by: Rachel Wills
I am pretty non-emotive when it comes to the fourth of July. I have never been that patriotic. I don’t like baseball, country music or the current US military budget (which is a little too high, if you ask me). However, this year the holiday meant a little more to me, because it was the one year anniversary of my self-identifying as queer and coming-out to my mom. A year before then, I never imagined that I would be sitting on my families’ screened in porch, late at night, on Fourth of July weekend, telling my mom I was very interested in woman and I thought that it was significant enough that I needed to talk to her about. But I did.
I grew up in Champaign, Illinois, a college town in Southern Illinois. Kindergarten through twelfth grade, I went to small Catholic Schools. My high school had less than 400 students—very small. My family’s social circle lacked diversity, to say the least. Our social circle was all white, upper-middle class, very conservative, religious and, to all outward appearances, heterosexual. I remember being LGBT or Q was not even considered a possibility. The tacit understanding I was brought up with was that everyone I knew, including myself was heterosexual.
Growing up I knew I felt different, and not only in respects to my sexuality. I have always have liked to do my own thing and pursue my own interests. But I also have a people pleaser streak in me, and I worked hard to excel at normalcy. I wanted to make people happy. Even though my approval rating was mighty high, in our bubble of a world, I was very unhappy and had terrible anxiety.
When I moved to Chicago for college, I slowly let the people pleasing go, which brought me up to last summer where I finally realized that if I had to put a label on my sexuality, that I was a lesbian. Telling my mom was surprisingly not too scary, but I think the more memorable aspect of last summer was starting to see my life in new way. It seems so simple, but it felt so natural to acknowledge my feelings. I started living my life how I wanted to and not how I thought I was supposed to, for other people’s sakes. That made me happy. In fact, in my journal, on July 4, 2011, I had written down that my roommate had said to me, that I seemed so much happier than I had been, even a year prior.
This past year, for me, has been about growing into myself. Now I can say that I am proud of the woman I have grown into and that foundation got me through every single coming out conversation I had to have this year. However, I would be lying if I said I had done that alone.
During that time, I lived in an intentional community at DePaul, the Vincent and Louise House. My nine housemates and our program director not only loved and accepted me, but our community was my biggest support system. Truly, they were model allies. I could not have asked for more empathetic and loving people to surround me during such a challenging and formative time. They listened to me, shared wisdom, laughed, cried and celebrated with me.
Although I had many other people who supported me, the main people that I have an overwhelming sense of gratitude towards, are my parents. This year, my mother and father taught me that people can and will surprise you.
I never imagined my parents would be accepting of my sexual orientation. My dad who is politically conservative and my mom, who is religious, have done nothing but tell me how proud they are of me and how much they love me.
In April, I came out to my Dad and when I told him, he cried. He told me that all that was important to him was that he and I have a good relationship because life is short. He said I was his daughter and nothing would ever change that.
My mom read Betty DeGeneres’ book, Love, Ellen, and has made a point to support me through educating herself. Nothing makes me smile more than when she sends me newspaper clippings on some LGBTQ piece of news, because that is her way of saying she is behind me all the way. They love me unconditionally and that is a great privilege to have such supportive parents.
Honestly, when I take the time to think back on the past year I feel overwhelmed, primarily with gratitude. When you come out, you are completely vulnerable to the reactions of the people you are telling. I was fortunate that the people who mean the most to me have reacted with love and acceptance and I know not everyone has that experience. After feeling like I had something to hide since I was ten, this all feels like a gift.
Rachel Wills is a senior at DePaul University, majoring in Catholic Studies and minoring in Women’s and Gender Studies. She is passionate about theology, particularly how faith and sexuality intersect. She’s also Secretary of Spectrum DePaul. Rachel is a student of life, never going anywhere without a book and loves all things quirky.