Pride 2023 Stories: Part 1 - Kathy & Katrina

Recently, I had an interesting exchange with a writer friend of mine who lives in a progressive bubble in the Pacific Northwest. 🤔

She was remarking on how accepting everyone is now of the LGBTQ+ community. 🌈

"They even paint the streets with rainbows during Pride!" She said of her hometown.

I get why she felt that way. I used to feel that way too, curled up in my liberal bubble in the northeast, comfortable in my privilege living as a straight, white woman.

I gently reminded my friend about what's happening in Florida and many other states.

About the fact that Target pulled Pride garb from its shelves after a protest. 😅

About the fact that we are living in two Americas—one that embraces and celebrates the LGBTQ+ community—and another that wants to annihilate it. 🤕

Queer folx need to raise their voices and write their stories. These stories matter, y'all. Representation matters. 🏳️‍🌈

That's why during Pride Month, I'm centering the stories of queer writers who I've worked with 1:1 or through my WRITE YOURSELF OUT mentorship and community, as well as some other awesome queer humans.

Here are two coming-out stories that are both totally different & very much the same:

The first story is from Kathy Kiger (she/her):

Her Religion Taught Her That God Could Forgive Almost Anything

My religion taught me that God could forgive almost anything. He could forgive liars. He could forgive murders. But he would not forgive gay people. Gay people were beyond hope—so bad that God just gave up on them. Being gay was quite likely the scariest possible thing I could be. I was a good girl, trying to do what was right. A good Christian, a good wife, and a good mother.

So anytime the gay would start to creep up, I'd just shove it down and Christian harder.

Many women discover their queerness when they have a passionate love affair with one of their friends. For me, it wasn't like that at all. For me, it was an article on Medium. 

I was just beginning my copywriting career so I joined a Facebook group for new writers. We would post links to our work for others to read and critique. There were articles on everything from finances, to cooking, to caring for your cat’s asthma.

One Friday afternoon I was scrolling along in the Facebook group scanning the article titles while I waited for our weekly Q&A to start. And there it was — the article that changed my life. It was called “Am I a Lesbian?”

Before I even knew what I was doing, I’d clicked the link and started to read. My stomach dropped and I felt the blood drain from my face. Holy shit!

As I read this writer’s words, I saw myself. The real me. I couldn’t deny it anymore. My inner voice had finally broken through and given me the message I’d been hiding from my whole life. I'm a lesbian.

That day has gone down in history as my “holy shit I’m a lesbian" day.

The second story is from Katrina Anne Willis (she/her):

She Wasn't Brave Enough to Be Herself—Until She Was

On October 16 — one day after our 22nd wedding anniversary — Chris and I sat down with our three high schoolers and Skyped in the college boy. I’d written a letter to them because I knew I wouldn’t get through the conversation otherwise. Here’s an excerpt of what I read:

“Your dad and I have something to tell you. But first, there is something I want to remind you. Each of you grew under my heart – from the day you were conceived until the moment you made your way into this world. You are the best pieces of both of us, the boldest, brightest, shiniest parts. We love you unconditionally, forever. Nothing will ever change that. Nothing. You are always safe in and under both of our hearts. Forever.

Your dad and I have stood side-by-side for 28 years through sunshine and storms. We have deep and abiding respect for each other, for the humans we both are individually. There is nothing either of us would change about the last 28 years.

And we have many more years ahead – both of us. It’s important that we live authentically, that we live fully, that we live our truest lives… both for ourselves and as an example to you.

So what I need to tell you is this: I am attracted to women, not to men. I am gay. Both your dad and I have always known this on some level, it just took me multiple decades to own and embrace it. The labels are a little tricky for me, but the reality is not. This is who I am."

There was more to the letter. Of course, there is always more. Life tends to be a bit more complicated and complex than we imagine. The kids were amazing and supportive and strong. They hugged us and made jokes and shed a few tears. Somehow, we made some pretty amazing human beings. Chris and I had big plans to co-habitate and co-parent while we lived our separate lives and supported each other on our new paths.

But plans and reality don’t always align.

