I’m From Dubuque, IA.

by Sarah A.

State Satellite overhead image from Google Earth 2022

“Do you date girls?” she said with a carefully casual tone.

And then my brain exploded.

My mother is a master of denial, you see. She can explain away anything, unmatched in her ability to ignore the pink elephant in the room, no matter how loudly it throws things about. She’s also Scandinavian which may sound strange, but they’re called God’s Frozen People for good reason. Every important announcement in my life, every award, every honor, was greeted with a quiet, “Well then, good for you” and a change in the conversation.

Our biggest problem, my mother and I, is that I am far too much like her. She gave me her pretty eyes and duck-shaped feet and unusual lack of height. She gave me her smarts, and dedication in school, her independence and her stubbornness. She gave me her rebellious streak and her love of going against the status quo. Then after seeing all these things she wondered why I didn’t want to follow the life she’d laid out for me.

Throughout my teenage years we fought battle after battle. She hated my hair, which I dyed bright blue, and blamed the (gay) boyfriend who helped me. She woke me up every morning at 5:00 am to attend a church class and then wondered why I resented it. Then came the day when she read my diary and confronted me about what it contained. She screamed at me, called me “slut” and accused me of having sex just to hurt her feelings. I hadn’t actually slept with him when she hurled that word like a knife. But I did it that night just to make her mad, and then sobbed, though I didn’t know why. When I moved to college and sent her a letter declaring that I had officially left the Mormon church and received in return only silence, I thought we would never speak again.

Eventually a truce was struck. We did speak again, but tentatively like you guard your thoughts to a stranger. We slowly and carefully grew back into the roles of mother and daughter and found ways of sharing our lives. But we always avoided the big three topics: politics, religion and sex. We skirted around them like cats around water, coming right up to the edge but never actually putting a paw in. I knew I would never tell her when I finally embraced my queereality — it would violate the cease-fire. It didn’t bother me because I knew that, like me, she’d always known who I really was. I knew too that unlike me, she’d rather she just didn’t know. Our sameness was broken by the differences that would always keep us apart.

So when I started coming out to people, I didn’t worry about her finding out. Her denial was too great, her excuses too practiced. Even if she somehow heard, even if someone walked up to her and told her that her daughter was a dyke, I knew she would never allow herself to believe it. “No,” she’d say, “she had a boyfriend 5 years ago! She can’t be a lesbian!” And she’d smile at their folly, (how foolish of them to believe such gossip!) and then she would turn away.

I did imagine how I’d tell her, of course, if I really had to one day. I pictured a thousand scenarios in which I’d announce it, all of them big, dramatic, volcanic events. I imagined I would sit her down and solemnly deliver the news. “Mom,” I would say, “I know you won’t like this and I want you to know that I’m not doing this to hurt you, but I have to tell you that I’m a lesbian.” I imagined she would cry then and yell horrible things and of course I would yell back. We’d have a big fight, her blaming me for ruining her life, me blaming her for trying to ruin mine. Knowing how it would go down, I vowed to put it off as long as possible.

Then, recently, I was home for a visit, and we were joking about the past. She kept asking what my old boyfriends were up to, and I kept telling her that they were gay now.  “So you have any straight ex’s?” she asked and I answered truthfully that I don’t.

“So I just don’t date boys anymore and I don’t have to worry about turning them gay.”

I said it off the cuff, not thinking about it or anticipating that she would read anything into it.

“Do you date girls?” she said with a carefully casual tone.

And then my brain exploded.

She had asked THE QUESTION!

So I took a deep breath and decided to give her once last chance to abort Operation Coming Out.

“Would that be a problem?” I asked.

And rather than screaming or crying or saying any of the vile things I’d imagined she would, she replied in that same, casual tone she had used my entire life. She shrugged that same shrug and smiled that same smile and quietly said the words:

“Well, I would take a while to get used to the idea. But, no, I don’t see why it would be.”

RELATED STORIES – Both Related Stories are by today’s author, Sarah A.

Story 1: “Only a few months after coming out, the Prop 8 decision was passed down and the gay community said, “Enough Already!” As the protests and the marches were organized across the country, one was arranged in DC where I currently live. A march was planned from the steps of the Capitol around the National Mall and onto the lawn of the White House. I had only recently moved to the area and had never been to either the Capitol or the White House. I can’t imagine a better way to see these landmarks than filled with the thousands of people who showed up that Saturday to march.”

Story 2: “There’s something you should know about me: I’m a liar. Don’t judge me. Because if the first thing you should know about me is that I’m a liar, the second is that I’m a teacher, and the third that I’m a lesbian. I teach at a middle school, and most of the girls are in their boy crazy stage. “Chris Brown is so cute!” they say, and I lie and say sure he is. And when a student comes to me in tears over the death of a sibling in a gang fight, he asks me if life is going to get better, and I lie and say, yes it definitely is. Students ask if going to college will guarantee them a good job and a better life, and I lie and say, of course it will. “When are you getting married?” they ask me, and instead of saying, “when it’s legal” I lie and laugh and say I’m too busy caring about them. “I saw you at the movies with your friend, Ms. A” they say, and I lie and don’t correct them.”

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