“Coming Out” is a term most people who have a friend or family member who is gay associate with the beginning of someone’s story. The time they stepped forward and began living their lives openly and authentically. Every gay person has some sort of “coming out” story as varied as the people themselves. Some are beautiful, and some are tragic. The truth is that coming out to your friends and family is only the beginning. You have to repeatedly “out” yourself your entire life.
While I have never really been “in” as an adult, I don’t small-talk well. I am naturally an introvert, and in social situations where I am not close with people, I tend to do a lot of smiling, nodding and well-timed laughing, with an occasional snarky joke. It’s kind of my thing. For a very long time, while I wasn’t “out,” I just didn’t talk about it, and it didn’t come up. I am not one to talk about my life with strangers, and even once my wife and I had our first child, I didn’t see a need to correct anyone when they asked if my baby’s beautiful blue eyes came from my husband since mine are very distinctly brown. I could honestly reply, “No, my mother has blue eyes,” and I could move on with my day. But as any mom with small kids will tell you — kids say the darndest things. If I wasn’t “out” before? I better get used to being out now.
When my oldest was three, a well-meaning cashier asked her, “Are you a mama’s girl?” as she snuggled in my arms, to which she replied, “No, this is my mommy,” very curtly back, with a little more side eye than I’d like to admit. Another time my younger daughter was at the ER after a particularly bad respiratory illness, and the nurse told her not to worry, her mama was staying with her. My daughter replied, “No, my mama is staying at home.” Both times I was faced with an option — say nothing, or say something. But I couldn’t say nothing. The older my girls got, the more saying nothing felt like a lie by omission. They were taking processing time in their baby brains to correct something that was said incorrectly — something that inaccurately reflected their world, and I owed it to them to back them up. So I did, and I do. I explain, quickly and lightly: I am her mommy, she also has a mama, and we are a two-mom family. I leave it at that, because honestly, it is that simple.
As my kids have gotten older, I have had this conversation probably 100 times over. As a mom, my job is to vet the safety of places entrusted with my children’s growth and development, and I have the same expectations of any parent — but I also have to be sure I am sending my kids to a place that is safe for our whole family to be. Now that my oldest is in “real school” doing “real activities,” I’ve continued to have to “out” myself to any place where the adults involved need to know who is legally responsible for our child, and why there are two women equally present. This is my wife, and the second legal and active and present parent to our children. I could fill a few filing cabinets with the amount of paperwork I’ve had to cross out “Father” or “Husband” in order to be able to complete it correctly. But I will continue to have the conversation, because it is important to have. It is not because this is an easy thing to say over and over; it is because my children notice when it is wrong. Every time it comes out of my mouth, I am taking a risk on what the response will be, but it is a risk I’m willing to take.
I’ve also changed my perspective on “coming out.” I’m not coming, or going, anywhere. The idea of coming out of something brings up an image of being boxed in and then rejoining the world. I am not coming out of anywhere, however my kids have given me a reason to let more people in. If you ever see another two-mom or two-dad family (of which there are a lot in Jacksonville!), and they take the time to correct language that you used — that is a good thing. They are letting you into their lives, and they are telling you that information because it means they plan to see you again, you are important, and they would like you to have a chance to get it right.