Two Decades in Coming-Out Stories

1998: Marisol at 7

From the back of her mother’s minivan, she makes her announcement:

“When I grow up, my husband’s gonna take my last name.”

The words must hit her mother like a slap.

The 25-year-old woman in the driver’s seat knows what it means to fear for her children. She has known that fear since the day that Mari, her eldest, was born.

But today she comes face-to-face with that other, additional reason that she fears for the future. Mari is her ace, her mini-me. What does she already understand about her little daughter? The pair have been fighting over dresses and jerseys, Mary Janes and sneakers since Mari was a toddler. Mari’s mother must know, in that moment, that the fighting over how Mari will dress, how she will speak, how she will play with her brothers, has barely begun.

Mommy answers.

“You might change your mind about that when you’re older.”

“No,” says Mari. Innocence is clarity. “I won’t.”


2004: Pauli at 12

I don’t understand why I am no longer welcome at the lunch table.

I hadn’t been afraid. I’d realized I was bisexual, and then I’d told my friends. I don’t think it’s any big deal, and neither do they.

Except for one, that is. Her name is Amy.

First Amy tries to convince the friend-group that a bisexual girl does not belong among them. When that doesn’t work she starts to maneuver them against me, one-by-one. She gauges into each girl’s insecurity with precision. She tells one that I ridicule her weight behind her back. She tells another that I call her poor, mock her for the size of her house.

On it goes until she’s worked her way around the table. Within a week, not one of them will speak to me. Not one of them will look me in the eye.

Suddenly friendless, I retreat into the closet. I claim to have been confused, seeking attention. I am not into girls.

I will never admit to being into girls again. The next time I assert my homosexual attraction, it’s to women.


2005: Marisol at 15

She opens her history notebook to a blank page deep in the middle. She begins to write.

I’m gay, she writes. I’m gay, I’m gay, I’m gay, until her revelation covers the page.

She looks it over.

The terror of seeing it ignites behind her eyes. She flips the page. Conceals the evidence.

She glances to her left, to her right. The kids in the adjacent desks are attending to the lecture or staring into space. No one is looking at her. What to do? How to get out of this?

The trash can is no good. Her handwriting is too identifiable. Even the sound of tearing out the page could draw notice. Could incriminate her, sitting with her truth splayed out before her in blue ink.

When class ends she shoves the notebook in her backpack, hustling it out the door like a live bomb.

She will go home, shred the guilty page into a slew of tiny pieces, and flush them down the drain.


2011: Marisol at 20

“I’m gay,” she tells her boyfriend.

They look at one another.

“Okay. Cool,” he answers.

They look at one another.

“So…” he asks. “What does this mean for us?”

He looks at her, eyes pleading. He’s in love with her. She’s the girl he wants to marry.

She looks back.


2013: Pauli at 20

My father picks me up in his white car in the dark. My 98-year-old grandfather rides in the passenger. We’ve barely gone a block when my Dad asks me if I’m seeing anybody.

“Uh huh. Yeah. I am. A basketball player.”

“Oh no kidding! Is he tall?”

“No, not really. She’s a point guard.”

My Dad taps the brake in the middle of the traffic, then accelerates. My head knocks forward, then knocks back. “She?! You’re dating a woman?!”

“Yes, Dad. Her name is Marisol.”

“Huh! A woman. Wow! Is she Jewish?”

“No, Dad. Her name is Marisol.”

My father reaches to his side, taps his father on the leg. “Did you hear that, Dad? Pauli has a girlfriend. She isn’t Jewish.”

“Ha!” my Grandpa answers. That’s the end of it.

I tell my little brother next. We are passing a bong between us in the grunge of our mother’s basement. I mention my girl. He tips back his head, eyes closing to the fluorescent light as if to bask in sun. He raises up a fist in triumph.

“I knew it! I KNEW it. I can’t WAIT to tell all my friends.”

And that’s that. I tell my mother last.

She’s heartbroken.

“How long have you known?” she asks me.

“That I’m bi? I’ve known for a long time. Since I was a kid.”

She stiffens. Her eyes open like wounds. “I can’t believe you didn’t tell me. We’ve always been so close.”

I am sorry. I am so, so sorry. She deserved my trust. I have kept her out for too many years.

I am arriving late. But I am here.


2018: Marisol and Pauli at the Altar

It is a celebration that extends outside of us.

We marry outdoors in the heart of downtown, as the sun is setting on a crisp September night. We are so spelled by one another that we don’t even notice it– our relatives and friends will tell us later. All around us, strangers gather. What is this scene they have happened across? Wedding guests, white and Black intermingled in the aisles. Two women in stilettos underneath the Chuppa, an old white Rabbi and a young Black minister standing sentinel behind.

Before, we were nervous. Ours was the first gay wedding in either family. We braced for the pushback, the tearful phone calls, the slew of no-shows.

But the pushback doesn’t come.

The family shows out in force for us. One hundred on her mother’s side alone. They sparkle in their finery. They radiate their joy.

Her father, stoic as always, walks her down the aisle to me, then sits down in the front row, fighting tears. By the end of the night, he and I will exchange our first “I love you.”

