I FOUND “THE ONE”
In April of 2004 I walked into a small bank in Sedona, Arizona to begin my job as a Teller. Little did I know that the quiet, sassy, smart, gorgeous and driven gal at the far end of the teller line who was operating the drive-thru would change my life for the better, have a family with me and give me the honor of being my wife a year later. I could write a few volumes on our love story but for the purposes of this book I will share a brief history.
I was surprised at how quickly I fell in love with Keturah. She was (and is) easy to talk to, insightful, kind, generous and always up for an adventure. In the following December I found myself in a dilemma in that I realized I loved her but also believed we could never be together because of the obstacles that we would face as a same-sex couple. Both of us came from a very conservative religious background so we had to work through issues of shame that were deeply engrained. Further, we knew that our respective families would not be supportive and would do what they could to prevent our relationship from continuing because of their deeply held religious beliefs. Despite our fears, we made the decision to push past them and go with the truth we knew in our hearts, that we were meant to be together and that God would help us with any challenge we faced. We made our lifetime commitment to each other on January 29, 2005, and if you know your social justice history, this was a time in which our commitment was not legally recognized by our state or federal governments. We would not receive any form of legal recognition until eight years later on January 29, 2013 in Seattle, Washington.
For the next ten years we were so scared of hurting our parents and experiencing rejection from our loved ones that we kept our relationship a secret, with only a handful of people knowing. We took great efforts to present two separate single lives to everyone. We kept two homes with one being our primary, and each of us had a dog. We celebrated every holiday before separating and spending the actual holiday with our respective families who were a town apart from one another. Anytime we took a vacation together we would announce it was always with a group of our friends. Being an interracial couple also posed additional challenges in keeping our secret because if a family member came to visit we would need to hide hair products, makeup and remove any trace of even hair strands! It was ridiculous when I look back on it now, to think of all of the energy and money we spent in our endeavors to keep our relationship under wraps in order to please everyone and avoid rejection. I’m sure you can imagine the arguments that would ensue between the two of us when my wife’s mother would attempt to set her up with a potential suitor, when she would be asked for her phone number or would receive gifts from interested guys. Since we both presented as single career-driven gals, it made it difficult to explain to those around us why we didn’t want to go on that date, fill out the profiles on popular dating websites or explore a potential relationship with a would-be suitor. It was simply exhausting! Nine years into our commitment to each other we knew we could not do it anymore. We wanted to be free of it all, to live our life openly and proudly, have authentic relationships, be a part of the LGBT community around us, let others in a similar situation know they weren’t alone and we desired to bring a child into our lives. We knew these things would require that we stop the secrets and share our truth, no matter the cost.
On October 18, 2014, one day after our home state of Arizona began legally recognizing our marriage rights, we decided we would set a date to come out to everyone. It was an emotionally charged day between the two of us. We cried, we argued, we cried some more and then we started to plan. We determined that we would deliver the information in writing so that we could get out what we needed to without interruption and to allow a safe space for all to have their initial reactions in private.
We pulled up a 2015 calendar and mulled over it together. What day should we pick to come out on? What day is best to share news that you know will be devastating to your immediate family members? We reviewed birthdays, major holidays and considered everyone’s work schedules. My father preached on Sundays so I certainly didn’t want to drop a news bomb on him of this nature on a Saturday. Some of our siblings had small children that would prevent them from reading our emails until the evening and others had hectic work schedules and stressful testing and studying at their schools. We settled on a date and time, February 2, 2010 after 7PM; a date and time away from major holidays, birthdays and work schedules and as it turns out, Groundhog Day. A few days later Keturah purchased a wall calendar and circled the date. She hung it on the wall as a continual reminder so we would stay the course. Our game plan was to meet with our counselor weekly and to write a personal letter to each of our family members. Seeing the countdown on the calendar made things very real and kept me motivated to move forward with our decision. I knew that what lied ahead of me would be one of the most difficult experiences of my life and that I would need to be as emotionally, physically and mentally prepared as possible. Every time I pulled out my laptop to start writing a letter to a family member I would tear up. I would feel nauseated; the room would feel like it was spinning and I could feel my heart beating quickly inside my chest. These feelings came over me when I would imagine them reading my letter and their responses to me. I was absolutely convinced that the responses would be disgust, betrayal, hurt and ultimately, rejection. My mind would play out scenarios of what they might do or say and how I would feel in response. There were times I wouldn’t be able to even type the first letter to a word and would end up closing the laptop. To this day I have difficulty seeing the letters. I saved them all because I felt they might be helpful to someone someday or allow my children some insight. Just seeing them saved in my computer folder brings back some of the familiar feelings I had when writing them.
