The one thing I wish more people had told me: be comfortable with myself before coming out to others. It was hard to come out, but combine that with listening to friends and family you care about talking about how it’s wrong– those wrong and ridiculous attitudes made it even harder.
A person who says such things especially to someone who is struggling with something is not a person you want to be friends with , to be involved with, and they certainly aren’t really worth your time.
The most important thing when coming out- make sure you know what you’re comfortable with what you want. If not, you’ll throw yourself into a place where you are uncomfortable and uncertain, while also trying to deal with everyone else and their reaction. I wish I had done that before coming out.
Studying to become an English teacher, I’d read Emily Dickinson’s poems 100’s of times. They were . . . fine. I . . . liked them . . . I guess? But honestly, I didn’t really “get” most of them and found Dickinson herself to be B.O.R.I.N.G. There was this whole backstory about her being painfully shy and reclusive and spending most of her adult life up in the attic writing poetry about what she wished her life was like – the desperate dreams of a lonely spinster. No thanks, Em.
So when I started teaching American Literature, it was with a heavy spirit that I set to the task of planning my Emily Dickinson unit. Who wants to teach poetry about a boring spinster who’s been dead for more than a century? Hoping to find a way to make the lesson a little more bearable for my 11th graders and for me, I turned to Google and came across a book about Dickinson’s life called Open Me Carefully: Emily Dickinson’s Intimate Letters to Susan Huntington Dickinson. The book was full of mushy-gushy letters Emily had written to HER BROTHER’S WIFE.
Wait . . . had I read that right? Love letters to her sister-in-law? That didn’t sound very spinster-y! That was actually super cool! I vetted the authors of the book; they weren’t quacks but actually highly respected academic researchers and authors. Hours spent down the rabbit hole later and I pieced together the story. Everything I’d been fed about Emily Dickinson was a lie sold by her family, who were also the executors of her estate and the “owners” of much of her work after her death. BUT IT WAS MOSTLY POPPYCOCK. She wasn’t a lonely, sad, attic-dweller! She was lively and passionate, and had a decades-long relationship with her brother’s wife – who lived next door – which is why, though she had many suitors she never married.
I was so excited to tell my colleagues of all these findings! We HAD to tell Emily’s story truthfully – and the American Literature textbook was not doing the job. I was disheartened though, the next day, when I rushed to my friend’s desk to share my discovery and his reply was: “I don’t know if I believe all that.”
“What’s to believe? It’s all here! It’s been researched by credible academics for years! It took decades to find enough documentation from all the parties involved and check and cross-check sources, but finally – “
“Nah,” he said. “I’m just going to stick with what’s in the textbook.”
I was disappointed. Heartbroken, really. I knew we owed it to Emily to let her story be told. Eventually, though, something far more critical occurred to me.
I have gay students.
I also have bisexual students, trans students, queer students. Students who fall anywhere and everywhere on the LGBTQ spectrum who have a right to see themselves in the literature they study. Why should they be denied the experience of reading and interpreting a poem in class featuring a relationship that might look like their own? LGBTQ inclusive curriculum should not be a luxury or a “sometimes” treat but a common, everyday occurrence in every classroom.
These days when we read Emily Dickinson, she is paired with Walt Whitman (whose writing is pro-gender fluidity and was a rumored bisexual himself) in a segment called “Poetic Rule Breakers.” I show my students what the textbook says about Emily’s life but also show them Open Me Carefully, and other contemporary cultural portrayals of Dickinson, including a feature film in 2018 called Wild Nights with Emily and Apple TV’s fictional imagining of her teenage years, titled simply Dickinson. Gathering all of this evidence, the students are left to interpret her poems for themselves, as either the desperate dreams of a lonely recluse or the coded messages of a wild, passionate lover living a secret but fulfilled life with the woman she loved.
I’ve never had one student put Emily back in the attic.
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I first met Sherry 10 plus years ago at PFLAG Omaha. Initially, I knew her as a PFLAG mom of twins- one gay/one straight. Her story was such an inspiration to me: military wife and mom, conservative church attendee and then one day she learned one of her twins was gay. What was she to do? Her sister told her about PFLAG, she came and stayed and said yes to LOVE and yes to her SON and her mind opened, and she grew and kept coming. By the time I showed up and met her, she was a bold and brave PFLAG mom marching in parades and I got to be one of many who heard her story of hope. I then became her friend. I grew to love her and her family and extended family. That’s how it can work sometimes in PFLAG- the people we meet can become our chosen family, first in our hearts, but then sometimes in real life. So for her birthday- we both were born on July 16th- I wrote her this poem. I share my love of her here with you all. Really, it’s ultimately a story of PFLAG love, for it all started here.