In the end, there is only one no-show. Mari’s uncle will have to stand in for him on the altar, at her side.

It is her brother who does not show up.


2020: Marisol at Home

She swears it: her family will never know.

I dropped it on my own family more than a year ago. Surrounded by my cousins, my brothers and their girlfriends, my wife at my side, I casually mentioned my boyfriend. Titters and grins made their way around the circle. My brother’s lady socked him in the arm, saying “Why don’t we do that?!” He shot me a glare, and that was that.

But my wife has no intention of revealing it to her family. They’ve come so far since we met, struggled against their Catholic ethics to accept her marriage as equal to any straight one. Why push our luck by telling them that marriage is non-monogamous, too?

For years, she holds the line. Then she meets a girl.

She falls in love, and it changes. First she tells her brother, the one who did stand beside us at our wedding. He laughs. “Yeah, no shit,” he says. He knows. He clocked us years ago, but had the grace to keep it quiet. “I knew you’d tell me when you felt like it,” he says. Simple as that.

Then she decides to tell her Mom. She asks her out on a walk just the two of them, saying she’s got something to talk to her about. And they talk about it.

“It’s strange to me, my daughter,” Mommy says. “I just hope that you protect your marriage. What you and Pauli have is sacred.”

“It is, Mom. I know. But this is a part of what we have. This is who we are.”

“Well my daughter. Whatever makes you happy.”

And that’s that.


Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels

My Queen is Not Okay With This

She has been roiling about it since the news dropped on Thursday: Juneteenth is now a federal holiday.

“So white people get a day off? White people are gonna be throwing Juneteenth barbecues now?” she steams over and over, to me in our apartment, on the phone, on social media. “When we were kids the cops used to bust up the Juneteenth parties. White people didn’t even know about it. They just called the cops on us.”

She’s right, of course. I support her, agree with her, but don’t know how to meet her in her rage.

“White people need to spend Juneteenth in an all-day anti-Racist seminar. Let this be Juneteenth for us, and Juneteenth Awareness Day for the rest of America.”

I want to stand up and applaud her at that. She is brilliant and wise and crackling with power. She is witnessing the days leading up to a Black celebration, co-opted. Gone away to white America. This year marks the first time. The inauguration of the shift.


When the day arrives, she sleeps through half of it. I’m not sure how to greet her when she wakes. “Happy Juneteenth,” I say, holding back a tumble of regrets. In the pause before she answers, I swallowing down a litany of weak disclaimers: I’m sorry they, I’m sorry we, stole this one from you too. I’m sorry nothing’s changed. I’m sorry for the vultures who come, and come again to feed on the creativity of Black America. Sorry that I’m, sorry if I’m, sorry to be one of them. “Happy Juneteenth,” she answers, before I crack into saying some stupid shit and ruining the first moment of a day that should be hers to celebrate, not mourn. A day that can never be the same again.

We live in a stark-white town. Most of the Black community that she once had here have moved away for good, or are living elsewhere temporarily as long as work remains remote. We are far away from family. There are no barbecue invitations.

She spends the day alone. “I’m luxuriating with the ancestors,” she tells me before folding herself away into a sequence of yoga and journaling and revising the blurbs on her vision board.

And as for me, well– I can claim no righteousness for my first Juneteenth Awareness Day. I do not spend the day educating myself about racism. Instead I bike around the town, thinking. Somewhere in the most rural reaches of this small, white town I smell barbecue, and cannabis burning. They are having cookouts. White people are having Juneteenth cookouts. She was right. She always is.


She’s on the phone with her favorite cousin when I get back in, sharing a libation over video chat. After blowing my kisses into the phone and wishing her Happy Juneteenth, I settle in out of frame and they pick up where they were.

My wife says, “It’s going to go the way of Saint Patrick’s Day. Of Pride. We didn’t ask for this.”

“They just Americanize it,” her cousin answers. “Same as this country does with everything. Think about it. How many people even know what Cinco de Mayo is about? But every year, out come the sombreros and the Mexican beer… That’s what this country does. Turns a profit off of everything.”

She goes on, picking up steam. “They knew they had to give us something. The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act has not been passed. Our voting rights are slipping away. So they give us Juneteenth off and they think, maybe this will shut them up for a while.”

“But it won’t,” says my wife.

“No, it won’t,” her cousin continues. “We won’t shut up. We never will. And as for Juneteenth going mainstream– if it makes more white people aware of the truth about this country, then I say it’s a good thing. Because they need to think about their ancestors, too. To think about what their ancestors created. People are so ignorant. They’ll try to re-write history. But America needs to remember what it is capable of.”

My wife sighs. “I guess you’re right. I’m just grieving it, is all.”


Reader, I have no answers I can offer to anyone for any of this. There is nothing I can say that should guide any white American to anywhere the mind can rest. The vertigo of my discomfort tips and spirals and swells. By next year it will likely be even worse.

Darkness comes. At the window, I look out over the pristine loveliness of the small, white town that daily finds new ways to alienate this woman, this regal spirit who I’m lucky enough to get to love.

“Happy first Juneteenth, non-Black America,” I whisper. “May we spend it well.”


Photo by Askar Abayev from Pexels