Phil: Hey,this is Phil aka Corinne.
Alex: And I’m Alex Berg. And you’re listening to…
Phil: The I’m From Driftwood Podcast.
Our first story is from Robin, a trans woman whose coming out story had a surprise ending.
Robyn: In 1996, my mother died of a car accident. I had no parental figure really around. ‘cause my father went into, like, a depression and he was never home and he was always out drinking.
We had invited guys over and, like, have dress up parties. And that’s where I discovered my sexuality. People in my family would obviously talk a lot of things about us like, oh, we’re faggots and this and that. So my grandmother was definitely not one to have it, being that her daughter died and she wanted to be that close parental figure. So she definitely didn’t take that lying down.
She would have arguments with my auntie and their whole family about how, you know, she should leave us alone and we’re just kids and blah, blah, blah. Because of all those things, she was telling my uncle that how make sure that we like girls and we have girlfriends. It made me feel, like, bad inside. Like, you know, if Iwere to come out to her or say anything about these feelings, it wouldn’t have been been accepted.
After I graduated high school and I went through, like, figuring out who I am. You know, at the time when I graduated, I was thinking I was a gay male. You know, so that’s how I identified and that’s how I lived my life.
About two years later, I went back to Florida to visit my family – my grandmother and my auntie and stuff. They all live over there. So I went to visit them. And it was more like me being myself now, you know, I had like a side shave and I was dressing in tighter clothing. At that time, it was like Rihanna had the side shave and all these people were, like, wearing it. So it was like, oh that’s… she’s like, Oh, you’re in trend, you know, wearing the tight clothes. So I didn’t really come out to her. I just kind of just lived my life and it was like, This is who I am, but they could clearly see something going on.
So when I came back from that trip, it was a couple months later, you know, I was dealing with these things emotionally inside me that I didn’t understand. Since I was younger, I always had a feeling of like, I’m not a guy. I felt like a girl. And one of the things that’s cemented that in my brain was I saw a documentary on a trans woman getting her bottom surgery because I didn’t know something like that was possible. And when I saw it, I was like, that’s what I want. That’s me.
I did personal research on it to figure out, you know, why am I feeling this way? Why am I having anxiety? Why am I having depression? When I went to the doctor or the therapist, they just kind of confirmed it to me. She just made sure I was not crazy and made sure this is what I really wanted to do. And then within the week, you know, I started seeing my doctor and starting my hormones, and that was the best decision of my life.
This year, 2019, my auntie was having a big 40th birthday and she invited my brother and I. And I was very hesitant about going because I knew if I went, I couldn’t be something I’m not. I had to go in there and be who I truly am. The day before I was going to leave for my trip, my friend, she contacted me and we were like hanging out, you know, having a slice of pizza.
And she was like, “What are you going to do? What are you going to wear?” She was looking at me. She’s like, “You’re not going to get your nails done and stuff?”
I’m like, “No, that’s like, too much for me.”
She was like, “No, you’re not going that way. You’re going to go and be who you are and not be this little basic bitch.”
So I was like, “You know what? You’re paying for my nails? Sure.” So we went and she got my nails done, this really bright pink and sparkles and everything. I arrived to Florida and I tried my best to, like, hide my nails, like putting them in my pocket, whatever I had to do to be a little low key.
The real tests came when it was the day of the party, which was the next day after we arrived. And yeah, I started putting on my makeup and I got dressed in this cute little pink romper. I started getting the feelings of like, Oh my God, I’m really doing this. And I couldn’t believe this was happening so I changed into some basic jeans and a tee shirt, and I was like, Yeah, I’m ready for this party.
But then one of my cousins, she was like, “What are you doing? Why are you wearing that for? That’s… it doesn’t look cute. It’s not who you are.” So I changed my outfit and I went into the party very… not so confident, but I kind of stood to myself. So I was like helping out, like making drinks and stuff, cause the party was happening outside and I was inside.
So then my grandmother there walks in the door and she’s like, “What are you doing in here?” And she just looks at me up and down.
And I’m like, “I’m just helping making drinks.”
She’s like, “Come outside and meet…” some of her friends, friends that I’ve known since I was younger. And they’ve haven’t seen me.
So I’m like, “I’ll be there. You know, I’m helping to make these drinks” or whatever, trying to prolong it as much as I can. At one point. I had my cousin gave me her jacket, so I could, like, cover myself up. But then it was Florida, so it was mad hot, so I was like, fuck this jacket.
