went away. It didn't. And, though she never really wanted to talk about it, my mom found some Armenian maternal satisfaction in making me feel guilty about my 'lesbian' condition. She mentioned several times over all those years, "If you tell your father, he'll have a heart attack. You don't want to be responsible for that, do you?" And then there was the, "I don't want to hear about your disgusting life. Why don't you go back into the closet you came out of and stay in there?" And the worst of all for me was the angry yet simply devastating statement, "Your selfishness will ruin this family!"

For years I had withstood pretty harsh comments from my mom about my weight, my bitten nails, my tomboy look, my (lack of) fashion sense, and my disregard for applying make up. This "lesbian" stuff was just another thing to add to the pile. Despite everything, I never doubted my mom's love. I mean, I was her only daughter. I did understood her pain and didn't want to rock the boat. When I first told her I was gay, I knew that I had shattered all her dreams and aspirations for me; including the perfect marriage to an Armenian guy that she drew up in her mind. I also saw my mother break down in a way I hadn't seen since my grandma (her mom) died. Wailing and all. It was heart wrenching to witness and to know that I was the cause of it. Upsetting her made me feel sick. I thought to myself that maybe I was being selfish. Maybe I will cause the family undue hardship and turmoil.

So, instead of being vocal and gently prodding my mom to face my reality and hers, I actually enabled her homophobia for 15 years through my relative silence. This was not surprising, for as easy as it was for me to be a vocal, confident, proactive leader in every other aspect of my life (the classroom, the sports field, with friends, etc), it was as difficult for me to have constructive, open, adult conversations with my parents--let alone about my sexuality as the main topic. Silence was emotionally easier. And, besides, I thought it didn't affect me much; I could 'walk the line.' That is, until one day I was told and then told myself, "no more."

Her reasons for saying "no more" and leaving after 5 years had little to do with the affair she was carrying on with her boss over the summer. Rather, she said that I always put my family first; that we were on two different paths; and that I didn't want the same things in life she wanted (meaning marriage, kids, etc.).

True, I did my best to avoid conversations about those big issues. I stopped talking when she brought marriage or kids up. Went silent. Left the room. Couldn't explain myself well. All these actions sent the signal that I didn't want those things. But, the simple truth that evaded even my own consciousness at the time was not about not wanting those things. Rather, that working towards those goals would absolutely require coming out to my entire family first. And, this scared me more than anything. This fear immobilized me and just kept me stuck. It separated me from my own wants...from even thinking about the future in those big ways. First things had to come first. 'What? Am I going to show up pregnant one day before my parents even know about me and my girlfriend? Am I going to have a wedding in secret, behind my family's back?' My first step towards a full future with her needed to be coming out to my family, but it was too daunting for me to even fully realize this at the time. I had no idea that my coming out fears were driving my avoidance of other issues. It was crippling me from the inside out. It suppressed my own self-expression of what I truly wanted for my own future. That is, until I was told our loving relationship was over.

That very second she broke up with me, it all came together. A voice, a thought, an angel--whatever you want to call it--gave me the most clarity in the middle of despair that I have ever experienced. At the same instant my life was crashing down on me, the truth--my truth--revealed itself. I knew without a shred of doubt what was holding me/us back. It was like reality backed me into a corner and nailed me hard to my own cross of fears. In that position, I no longer could escape. I no longer could distract myself. I could neither 'walk the line' nor walk away. Silence wouldn't suffice. Most of all, I no longer could avoid or deny this simple fact---that I (through a combination of inaction, complacency and remedial skill in bringing self-awareness to self-actualization) allowed the fear of disappointing and potentially losing my family rob me of my own future happiness. In essence, I sabotaged my own relationship.

Sure, I was out and about in the community, but in my mind family was different. Sure, I had a ton of deep and loving queer friendships, but family was different. Yes, I was proudly 'out' at work, with college friends and past roommates, but family was different.

This break up made me reassess everything in my life. Two weeks after the break up I came out to my best friend from growing up and to my older brother and his wife (who were supportive, loving and accepting). Then to my father (who said he loves me no matter what). Then I had a nice, adult sit-down with my mom and dad where I told them what I think I deserve in life and that they have to work towards acknowledging my sexuality. After that I told my younger brother. This mission could not have been aborted. I was determined, sincere, focused and gentle. And I did it for my future and the happiness of my future family.

The 'break up' also led to a 'shake up' in my soul. Coming clean like this was the closest thing to a religious experience that I ever felt. It was like being re-born; like baptizing my soul and liberating it from the immobilization caused by years of fear and some layers of shame. Today, I am a better, more self-aware (still far from perfect) version of myself. And, my life has transformed leading up to and after turning 40 in every way possible. As a result of coming out to my entire family, everything has changed. broken heart remains.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Just the Beginning...

So, this is my first blog post. I wanted to write about some things that have been on my mind. I guess I'll start with this piece I recently drafted about being an Armenian-American lesbian.

An Armenian-American Lesbian…My Story:

I am 100% Armenian. And my heritage plays an important role in shaping the person I am today. I am connected to my Armenian roots; my family; my people and our future.

Being Armenian fills me with pride; like I am a part of one of history’s longest and most courageous timelines. A timeline filled with stories of survival and perseverance; a timeline embodied by the quest for recognition of the truth and minority rights; a timeline that, throughout history, has displayed intense drive and creative spirit. This is my timeline.

I am also 100% lesbian. This simple truth also shapes the person I am today. I came out to myself when I was 25, and now I am nearly 40. For 15 years I’ve hidden this identity from my immediate family and relatives. Today, I am writing to fully claim that I am a proud Armenian lesbian. So what does this mean? Why do I have to ‘proclaim’ anything about this lesbian part of my identity?

Here’s why: When I first came out to myself I thought being a Armenian lesbian would mean that I would have to limit my life and sacrifice many things. I didn’t think I could be loyal to both aspects of myself at the same time. I was afraid. I harbored a deep fear of not being accepted by my Armenian family. I feared being shunned by a strong community. And, I was terrified of the shame it would cast on my family if anyone found out and spread the truth. So, I lived a dual, compartmentalized life. In many circumstances I was, in essence, a proud Armenian daughter and an ashamed lesbian. In other situations I was a proud lesbian and a silent Armenian daughter.

Living as two halves rather than one whole was slowly killing my spirit. However, as a loving and dedicated Armenian daughter, I endured it. I did not want to cause my parents or my brothers any embarrassment, shame or pain. But, over time, my own happiness and ability to truly envision a future and family with a loving life partner were being fully sacrificed. Sacrificed because I couldn’t live in 100% honesty with my Armenian family and my lesbian partner at the same time. This was slowly suffocating my soul and my relationship.

I recently decided that I am tired of sitting on the sideline and perpetuating a huge lie and false image. I am exhausted from sacrificing for my family and others because of some fear-based notion of trying to protect them. I deserve the same pursuit of happiness in life as any of my family members. And, what will make me happiest in life are matters that involve committed love for another woman, marriage, children, and a strong, enduring family bond. And, towards this path, why should I let my own fears shortchange this desire? Why should these fears prohibit me from these very human, natural and pure aspirations?

So now, I am trying to be open and honest about who I am. I am as proud to be gay as I am to be Armenian. I have come to realize that being gay is just an important and constructive part of my life as being Armenian. I am a meaningful and vocal component of two historic timelines. Both involve the struggle for rights and an ongoing fight for recognition. I am now simply and completely, me. Whole and deserving.