For the previous two years, Chris and I had grappled with how to move forward — or whether we even should. We’d been through counseling. We’d experimented with many possible solutions, including opening up our marriage. But ultimately, we’d recognized this as our truth: Both of us deserved more than just pieces of each other. And although we’d given each other some of our very best pieces, we both understood that “most” was not enough, was not fair or equitable, was not authentic. It was not what either of us wanted for the rest of our days.

And so, we agreed to our separation and began dating other women.

I met someone in New York who immediately felt like a kindred. She is kind and funny and smart and feisty. She is thoughtful and introspective and sweet and inclined to break out into impromptu dance parties. When she first held my hand on 5th Avenue, she asked, “Is this okay?” And I’d never felt so okay.

Getting to know her has been a homecoming. We can talk about everything and nothing for hours. We work out together and order meals in and argue about who falls asleep first during a movie. We enjoy both similar and different interests. We are learning each other. She has quickly become one of my favorite stories.

Chris, too, has met someone in Ohio. He says she is the one bright spot for him in this tumultuous time.

He and I have made many missteps along the way. We have spoken harsh words. We have hurt each other. We have apologized. We have rinsed and repeated. This is not an easy journey. Twenty eight years is a long, intersected time. There is much to unravel. But we are trying to be the best we can be so our kids have space to be the best they can be.

My sad, sweet Mom — when I had the hardest conversation I’ve ever had with her — said to me, “But if you’ve always suspected you were gay, why did you get married? Why did you have kids?”

And my answer remains the same… because I grew up in the Midwest. I attended a Catholic school and was raised by a very Catholic family. I was told from my earliest days what was expected of me — not necessarily in so many words, but in everything I read, heard, ingested, lived. And I met a boy who loved me. And I loved him back… in many good, true ways. And the thought of the silences and stares and judgment was harder to bear than the thought of white picket fences and puppies and the suburbs.

I wasn’t brave enough to be me in a world that told me I should be someone else.

And the silences and stares and judgment have come to fruition, multiple decades later. What I feared for all those years has become reality. I feel the empty spaces where friends used to be. I hear the silences where laughter and conversation once existed. I miss the invitations that used to come fast and furiously. I see the confusion in my mom’s eyes. It’s the hardest juxtaposition of all. For the first time in my life, I finally feel at peace and completely comfortable in my own skin. And yet, there is so much fallout.

There is guilt.

There is blame.

I made a beautiful family, and then I broke it.

I know those pieces will someday reassemble into something new and different and more authentic. I believe that what rises from the ashes will be even better because it will finally be the truth. But today, there is heartache and confusion tucked into the cracks between the joy and peace and contentment.

The other thing I know for sure is this: I wouldn’t change one thing about my past, about the decisions I made 28 years ago… or about the decisions I’ve made today. Because no matter what else we might have done wrong, Chris and I did four things so very right. Their names are Sam, Gus, Mary Claire, and George.

And for those who are wondering and searching and questioning the truth of their own lives, here’s the other story I want to share:

Once upon a time, there was a little girl who grew up safe and loved and cocooned in the arms of her mother and big sister. She loved the girls in her life far more than the boys. She kissed her female cousins innocently in closets, giggling and discovering. And when she turned double digits, she learned from a man who should have known better that her purpose on earth was to please men, to serve them, and to stay quiet about the details. She learned from her society and her religion that loving girls was wrong, even though no other love felt quite right. She learned there was a path she was supposed to follow, and she followed it.

Then multiple decades later, she learned that life is too short to live for someone else or by anyone else’s rules and standards and expectations. It was the lesson she wanted to leave for her children, for the man who held her safely for so many years, for all the little girls and boys who still wonder… Am I doing what is expected of me? Or am I living what matters most to me? The little girl who followed the path she was supposed to — simply because she was supposed to — doesn’t have regrets. Just a story to tell… one that took a long time to learn and accept and understand. And it goes like this:

Love wins. Whatever love feels right, no matter who might say it is wrong. And the story — even though it might not have the ending she expected and envisioned — will still have a happy ending. Because the final sentences will be these: She loved. She loved well. She loved honestly. And with her whole heart. And she finally — finally — learned to love herself enough to live her truth.

The beginning.

What’s your coming-out story? I’d love to hear it.

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