Over the course of the following months leading up to February we wrote individual personal letters to each of our immediate family members. We met with a clinical psychologist specializing in individual, couples, and family therapy on a weekly basis. We studied books we could find that addressed issues related to coming out, being a gay person with faith and connection to spiritual matters, dealing with difficult conversations and conflict resolutions. I found comfort in reading stories posted by individuals on a website called experienceproject.com and posted anonymously some of how I was feeling. I appreciated those that would share their stories and give me some guidance.
In January, Keturah and I created new social media accounts. Our decision to do this was based on a number of reasons we thought would be beneficial. The first is that it would potentially reduce the number of knee-jerk emotional responses we might receive through comments and messages from our well-meaning friends and extended family members. We knew we would need time to process all of the change it would bring for us and hoped to limit additional stress caused by negative messages, comments or calls. The second reason we did this is because we had a great deal of regard for what our parents and siblings would be going through, as it related to our news and the change it would bring into their lives. Just like we desired to have some quiet time to process change without incoming inquiries from those outside the family, we recognized they might benefit from this as well. We determined that we would give our parents the freedom to choose who to tell in their friendship community, as well as when and how they wanted to share the news with their siblings and parents. The only caveat to this was that we would not lie if we were asked directly by any of those people. Some in our circle of influence would share their concerns that we should not make any accommodation of this nature as it risked taking responsibility for their change process. Although I agreed with much of the advice we received regarding this concern, I also came to the conclusion that for myself, my worry for my family’s well-being and my desire to be a support to them was (and continues to be) part of what makes me who I am. This was no easy task because I had to carefully navigate through every decision and examine how I could be the best sister, daughter and friend I could be without compromising my truth, my faith beliefs or hurting my marriage. The final reason we setup new social media accounts was a way to not only begin sharing pictures, comments and videos representing the truth of our lives, but also as a way to determine who our friends really were. We hoped it would provide us with a more close-knit and authentic community and made the assumption that those that made efforts to reach out to us truly wanted to be a part of our lives, whether they believed the same as us or not was not of concern, provided that they were respectful towards us.
The day was getting closer and as it approached, waves of anxiety would come over me. During a dinner one night towards the end of January, Keturah suggested we take the day after coming out off from work. She expressed concern that since we didn’t know how we might be feeling or what interactions we might have, it could prevent us from being able to function well at work. I hadn’t even thought about that until she mentioned it and agreed. So, the next day we both submitted requests for that time off and were granted. On Super Bowl Sunday, the day before we would come out, a dear friend of ours tried to take our minds off of things a bit with some bowling and lunch. Afterwards, we headed home to watch the game and it was pretty much from this point on that things started to feel like I was dreaming; that place in which you are seeing and hearing things but are more of an observer to all that is going on around you and at any moment you know you will awake to reality.