And my grandmother walks back into the kitchen area with her friend that she wanted me to, like, see and meet again. So I saw the friend and she’s like, you know, giving me a hug and everything.
I’m like, “Yeah. Hello. You know, I’ve… I’ve changed a lot since the last time we met.”
Her friend was like, “You look very beautiful. You look just like your mother and it doesn’t matter how you are now.” After my grandmother friend just accepted me that – in that way, and just told me some positive things, my grandmother and I didn’t really speak about my transition or anything like that. It was just an unspoken thing. This is who you are and we’re just going to accept you and nothing we could do but love you.
Even though the party, one of the guys were like, “Oh, is this your granddaughter?” And she even said, yes, So that was a very proud moment. Just, like, smiling, like, Yes, I’m your granddaughter now.
Alex: So one of the things I like about this story is that we really get to hear what happens over, like what must be a decade-plus time period for Robin, just because I think so often it does take us that long to figure out who we are. And it’s not just like you wake up one morning and this light bulb has gone off. You really have to sometimes put all of these different pieces together. So that was something that really resonated with me about Robin’s story.
I also feel like sometimes you just really need that one friend or person in your life who is your champion in a way. And for Robin that was having this friend who was like, No, you’re going to go to this party as who you are. You’re going to go and be as loud and authentic. Those are big things that resonated for me.
Phil: Like Robin, I feel like when I came up to my mom, she wasn’t very happy. She cried. She was not, you know, on board with it. And over time after meeting my partner, you know, I got married, she started to have a bit of acceptance for it, but it wasn’t a verbal acceptance. It was acceptance through the way she treated my partner. And I think that’s – this is something I’m seeing in Robin’s story with her grandmother, the grandmother’s reaction of not reacting was more of the, it was the acceptance that Robin really needed and wanted
Alex: This brings us to another point that resonated with me, which is people don’t have the really specific kind of language that we who work on these things every single day might understand, but they can show you that they are in your corner with these other actions. Robin said that it just became unspoken as this is who she was. And it’s true. It’s sometimes, people may not have the right words to say, but their actions really do show that they’re there for you.
And I just thought that this was, like. such a good teachable moment for people who might be listening, who are allies or who have a family member or friend who has coming come out to them as LGBTQ and they don’t know what to say, but there are things that you can do that really show you concretely accept someone through your actions and your ongoing commitment to the relationship and to making them feel accepted.
Phil: This makes me think of the next story we’re going to hear about Courtney, because sometimes the things your relatives say can have a profound impact on you.
Courtney: I was a sophomore in high school. This is 2002. And my family and I were driving back from my cousin’s basketball game. It was my father, my mom, my aunt, my brother and I. And we were, you know, it’s a long car ride so we’re listening to music. I have always been a fan of music, so I was the one in charge of putting on what we’re listening to. It being 2002, we had… Christine Aguilera’s Stripped album had just recently come out so we’re listening to that.
We got to one of the songs. Beautiful. And I just remember like this moment where my dad, you know, brought up how, you know, how good of a singer she was and he really liked the song. But he also referenced the video that had come out a few weeks prior, and I guess he saw it. And in the video there happened to be two guys kissing in the video.
He was like, “Yeah, it was a really good song. But then she had two guys kissing in it. Yuck.” And there I am the backseat just being like, Oh, wait a minute. What?
Back then, you know, being 15 years old and still not really coming to terms with, you know, my sexuality, you know, I really didn’t speak up for myself then. So it kind of just made me be like, Oh, wait a minute. Is this… will they be okay with me being gay? I don’t know.
And then I remember being 26 and really just wanted it to finally get it out there and come out to my family. At this point, I was out to all my friends, coworkers but my immediate family were going to be the last ones to know.
So I gathered them all together in a room. I remember just being super nervous and – but just ready to get it off my chest. And I finally told them like, “Hey, I’m gay. Just want you guys to know since, you know, it’s, you know, I’m 26 years old and I want to feel closer to you guys. And this is a huge part of my life.”
They were like, “Yeah, we already know. You haven’t brought a girl home in 25 years.” My family were like, “Well, why did you wait so long to tell us?
And I looked at my Dad and then I explained it to him. I was like, “Yeah, Dad, you made a remark about how she had two guys in the video kissing and you said ‘Yuck.’”