“here comes the sun”
i woke up and sang this song
thinking of YOU
you’ve carried us through…
for so many of us Sherry, in so many ways,
this is true
for being YOU
it is your smile
it is your heart
it is your laughter and kindness and caring
it is your thoughtfulness
it is your soul
it’s you Sherry
beacon of light and love,
when called on to be brave, courageous, dedicated- you say yes
when called on to grow, change, rise UP- you say yes
when called on to persevere, to stay the course, to not stop- you say yes.
and from the bottom of my heart, with abundant gratitude, I thank you.
(and in a quiet whisper I say, in my darkest days I think of you -cheering myself on with-” if she can do it. I can do it too”)
The world is lucky to have the gift of you. I am lucky to have you. Have a magnificent day, friend.
a beautiful day, for beautiful you.
I love you birthday twin.
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It is with PRIDE I stand beside and support my daughter who used to be known to me as my son, who had more courage than I could ever have, to be true to herself and show the World her true colors and who she was born to be
It is with PRIDE I watch her blossom and grow into herself.
It is with PRIDE I see her join a community she only secretly wished she could be a part of
It is with PRIDE I ache knowing her suffering and hiding is over and she is living her true life
It is with PRIDE we talk about makeup application techniques, bra sizes and feminine strength,
It is with PRIDE when we are out together, I carefully listen to public transactions ready to defend my daughter from the lessers of the world,
It is with PRIDE we attend the parade waving our rainbow and transgender flags
It is with PRIDE I will stand beside her and support her when she finds a life partner
It is with great PRIDE I do my very best to be the parent she deserves!
hi! i’m not heterosexual!
i came out on the evening news.
it wasn’t something i chose to do.
it was accidental.
after all, i was hidden in a sea of faces.
but the cameras seemed to have no other places to focus their rest,
than on my chest.
my ‘silence equals death’ t shirt silently screamed to the
“i’m here, i’m queer!”
(no need for announcement cards that year.)
it was 1988 and my fate was sealed by that evening news reel
because someone decided,
a few days prior,
who ever said we all had equal rights to liberty and life,
was a liar.
they decided that because my friend was also queer,
he had no right to be here,
so they killed him.
but like all good martyrs, his death was not in vain.
the pain of losing him put us into action.
there were benefit shows every week
for our brothers and sisters with AIDS
queer nation coming into town teaching us how to act up.
businesses, uncomfortable with our affection,
who would zip us out, got zapped as we gathered about,
sat in, kissed in.
we shouted ‘try us!’ to the military,
marching just as proudly as they did in our own uniforms
born of homo-anarchy,
pissed off they wouldn’t let us openly protect our own rights to protest.
afraid we would molest them in the shower?
what power they gave us, even in taking it away.
my coming out didn’t start all this.
it was started long ago,
with someone else’s upraised fist.
but i helped.
i did my time.
i paid the price with dead animals, and death threats and fire
so that my younger brothers and sisters
could have a higher quality of queer life.
so the closet door could crack open,
just a bit, in places where it’s shut tight.
a lot of us did and
if you didn’t, that’s ok, because it is an action that can still seal your fate.
in a lot of places, you can still lose your job,
the place where you live,
they could still take your kid,
if you piss off the wrong judge, on the wrong day.
but no matter what the judges have to say,
we ain’t going nowhere.
one out of every ten of us is born some kind of queer.
and its better now than it was then.
it was better then that it was before.
but that isn’t good enough.
we need more.
it is wonderful that two SOGI kids can walk hand and hand
in the street and we all feel relief they didn’t get beat.
but wouldn’t it be better
if we didn’t have to wait for that relief to drop?
someone fed them the ideal they have a right to be safe
and they do,
but not everyone they are meet is gonna agree.
and see, that is why those of us
who can choose to risk what we have to lose, must.
it’s not just activists who decide our fates.
we must contribute too.
those contributions can be anything we do.
i wear my colors in my skin
so if you didn’t know when i walked in,
you’d know when i left, that i was kin.
but those of you who aren’t as loud can still be as out,
still be proud.
just be normal.
your sexuality or your gender doesn’t have to be formally announced.
put up your lover’s photo,
make them know that your partner is not about business.
and if this is still too scary, a thing for you to do,
if you are too wary to risk it,
that’s still ok too.
