Just before Christmas, my mother told my grandfather I was gay.
But let's back up for those of you who don't know me well...
Settle in. My stories are like unruly rivers that wander far and wide before they see the sea.
Let me begin by saying I am not a fan of the holidays.
Now, I love the lights, the carols, the movies, and so on. But the stress of it all almost makes it not worth it. There's travel plans to be made, who can bring what where, who can see who when, this is how long we have to spend here, this is how much we can spend, and so on.
It's daunting to say the least (for me, anyway).
Lance wasn't able to visit my hometown with me for Christmas Eve because he had to work, which meant that in order to spend Christmas Day with him I had to drive 4 hours there and 4 hours back (after an abbreviated shift at the clinic) all in one day - and somehow spend meaningful time with family for 2 to 3 hours without appearing totally exhausted. Challenge accepted.
When faced with a certain amount of stress I tend to put blinders on and plow forward. Phone calls and texts from everyone the week of Christmas went unanswered. I was conserving my (extremely limited) patience, energy, and goodwill for the big day.
The one text I did answer was on December 23rd, and it was from my grandfather:
"Colten let me know if you're bringing your friend for Christmas. Love Pa."
I was so closed off that though I understood the implications of the message, I didn't dare begin to wind down and process it. Christmas Eve was going to be an amazing day, dammit. "Think happy thoughts. Think happy thoughts."
You see, my mother asked me at Thanksgiving, "So when are you going to tell your Pa about you and Lance?"
"I have no plans to do so at anytime in the near future," I replied.
My family has officially known my sexual orientation since I was nineteen. My entire family, in fact...except for Pa.
I say "officially" because to anyone with eyes, ears, and a modicum of social awareness I am a homosexual. Not only that, but there is VHS footage of a kindergarten-aged Colten singing "Poor Unfortunate Souls" from The Little Mermaid in a powder blue onesie - with choreography. ("Don't underestimate the importance of BODY LANGUAGE, HAAA!")
There is elementary age Colten who adored all things Lisa Frank, and idolized Michelle Pfeiffer's Catwoman. There is fourth/fifth grade Colten who wanted to wanted to design outfits for the Spicegirls, and made up choreography to their songs which he proudly displayed to his Nanna on the back porch... What I'm saying is...I've always noticeably been a particular sort of person.
Growing up, from Kindergarten through fifth grade it was "Colten's a girl!" there was much taunting. The taunting never really bothered me. Mom was a girl (and she's badass!) Nanna's a girl (she's so awesome!) all my friends are girls. I was never interested in things boys are typically interested in, and I had friends so the jeers and whatnot never really bothered me. (I was very fortunate - some are not so lucky, precocious, or self-assured.)
Then in fifth grade everyone learned the word "gay".
I'll never forget who said it to me (his name was Matt, and we were really good friends the previous school year), and we were in line to come in for recess, and he was standing with his new classmates/friends. It was the first time I'd heard it, but I knew what it meant...and I also knew it to be true.
Despite being the only black person (half-black) in my graduating class (and really for most of my scholastic life I was one of two in the entire school system) in a 6,000 person town in North Texas I only had two racially motivated negative encounters. There were a helluva lot more "fag" and "queer" epithets whizzing past my head growing up.
Again, being very fortunate, I had a lot of good friends. Those words didn't phase me like the people hurling them expected them to. By my sophomore year of High School it had all pretty much gone by the wayside. By my junior year, I was friends with pretty much everyone in some capacity or another, and the people who weren't my friends didn't speak to me, nor I to them.
By then it was my friends, my inner-circle, willing me to "just admit it".
If you're a gay guy who doesn't pass for straight, and you grew up when Will & Grace was on television you had these friends who wanted a gay best friend. We were the hottest accessory of the late 90's early 2000's.
But there was no admitting it for me.
A) because I was hyper-religious, and trying to reconcile who I was with what church told me I should be.
B) because there was No Reason to admit it.
I eschew labels.
If you read back on my early blog posts you'll see how my perspective on race and diversity has evolved over the last few years. But labeling is still something I'm staunchly against (personally).
In my experience when labels have been attached to me people tend to see IT rather than see me, and there's too much of me (or anyone, in my opinion) to be reduced to an adjective. Because when you say "I'm Gay" or "I'm _____" (in my experience) that's the primary thing people associate you with, and - more often than not - that's how they'll describe you to others.
But then I was nineteen, and my best friend turned into something more than a best friend, and suddenly...I had a reason.
I told my Nanna in a moment of complete joy and excitement: "You know how ____ and I are really good friends?...Well, we're really, really, really good friends."
I told Mom when ____ and I were no longer "really good friends" because you need your mom after your first true heart-break. Though, I admit, it was shitty of me to not share at the beginning of things.
