My name is Sho Barksdale. I am from Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Animals have always been a big part of my family’s life. Growing up, I’ve had cats, dogs, hamsters, rats, snapping turtles. It’s always been a big passion for us. My mom has always been a big advocate of animals and we always enjoyed having them around our house.
When I was 18 years old, my mom decided to move to Seattle. And it was – I believe I was around 20 that I decided to move to Seattle myself, but I knew that had to come out to my mother before I make that big transition. So I was driving home from work and I was in a little bit of traffic and it just occurred to me that – why not? Get it out of the way. So I called her when I was in the car in traffic and I do remember that she answered quickly and I remember my heart beating super fast, which was really weird because my mom – we talked often.
After I got the pleasantries over, I just shouted out and said, “Hey, I have something to tell you. I’m gay.” And I remember there was a – it could have been maybe almost a full minute, literally a full minute, 60 seconds, of just silence.
And after about a minute, she – the only thing she said was, “Are the cats gay, too?” And I didn’t know how to respond to that so I told her I didn’t know. And maybe it was about – I’d probably say maybe 10 or 20 seconds of silence until she told me that she had to get off the phone and she hung up in my face and that was the end of that conversation.
I do remember after the call sitting in silence in traffic and I still felt relief. I felt like I got it out. What was the worst that can happen at this point? I can’t say that she found out from somebody else. That was a fear. But I was concerned because my mom had just hung up and I didn’t know where our relationship stood at that time. So it was really emotional.
She called me about two days later and had admitted that she needed some time to process and then she told me that she accepted me and my cats as we were. I was still relieved that I had told her that I wasn’t really in a place to, like, question the whole cat thing. But hey, if she accepted me, she accepted the cats, we’re on a good page. And I felt great because I was going to start again my move to Seattle on a clean slate. My mom knew. My mom loved me.
I think that my mom processing my cats as being queer or gay was a way for her to understand and accept her daughter as being queer or gay. I think she used the cats as a way for her to process what that meant for her daughter. Like when you’re really uncomfortable, people tend to go to a comfortable space, and I think that was her comfortable space and something that we both could find comfort in.
So I moved in with my mother. That was in August 2009. And it was a relatively easy transition from living in Minneapolis to living in Seattle. It wasn’t until maybe about a month in that my mom started, like, being more open about my sexuality and making comments about my cats, in particular Papi Chulo.
I guess he was a little bit flamboyant, for a better word. He loved to clean myself every second of the day. Even if you petted him, he would quickly clean himself. And he was a very prim and proper cat. He was sitting in the window and he was, you know, watching the birds and stuff and my mom made a compliment about how handsome he was and that he would get all the men – the men cats. There was a stray – I forget the stray’s name – who would come around often and my mom dubbed this stray “Papi Chulo’s boyfriend” because they got along really well and they would talk through the window.
Coming out is complicated, which is okay. And it is uncomfortable and that’s completely fine. We can’t expect people to process this information in the way that we would like them to process, and that’s okay for people to use whatever mechanisms that they have to learn and to decide how they feel about that information. I think really good advice I can give to somebody is to let people process as they need to process. And even if it doesn’t turn out the way you want it to turn out, to still believe in yourself.