This particular piece, ‘out,’ commemorates the death of a member of the SOGI (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity) community in Lincoln, Nebraska (and a friend of the author) who was shot and killed at a party the man was hosting at his home. It was ‘crashed’ by two shooters who ended his life due only to blind hate. ‘Out’ also gives mention to Queer Nation, Act Up, military bias (again), the AIDS crisis and the general, painful, hardships and dangers being honest might bring. The author, Cei Loofe, he/him/his, is a transgender man who lives in Omaha, NE. He spent 25 years as a freelance journalist, and now writes as a poet and essayist. Loofe shares his space with his dog, Shelly, a myriad of fish, and a clutch of plants that, so far, are still green. He lived his first five years in a Nebraska town of 105, peeing off wooden bridges, harassing livestock and getting locked in barns like all the other boys in his village before experiencing different parts of the Midwest, and a reality that took years to correct. Far worse things happened to LGBTQ Nebraskans in the time written about and prior. Amazing things happened too. Those are different poems.
A little over seventeen years ago I gave birth to an adorable baby boy. That day I discovered the greatest love I will ever know and even all these years later my child remains the most beautiful thing I keep in my heart.
On January 5th, 2019, my 15-year-old son confided in me that she was, in fact, a girl. That night we had a long conversation and at the end of it we both seemed to find a comfortable peace. Over the next couple weeks, she seemed more confident, more relaxed and less guarded. It was beautiful to watch. But then all the hostile complexities of being born in a body of the opposite gender started to present themselves: Issues finding a therapist that has a background in gender identity in children, finding a doctor for HRT -hormone replacement therapy, school officials recognizing her new name and gender, ability to use the correct bathroom, ignorant people, gender-friendly stores that allow her to use the correct dressing room or size her for a bra, horrific bullying and soul-crushing depression. I watched helplessly as every aspect of her young life became impossibly difficult overnight. I tried my best to stand by her and support her in every possible way. I tried to educate myself on transgender issues, I watched YouTube videos of parents with transgender children, I asked for advice from the pride resource group at my work and I joined PFLAG. However, at the end of the day, I am just the mother of a transgender child. I have no real understanding of the depths of her struggles. But she and I, DO know who she is. We have her gender identity nailed down and from that anchor she can truly begin to live an authentic life even when her path is so hard. That is a truth many people do not have the courage to live.
So, what did I do when my son told me she was female? I loved my daughter. Was it hard? No, loving my daughter is the easiest thing I have ever done. All the other stuff, the crap that occurs outside this house, that’s hard. But watching her discover her true self, develop her femininity, create her own style and step into the women she is meant to be is not hard at all. In fact, the inspiration and the strength and willpower she has shown is exquisite.
‘And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom. ‘
– Anais Nin
Many people today are struggling with anxiety due to the fear of spreading or contracting the COVID virus. This fear has resulted in forced isolation.
Without a support system during this time of isolation the pain and anxiety we experience can be very traumatic.
For most of us, our only support comes from being able to communicate with others through social media and other forms of electronic communication.
But what many people fail to realize is how similar the anxiety they are experiencing is to what people who are LGBTQ experience every day of their lives.
We were forced to live in the closet trying to “fit in,” because of the fear of being ostracized by society through ridicule, abuse, and rejection.
For us, our support only comes from being able to connect with others who are struggling with the same issues as we are.
This is why organizations like PFLAG are so important to our health and wellbeing.
I know all too well, the pain of isolation because I was born transgender. I was never allowed to be myself. My fears of rejection forced me into the closet where I lived most of my life. If it hadn’t been for LGBTQ support groups like PFLAG I could never have survived.
Today I am free from my fear and isolation. As many others will one day when this pandemic is over.
So I wrote a little poem to share with you what I endured growing up transgender. I hope it will encourage you to never give up and realize that there is always light at the end of the tunnel.
A little girl of only three is trying so hard to be free,
But is told she must go away,
Because her love has to lead the way.
So she hides in darkness enduring the pain,
That she can never come out again.
Her only hope is to trust in him,
And find a little peace within.
But as the years pass by the darkness closes in.
And even though she has faith in him,
She starts to weep so loudly that others say,
She must forever stay away.