The day arrived. We both worked that day and I was fortunate to work from home as this allowed me to better hide my emotions and afford me opportunities to take much needed breaks to just breathe deeply. I made journal entries throughout the day to help alleviate some of my anxiety and I thought that perhaps if anyone ever asked what it felt like to come out, I would have something reliable to share with them as my experience has taught me that over time, details of events start to fade, especially ones that are every emotional. On February 2, 2015 at 7:30PM we sat at our couch in our living room staring at our laptops. Each of our emails were prepared and addressed and ready to be sent. The letters shared our truth, information about how to find our new social media accounts if desired and a request to not contact us in person or by phone but rather through email for the time, until we each had space to process things quietly and privately. This moment is hard for me to look back on because I don’t want to relive it. I remember closing my eyes, taking a deep breath and allowing my finger to click the mouse pad signaling send. It was gone. The first composed email addressed to my parents was gone. I started to think again about the gravity of this action until it occurred to me I needed to immediately send the others so my siblings would receive theirs in a similar timeframe. As quickly as I could I clicked the mouse three more times. I looked over at Keturah and simply stated, “Done”. Keturah had more to send than I did due to size of her family so she was still sending. After the emails were sent we sat there in the quiet dimly lit room waiting…waiting…waiting. The silence was deafening. Then, a few moments later my phone rang and let me tell you, there was something different about that ring tone, it was an angry one. I looked down at the caller ID, it was my father and I knew I could not answer it. I knew he was not in a good place for a conversation, nor was I. We both needed time to calm down and sort through our feelings. For the first time in my life, I did not answer his call while it rang in my hand. Keturah stood up and exclaimed, “We’ve got to get out of here! We can’t be here! If they are calling us and not following our request to speak through email, they might come over here!” So we grabbed the keys to the car and quickly left for a restaurant a few miles away. We couldn’t eat of course. We just sat there, staring at each other, staring down at the food and glancing at our phones. While at the restaurant, texts started coming in from some of our siblings and from Keturah’s mother. They were not angry or mean texts but rather very solemn ones expressing love for us. We found some relief in them. Although we were not in denial that this was just the beginning of what would be very difficult conversations and interactions ahead, it was at the very least enough to give a glimpse of hope that we might be able to move past things and find a new “normal” together as a family.
The days and months that followed were some of the most difficult in my life. The challenges we faced were hard, to put it lightly. Every single invite, request and response had to be carefully evaluated to ensure we were not putting us in a position of unhealthy compromise. There were times Keturah and I simply did not know what to do and would seek counsel from our therapist on how to manage things. Some family members chose not to accept our truth and because of this would be disrespectful towards us. We concluded quickly that there would be no point in having certain discussions or coming to agreements, as the other party expressed through their words and behaviors that they believed God was solely on their side and therefore, any actions towards us, even if we interpreted them to be unfair, illogical or even cruel, were justified. Further, there were some that expressed that we had ten years of being together so all of this was not new to us like it was to them and that they should be afforded a great period of time to get used to the idea of us together; this would mean that we should continue to separate during the holidays to spend time with our respective families and that they should be able to continue to be treat us as if we were single.
I would like to tell you that Keturah and I handled every interaction textbook perfect, maintained a positive outlook throughout, never had an argument, never contemplated relocating to Canada, knew exactly what to do when we had to make a decision and that the year turned out to be a blissful one for us. Nothing could be further from the truth! Our relationship was stretched to the max and greatly challenged! At the end of 2015 I was twenty-five pounds heavier, exhausted and emotionally drained. I think I had cried so much that I ended up with just a dry cough followed by an odd sounding laugh by the time November rolled around. Do I have any regrets about coming out? Absolutely not! I was then, and continue to be grateful we followed through on our decision. I am excited about our future and hopeful that one day our story might help others going through a similar situation. Sometimes I can’t believe we just came out such a short time ago because so much has happened since then. We are more confident for sure. Since we no longer have a big secret to protect, we are able to be vulnerable and open, resulting in beautiful and meaningful friendships. Although the relationship with some family members has changed, it has put things into perspective about what it really means to have family. We also welcomed a baby girl in the summer of 2016 and have since relocated to the Seattle, WA area. I hope that if you are reading this and looking for encouragement you have found some. It does get better.