Anyway, the question of "when are you going to tell Pa" has been on the table since.
I grew up with a single mom who worked at the same time she was putting herself through nursing school, and once she graduated she worked nights. I spent a significant amount of time with Nanna and Pa (my grandparents). So I have a closer relationship with them than most of my peers have with their grandparents.
Pa who encouraged my art, and taught me when he could (and was never afraid to be my toughest critic).
Pa who made excuses to take me to Wal-Mart at least once a week to buy a toy, then cd's from pre-school age until I was a teenager.
Pa who would sneak whatever food I didn't like off my plate so I didn't have to eat it.
Pa who never spanked, or raised his voice to me.
Pa who took me everywhere and was so openly proud of me despite his *cough* racially exclusive past.
Pa had already overcome one prejudicial hurdle - could I expect more of him? Should I?
"Well", I rationalized, "it's not like I live there. It's not like we have deep heart to hearts about relationships and whathaveyou. Until I have a reason to tell him specifically then there's no need to say anything at all."
And so it was from 19 to 29.
Then last week I learned that he had called Mom a few days before the holiday.
"Is Colten bringing a girlfriend or anybody home for Christmas?"
"Nope," Mom replied. "Lance has to work."
"You got a minute to talk?" Mom asked.
And so it went.
Now, Nanna and Pa are no longer "Nanna & Pa" there is Pa, and there is Nanna and her husband. Christmas Eve is spent doing crafts with the Maternal side of the family. These last few years Mom and I go visit Pa before the festivities at my great-grandmother's (Mamaw's) house with Nanna & her husband, etc, and he celebrates with his brothers, and friends earlier in the day.
The text I received from Pa on the 23rd ("Colten let me know if you are bringing your friend for Christmas. Love Pa") opened up a tiny pit in my stomach. I replied with "Nope! It'll just be me. Love you!"
Then I had four hours to think about it on the drive to my home town.
I wasn't going to stop by at first. Maybe see him on my way out of town for a quick, drop-off-his-gift-and-run kindof thing. I wanted to avoid what I felt would be an awkward interaction with a cousin who I hadn't visited with in ten years. I wanted to avoid any possible uncomfortable situations.
Mom prodded "When are you gonna see your Pa?...They're waiting for you."
I was an ass.
Then the closer I got to town I really realized how much of an ass I was being.
I was so set on Christmas being a pleasant, carefree, all-smiles experience for myself that I was hurting people who love me - and who I love.
Even if it was awkward or unpleasant, I am an adult and can extricate myself from a bad situation in a flash.
So I went. Seeing the estranged cousin wasn't awkward - it was actually really great. I got to meet his wife, and stepchildren. Pa was entertaining the kids while my cousin and I reconnected.
After half an hour I was overdue at Mamaw's, and it came time to leave. I gave Pa a hug (I am not a hugger except when it comes to family. We are a hugging people when it comes to each other). But with Pa hugs you pop in and you pop out.
Pa's hug lingered. I made to pull away, and he held on for just the briefest moment, and he said.....
"You tell your friend I said hello."
I nodded, "Will do! Merry Christmas, love you!"
I get to Mamaw's and Mom tells me the story of how she told him about me and about my relationship with Lance. "They're relationships better than any one I've ever had. They're just like two grumpy old men."
She apologized and told me this last little tidbit from earlier in the day with Pa and his younger brother...
She had taken them a Christmas craft to do. Mom felt bad that we did fun stuff like that with the rest of our family but not with Pa. His brother was there, and he asked (speaking of Lance) "Well is that the boy in his facebook pictures?"
"Yep," Mom said.
"Well, he's handsome enough," he replied. "It's funny because you like the black ones, and he likes the white ones."
An astute observation, indeed.
I love my family. And my family loves me. And despite all the wonderful things in my life this year, this is by far the greatest.
I never feared losing a member of my family. I've never feared disrespect or shame. Not a single member of my tribe has ever made me feel less-than, strange, different, or un-loved. I am so very fortunate in that. I know not many people can say the same thing.
I am ashamed because I assumed what his reaction would be. I was certain it would be awkward and uncomfortable at best. But never once has that man ever made me feel like less than a rock star, and it was wrong of me to think he would start now.
Well... that's the story of my awesome Christmas, and what I'm most thankful for this year.
But I hope that there was one moment like that this year for you, too. I hope there's one moment you can hold on to where your worst thoughts were proven wrong. I hope there's a moment you can recall where your world was changed - even in the tiniest way - for the better.
Hold onto that moment, keep it in your heart at midnight, and kiss the one you love if they're with you.
Happy New Year, y'all
Until next time...