Dick Gregory’s “Shame” always reminds me of a story my father once told me about how he used to have to walk so far to school that by the time he got there his uniform was dirty and sweaty. My father told me that story because he wanted me to know what he was protecting me from by moving me to a country halfway across the world. Because he wanted me to live without the shame of poverty.
I’ve never really written about coming out to my parents and I’ve never really wanted to; mostly because I was outed, which made the whole thing feel like a chore I never got around to but somehow got done anyway. It didn’t go well because my parents are conservative Christian African immigrants. What I have written about is how much I love holding my girlfriend’s hand in public because it makes me feel like I’m redefining wholesomeness. I was worried about my parents reading that because I didn’t want them to think that I was happy with my choice of living in sin, even though I really really was.
For every corporate-sponsored rainbow I see during the month of June there are two phone calls from the people I’m meant to care about the most in the world telling me I’ve made a mess of my life. One comes in the sound of the first voice I probably recognized. Her skin looks just like mine. I still know what she smells like because I’ve been living with that smell all my life. Sometimes I catch it in glimpses even though she’s 2,500 miles away and it’s just my head reminding me I am my mother’s child. I get reminded of that when I smell it on myself too. Or when I catch her reflection in my mirror and her cadence in my speech. To me, she says that she loves me, to my sister she says that she’s praying for me.
On the phone, we talk about her new job and I think maybe for a second I think I hate her in a regular way. In the ‘I can’t believe you’ve been crying for two weeks because I moved to a different state’ kind of way. But before we hang up, she asks me if my mind has changed on the whole lesbian thing and I realize that I love her in the worst way. In the ‘I was willing to go my whole life closeted because then maybe every time you got a google alert of my name your blood pressure wouldn’t spike because everyone back home would know that your daughter is living in sin and she…