Juju knew there would come a day when she would have to do it. IT was the biggest dread of her life, telling her mother she was, in fact, a queer girl. She looked in the mirror and wondered why she had to do it at all? Do straight girls announce their heterosexuality to everyone? Why do queers have to make a big proclamation…Hey look everybody, hey world! I am a queer….I am making this announcement to open myself up to a big scoop of ridicule, scorn, discrimination, even hate….for the rest of my frigging life. Juju was becoming an adult, and she was coming out.
Juju’s mother said, “you have been spending quite a lot of time with that girl, you just can’t wait to get out of this house to see her!” Juju responded, “she has a name…and yes I like her.” Juju’s mother was seated at her sewing machine, working on some project for the Senior Citizen’s Fair in town.
“Look, I think we need to talk,” Juju said to Jewel. Her mother stopped the sewing machine and turned to look at her daughter. Juju saw a sick kind of look on her mother’s face…like she was green with nausea.
It must have been contagious because Juju instantly felt a need to hurl too. Juju layed down across her mother’s bed and Jewel joined her. Juju’s step-father was out for the afternoon, this was really going to happen! Juju’s voice started to tremble as she spoke…she reached over and took Jewel’s hand.
The words were halting and strained, but they spilled out of Juju’s mouth….just get it over she thought! Be done with it….the elephant is in the room….just point to the damn thing already!!! Juju told her mother that she cared for the girl just like she would a boyfriend. Juju told her mother that she was queer. The conversation was an amalgamation of all the stories of Juju’s childhood….it was the reason and answer for everything all at once….no dresses, no dating, no dances, no prom, endless hours at the softball field….it was the answer to the big question Juju’s mother didn’t ask….it was the answer to what was it like Growing Up Juju. It was queer.
Jewel responded to her daughter’s announcement with an opening statement of, “Oh Juju…..why another girl??” “Does it have to be this way?” A last feeble attempt for her daughter’s heterosexuality that Jewel knew did not exist. “It has to be this way,” Juju said.
They layed on the bed for about an hour….it was a conversation of dread that ended with a loving embrace. Juju’s mother said the words that, tragically, lots of queer, young people do not get to hear after coming out. “I am your mother and I will love you no matter what,” Jewel had told her. Jewel had known since Juju was in first grade that there was a chance this day would come….it was natural for her to pray it didn’t….it was wonderful of her to meet it with the grace she did.
It was hard for Juju’s mother and the following weeks were sometimes awkward and tearful on both sides. It never got ugly, but it wasn’t a fairy tale either. Juju knew her mother would have to deal with it in her own time. It was a non-issue with Juju’s step-father, for he had a grown, gay son. That didn’t mean he approved…it was just a non-issue…something to not be talked about.
Juju was going off to college. The distance would allow everyone to take a deep breath. The distance would allow Juju to become her own adult. Juju was thankful for the way things had turned out…pun intended. When you are a queer and not out….it eats away at you and causes too much wasted energy and time. Energy wasted on cover stories and lies….time spent building a house of cards that eventually will fall anyway.
Juju drove north up the highway to her freshman year of college, the metaphor of the long road was not lost on her. The Beatles were cranked up so loud, the Mercury Bobcat was pulsating in its lane. The first hurdle was over in Juju’s mind…she knew that there would be many more to come.
Her college roommate outing her to everyone on campus was in her near future….a bonus issue to everything else that hits a freshman.
Juju could handle it. Her long ago neighbor had sucker punched her in her first attempt to reach out to someone…..the little girls jumping rope in elementary had taunted her as she played kickball with the boys….she had gotten in trouble for using the word queer in fifth grade….9th grade boys had yelled at her and called her Dyke in the halls of her junior high, hitting her in the back of the head if she ever dared to lean down and get a drink from a water fountain….she had been called a boy repeatedly in high school restrooms.
Queer kids are resilient…they can handle it…they are much tougher than the general population thinks they are…putting up with shit on a daily basis does that to you…it toughens one up. Juju thought of all this as she continued her drive north up to Denton, Texas and her university. She wondered about a future where every gay kid came out to their parents and to the world all at the same time. No secrets….no shame, every gay American would rise up. The number would indeed be large….everyone in America would be related to or know a queer ..surely that would make it all better. Paul McCartney was singing on the eight-track…Juju started to sing along.
And when the broken-hearted people living in the world agree,
there will be an answer, let it be.
For though they may be parted there is still a chance that they will see, there will be an answer. let it be.
Juju drove on and thought that her wish would come true…but it might take some time…maybe even until 1995. She would have to be patient. Everyone would live out and proud…gay kids would not suffer in their childhoods…they wouldn’t have to make proclamations to their parents and others. Gay people wouldn’t be assaulted or killed for coming out in the wrong environment. Gays would have equal rights across the board and could even be legally married. Being queer would be like being blue-eyed or bow-legged….just another trait born unto you. No stigma or differences would be noted in Juju’s future, everyone would just……let it be.
Hey girl! Love ya. I’m so glad You told that story. Never knew how Nana felt or even if u ever came out to her. It puts her in a softer light for me to remember her by. We love u and respect YOU-just as you are sweetie!
A very well written piece. I teach at a pretty upscale private school (high school) and watch kids deal with all kinds of issues on a regular basis. This piece reminds me of a young man I taught last year who all of a sudden stopped coming to school. After the second day I was told that he was being withdrawn from our school and wouldn’t be back. What happened was he told his parents he was gay, and they went ballistic, and felt that he had too many liberated friends at school. He is an only child so they withdrew him, and I am not sure he is attending school now, but maybe being “home schooled”. What a tragic waste. Instead of accepting him for who he is, they are trying to shame him and take him away from his friends. I am so glad that you and your mother were able to deal with your coming out in a positive manner. I just don’t understand the homophobic thought process. Why hate someone because of their sexual orientation? It doesn’t make sense. Oh well, just wanted to pass that along, and I wish I could get the young man to read your article. I think it would probably help him see that there is acceptance out there, but he will need to get away from his parents so he can be who he is, not who they want to force him to be.
I love your mother Julya,if you don’t mind me saying so…
I cannot even begin to imagine what you had to deal with back in “our days”. I just remember the liberal use of the word “queer” for everything under the sun,and most of us didn’t even know what the word meant.
But Jewel makes me want to be a better mother. Thanks for sharing her and your stories of you and her.