In 2018, I took charge of my life (at 40!) and it has been incredibly liberating. Now in the present, with my feet firmly on the ground, I think about the past and all of the moments where I knew there was something different in me, but ignored it. And that’s the struggle for children who are raised by parents who offer conditional love. When the terms of love require you to behave in a certain way, you learn to dance. We want to be loved, especially as children, and we do anything to get that love and approval. Almost all of us face the same issue: we are shaped by our early years, intentionally or otherwise, by the roles we play, the behaviors we observe and the relationships that force us into narratives about ourselves. Then later, we have the chance to become the people we are really meant to be through our consciousness, choices and courage. My self-discovery journey has been enlightening and ultimately, freed me to be the person I am meant to be, not the person whom I had been trained to be.
Throughout my childhood, I had no space to safely explore who I was, the outside influences pulled me in and I held on tight. What would I do without the approval of others? All of these people in my life, what would happen if I suddenly showed them my true colours? Well, when I showed my mom my true colours, I was hurt, repeatedly. As my psychiatrist said, “It becomes a matter of life and death for a child, which follows you into adulthood.” Obviously showing my true colours wasn’t going to be a matter of life and death in adulthood, but the emotional response was the same as in childhood – preserve relationships or bad things will happen. But now, in these present moments of freedom and safety, I could finally place what it was that made me feel different and it was liberating. I now knew that my thoughts had a purpose and I actually was different than most. It was a real feeling! Can you imagine how that might feel? Your whole life you’ve known something isn’t right, but you couldn’t put a finger on it? Everything was beginning to make sense. I was not a heterosexual, and when this piece fell into place, I had an unusual (and welcomed) sense of peace and calm. With this sense though, of peace and calm, also came a “holy shit” how did this happen? I remember this conversation with my psychiatrist:
Me: “Is it weird that I’m just learning now, at my age, that I’m gay?”
Psychiatrist *smiling and slightly shaking her head*: “No, not at all.”
Me: “Really?” cocking my head to one side.
Psychiatrist: “No. The idea of separateness and individuality was a life or death choice when you were a child. You are only now learning about who you are as a separate individual. You did not have space to learn this from your mother.”
Me: “So, I’m not alone in this? You’ve seen this before?”
Psychiatrist (smiling softly): “No, not alone at all, and yes.”
Wow. I needed a moment to let that sink. My psychiatrist was telling me that:
1) I am normal;
2) She’s seen this before and;
3) Its not weird that I didn’t know I was gay until after my 40th birthday.
Validation. According to Statistics Canada, less than 2% of the population reported themselves as gay. So yes, it makes perfect sense that I felt different. I was always weary of telling anyone that I felt different, mostly because I didn’t know what my ‘different’ was. Interestingly, just to show you how out of touch with myself I was, one of my dearest childhood female friends is gay. One might think that being in her company would’ve helped me get in touch with this part of me. Nope. Even this surprises me. But, my psychiatrist wasn’t surprised or phased, was even nonchalant about it. And with that, I let go of worrying about it. It didn’t matter at this point. I had long known something about me was different – I was affirmed.
Very early on, my psychiatrist once said something that stuck with me and might’ve been the biggest takeaway:
Me: “I always knew I didn’t want to be my mom. I did everything I could to not be like her.”
Psychiatrist: “Yes. So in your effort to not be like your mom, you are still bound by her. Do you see that?”
Me: *blankly staring at her*
Psychiatrist: “Take a coin. There are two sides. One side is your mom and one side is not. By not being like your mom, you are making choices based on that, rather than what you want. Does that make sense?”
Me: *big smiles* “Wow, yes. That makes a lot of sense. Every decision I made was based on what she would or wouldn’t do, rather than considering what I would like to do.”
Psychiatrist: “Yes. You have been operating on the other side of the coin. Still bound by the ‘to-be’ or ‘not-be’ like mom. That is not individuality or separateness.”
I think this stuck with me because it resonated. I could relate to this – in my hard work of not being like her, there was no space to learn about what my own choices might’ve been. Right down to my orientation. Figuring out what it was that made me question myself, for pretty much most of my life, gave me ground to stand on. Do I wish I had known I was gay sooner? Hmm, that’s tough. It would depend on how early. Too early and I wouldn’t have my beautiful daughters, so that’s a definite no. Earlier than I had come to learn? Yes, probably. Do I have regrets? No. Why? Because I’m proud. Proud that I granted myself permission to take this journey. No one forced me to make any of these decisions, no one told me to go to therapy, and no one told me to dig deep. I did that! I broke the cycle of my past and how I was raised. My go-to is no longer “don’t be like mom”.
I met my girlfriend in 2018 and when my daughters were 3 and 8 years old. My younger one immediately began calling her “big mom” and it has stuck! As a couple, we work together to co-parent my daughters (whom I share with their dad) and together we welcomed a new baby boy this past February 2021! Our family is as unique as the next and full of love – we are a visible example of how families are made up in many different ways, and all that really matters is that everyone knows they are loved and accepted as they are. As pride month wraps up, it’s not lost on me how many others have paved the way for the LGBTQ2S+ community. My girlfriend and I can easily walk hand-in-hand down the street and barely anyone bats an eye. I proudly wear a pride bracelet not only because I love it, but because I want my pride to be visible. I want youngsters who may be questioning their sexuality, to see our community in the day-to-day, not just pride month. My journey has taught me that we are never truly alone – there is always someone else who has walked a similar path and had shared experiences. If my visibility and coming out helps just one person, that’s one more authentic person in our world!
I’ll leave you with this: if this post has touched you emotionally because you’ve found yourself in similar shoes, show yourself some love by making you a priority. Whether that be finding a therapist, or confiding your secrets to someone safe, take that first step. There’s no good reason you could give me for why you shouldn’t love yourself enough to fix your cracks. Your child-self deserves it, and your adult-self needs it. Thank you for letting me sharing a part of my story with you, I am honoured and humbled. Please treat yourself with kindness.
All my love, Rebecca.
(Oh and Happy Pride!)