My name is Amber and I was born in Okinawa, Japan, but I am from Atlanta, Georgia. So my experience is that people of color, when I hear their coming out stories, there’s always some element of tragedy or real struggle or estrangement from their families, and while that certainly has been the case with a lot of people, it wasn’t my experience. And I think it’s important to also get that story out, that it’s not always going to be this really terrible experience and you’re not going to feel completely alone and estranged from your family. Because with people of color, really with anybody, but people of color specifically, our family unit is incredibly important and you go through a lot with your family. So feeling estranged with them at any point is particularly debilitating. So that wasn’t my experience and I thought it was important to get that out.
Super Bowl Sunday, 2004, I was headed to a Super Bowl party and I was talking with my mom on the phone, I was trying to get off the phone with her. And right when I was trying to get off the phone, she asked if I had anything I wanted to talk with her about, or anything more I wanted to say. And I said, no, I think I covered it, everything’s going well, classes are going great, you know, trying to get off the phone. And she said, well, are you sure you don’t have anything you need to say? No, no, I’m all set, think we covered everything. She goes, well, what about Allison? And Allison was this girl that I dated. So she was asking if I wanted to say anything about Allison, and I said, no, I don’t have anything to tell you about Allison. And she waited a little longer and she was like, Okay, I guess I’m going to have to walk you through this. So I was silent, I had no idea, well, I think I had an idea of what she was referring to but it was just so out of the realm of my understanding of how this process works that I just wasn’t ready. And so she said, Okay, Mom, I am… and I was silent because I had no idea what I was supposed to say. And she said it again, Mom, I am… And I just started crying. I never finished the sentence, I never went through it, I just broke down and started crying. I just said over and over again I’m so sorry, I’m just so sorry, I tried so long to be perfect, I didn’t mean to disappoint you. I was just broken-hearted and I felt that I had broken her heart. And she just saying it’s okay, it’s okay, I love you, it’s okay. And we eventually got off the phone, I don’t remember how I got off the phone, but we got off the phone.
The summer of that year I ended up going back home by myself this time and we were cleaning up the garage and I remember having a series of conversations that summer about what it meant to be bisexual because that’s what I came out as, because I was bisexual, I’m still attracted to men, I just wasn’t dating one at the time, and the questions she asked centered around… I mean, the very first question she asked me was, okay, okay, okay, you’re walking down the street, and Denzel Washington is coming at you from this end and Halle Berry is coming from you, who do you look at? They were ridiculous questions, but they weren’t questions asked out of malice, she was really truly trying to understand. And they were difficult questions to answer because, I would look at Halle Berry but that’s because Halle Berry is just generally more attractive than Denzel Washington but maybe that’s because how gay I am, but it’s also more than Denzel Washington is a little older, but it got to be a little bit of a headache. But it was nice that she stayed engaged and she was always asking silly questions like that.
My mother passed suddenly in 2008 and tragically, and when I was dealing with my grief with her passing, I remember Googling her and looking up some of the obituaries and things people had to say. And I stumbled across an article that one of her former students of Virginia Tech had written and people say incredible things about my mom. About her eloquence and her beauty and her grace and her way of just making people feel comfortable and at home. And all of those things mean a lot to me. But this student wrote this article and he said that what meant the most to him was that she was the greatest LGBT ally that Virginia Tech students ever had. And I don’t want to get choked up, but of all the things I’ve ever heard of my mother, that absolutely meant the most to me. And I just feel so blessed to have had that in my life. And I just wish other people could be so lucky.