He was like, “I don’t remember that happening.”
And I was like, “Yeah, like you probably didn’t mean anything by it, but for me it was my entire world. And, you know, that’s the reason why it did take so long, ‘cause I didn’t know.
And there wasn’t too much resistance, but I think they just slowly understood and they apologized and were like, you know, “I’m sorry that, you know, we ever made you feel that way.” And it was one of those moments where I was, yeah, finally happy, happy to get that off my chest and let them know how. how I was feeling.
Fast forward a couple of years. It’s 2018 now, and I’m getting ready to see Christina Aguilera for the second time. I saw her once back in 2007, but I was still in the closet. And, you know, it’s just a different experience when you’re finally out and proud.
We go to Atlantic City to see Christina Aguilera and I’m there with my boyfriend. And it’s one of these moments that I’m just so excited for. She gets on stage to do her Encore. And one of the songs is “Beautiful” and everything just kinda came full circle for me.
Phil: I found it so interesting how someone can say something that seems so harmless, so meaningless and in so many ways, but it can have so much of an impact on someone. To the point where his father said something about the two guys kissing in the video but didn’t even remember saying it when Courtney asked him about it. And it just blew my mind when you can think about words and how much of an impact that can have, and it could be nothing to you.
Alex: It made me think about two things, which is, one, how the adults in our lives can sometimes have this really outsize impact on how we perceive ourselves, especially at such a young age when you’re really impressionable. And if you want to please the adults in your life, just how much, what they say, how much of an impact it has. And I think it, when it really drives home is just how careful you need to be sometimes around LGBTQ young people.
Then the other thing wasn’t made me think about some of the other times in my life, when people had made really casual homophobic remarks and how much shame that made me feel. I can remember once, and this was in my early twenties, so I wasn’t even that young. I remember being out with a group of friends and we went to a bar that after a certain time ended up having a lesbian or queer women-centric night. And I just remember, as we were starting to leave the bar, women and queer folk were coming in and this was before I was out. And I just remember someone in this group making some casual remark like, “Oh, it looks like it’s turning into like lesbian night” or something like that.
And just, it really stuck with me because it made me feel like, Oh, you think this is gross. You think this is weird. You think this is defective. You think this is something to make a mockery of. And it just made me feel. So much shame. I’m sure that I brought it up with this group of people today, that they would be mortified, that they had said something like that, that had that impact on me. But it just drove home the point that we really sit with so many of those remarks and I feel like sometimes being a queer person, it can be like death by a thousand cuts because you hear stuff like that all the time.
Phil: And it’s true. And I think it’s so interesting because it’s hard sometimes to realize how it can be so damaging.
Alex: This made me think about my own experiences with coming out. And for me it wasn’t like I was trying to be courageous or brave or have this, like, make this statement or have this amazing moment. For me, when I was coming out as Bi and queer, I couldn’t not come out. I could no longer not be myself. I could no longer make people comfortable around me by staying silent.
So at the same time, I do have a deep admiration for people who are able to be courageous and do that. But I also recognize that for so many of us, it’s something we must do and it’s not necessarily that choice, or you’re not doing this calculus because you eventually think you’re going to tell your story in a public way. You’re doing it because you have to. And it’s because it’s who you are.
Phil: You know, in my story, the way I came out, it was hard because I felt like they were expecting me to be one thing and I couldn’t really be that thing anymore. And I had experienced from them, you know, this feeling of like them wanting me to be this other thing. And it just, I got to the point where I couldn’t do anymore, either. If I had to do it again today, I’d do it very differently. I came out… it was very angry at the time. I was very much like You either deal with this or you’re not going to have me in your life. And I don’t think I’d have to go about it that way today, just being older and being more aware of who I am and being okay with being able to say who I am without the anger.
I agree with you. There wasn’t any choice for me. It was either I was going to do it and make myself happy or continue to make them happy.
Alex: I’m constantly coming out to people. I’ve always identified as bisexual, but because I am a femme and because of all the stigma around being bi, I initially had that moment where I had this really awkward coming out experience with my parents, being really inarticulate about it, like just not doing a good job at all, because I was like, you know, a youth and trying to figure it out in my early twenties, so I guess I wasn’t that much of a youth. But I definitely didn’t have the same grasp that I have on being able to describe who I am now.
And then, because I very femme presenting a lot of times, non-LGBTQ spaces, people presume that I’m straight or people oftentimes just because of bisexual erasure that exists just will gloss over and say, well, “You’re gay. You’re a lesbian.” And while that doesn’t necessarily bother me, I do find that I have to just clarify that actually I’ve never identified as a lesbian. I’ve never identified as gay. And so it’s important to me to reflect the specificity of my identity. So that’s important too.
I think that I have, I want to give myself space to change and evolve in the future. Maybe one day I will identify as gay. Maybe I won’t. I want to give myself the flexibility right now. I feel really aligned with my femme identity. Maybe one day I won’t. And I just wish that that was something I knew when I was younger.
My mom comes from a very traditional working class South Philly background. I think she had an expectation that I would get married and have this very heteronormative relationship. And there’s a lot of fear, I think, wrapped up in having a queer kid. But she really worked on herself. And I think like so many of us, she had a really narrow idea that if you are so feminine and you present like me, you’re not queer, which that’s just an idea I think so many people have based on stereotypes that we see.
Like, I love that at the end of Robin’s story, Robin’s grandma is just like, I love you. That’s all that matters. And so that is something that’s very similar between my mom as well.
Robyn: We’re pretty good now, you know, I definitely feel better now that she knows how I am. So we could face time and I don’t have to worry about scrambling to take my makeup off and doing my hair different. I’m so glad now that she’s in a space where she could actually want to learn more. I’m there to take her through that journey and, like, show her that, you know, it’s okay to be a little different, you know, and stand out.
Like there’s many LGBT kids who are, you know, kicked out of their house and not accepted by their family. And I’ve heard those stories. So when I think about what I went through through my transition, it makes me kind of appreciate my life more, that I’ve had people who just respect who I am. As long as you respect me as a person, that’s all I care.
Courtney: Representation definitely matters and had this, you know, straight woman not put these two gay guys in the video kissing, I never would’ve seen that. I never would have felt included. My dad never would’ve seen it and we never would actually would have had that moment that has led me to where I am today.
And I think it’s important that, you know, our allies you’re aware of what you’re saying. You know, that small flippant comment could change their life drastically. And I think it’s just important to be aware. And also, I wasn’t the only one in the car, you know, it was, you know, my mom and my brother and my aunt. It’s also important to, you know, be an ally, you know, stand up if you hear something that isn’t right. So, yeah.
Alex: I definitely know people who have been estranged from their families because they were put into a position where they could either be out and honest about who they were or have their families. I am in this odd privilege of being able to hide the fact that I’m queer, not everybody has that.
There are so many different, I think, levels to what this looks like with different people in their families. And even, in some ways, even the idea of coming out really varies based on your identity and who you are and your experiences and all of those different factors about someone.
Phil: People think you come out and that’s it. And I think that for some of us, there’s two, maybe three, maybe four – it depends. Sometimes these things are always evolving. So for me, when I came out, I just came out as gay. And then later on many years later, I came out as gender nonconforming. There was a second coming out for me. You know, there was me coming out as a gay person, there was me coming out being queer, me coming out as being somebody who’s, you know, masculine of center. It was obviously very different, but it was hard. You know, it affected my relationship. I was in a long term partnership and it affected that.
My mom still is like, I have no idea what’s happening here. Like, are you gonna grow a beard? What’s gonna… something gonna happen? Like, it’s like, anything is possible. And I’m like, Yes, anything is possible. So if you see me, you know, buying beard cream ‘cause I wanna make moisturize my beard, then maybe that’s going to happen. I need you to get on board.
I’m From Driftwood Podcast is hosted by Phil aka Corinne…
Alex: And Alex Berg, and is produced by Anddy Egan-Thorpe.
Phil: The Podcast is recorded as part of I’m From Driftwood, a worldwide nonprofit LGBTQIA+ story archive, and is funded in part from TD Bank and Heritage of Pride New York.
Alex: I’m From Driftwood was created by Nathan Manske to help queer and trans people learn more about their community, help straight people learn more about their neighbors and help everyone learn more about themselves, all through the power of storytelling. The IFD program director is Damien Mittlefehldt. The stories you heard today are available in their entirety plus thousand more at…,
Phil: ImFromDriftwood.org. Please follow us on Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube. And our score is provided by Elevate Audio. Be sure to subscribe to our podcast wherever you get your podcasts.
Alex: Thanks, y’all for listening.