But there is one whose love is true,
He knows just what he has to do.
Even though he would have to go away,
He decides to let her out to stay.
Now this little girl of three is finally allowed to be free.
My gay kid and I came to Omaha PFLAG on the recommendation of a therapist. We were told PFLAG would provide a supportive environment. Finding support was important to us because my kid is diagnosed with Bipolar I Disorder, Anxiety and Depression. They were bullied in High School to the point they tried to take their own life. I can’t make it any clearer, therapeutic support is a necessity for them not a luxury.
We came to our first meeting over a year ago and we keep coming back because what the therapist said was true. PFLAG is amazing. My kid finally has a place where they feel accepted. I have seen them bloom with the support of the wonderful people we have met through PFLAG. What I didn’t realize was how much PFLAG would help me as a mom. Especially one who wants to advocate for not only her kid’s rights but everyone’s. It is hard to explain how good it feels to be able to be open and honest about my kid with no scorn, judgment or uncomfortableness at the meetings. PFLAG has given me the opportunity to meet people who have gone through similar homophobic situations as us. We learn and improve from our shared experiences because we find we are not alone. Where else could I explain how it felt to go to the theater and receive a round of applause just for showing up with my kid because they are gay? What other parents gets applause just for showing up? It’s mind boggling to me. When did it become OK for parents to stop showing up and supporting for their kids? When did loving our kids become an option?
PFLAG’s mission is to “build on a foundation of loving families united with LGBTQ people and allies who support one another, and to educate ourselves and our communities to speak up as advocates until all hearts and minds respect, value and affirm LGBTQ people.” All I know is PFLAG made me a more open and loving person. It has helped me feel less isolated and alone. It has expanded my limited thinking. It has certainly made me a better mom to my kid whether they are gay or not because the truth is they are my kid no matter what. I love my kid. I’m trying to love everybody. My hope is others struggling know PFLAG is a wonderful resource available to all.
They say there is nothing greater than a mother’s love. As a wife, daughter, sister, friend, and mother… I know that to be true.
I remember over 25 years ago, putting my 3-year-old son to bed and whispering to his father as we tiptoed out of his room, “I think Matthew is gay”. I had nothing concrete to base it on, and it wasn’t a judgement, just a passing comment. I just felt it in my heart. His father’s reaction was not one of agreement and he was, in fact, quite angry with me, but my heart just “knew”.
Throughout the years, I loved my son with ALL my heart. I watched with anguish as he struggled with shyness making friends as a kindergartner. I encouraged his love of art, drawing, and nature as a young child by spending countless hours together at the kitchen table doing projects and watching his talent grow. I wished time to stand still as we snuggled, giggled, and whispered when I’d tuck him into bed each night. I cried countless tears seeing the pain he endured when his father and I divorced, and he began to navigate a new “normal” as a young adolescent. Then came the teen years… it’s definitely harder to love an angry, defiant, and confused teen, yet I did… with all my heart.
When I accidentally “outed” my son at 14 by coming across some correspondence he’d been having on the computer, it broke my heart to see his reaction. I lovingly said, “Matthew, I know. It’s okay. I love you and will support you through this.” I was terrified, not because he was gay, but for his safety and how the world would treat him. He cried in my arms that day. I’ll never forget his words, “Mom, I’m going to go to hell, aren’t I?” We were practicing Catholics at the time, and he had been carrying around a rosary for months in his pocket, trying to “pray his gay away”. That comment was truly heart wrenching for me. It was that day I made a call that led us to PFLAG.
Becoming involved in PFLAG helped both of us embrace who Matthew was and who he has evolved into today. The love, acceptance, help, and encouragement that PFLAG has given us both over the years has undoubtedly shaped who we are. That scared 14 year-old-boy is now a successful Landscape Architect with a distinguished degree from Harvard. He is living his best life in Kansas City with Michael, his incredibly wonderful husband of two months (YES, they just got married!) and their sweet puppy, Bella. We are closer now than we’ve ever been, and I could NOT be prouder of this amazing, talented, strong and resilient young man! I am blessed to be his mother! Having a gay son has truly been a gift, and I wouldn’t change it for the world!
Yes, there truly is nothing greater than the love of a mother for her child. I am sure of that.
I am a 23 year old man, I had lived in Nebraska for the majority of my life, and I move very, very slowly when it comes to my own identity.
The truth is, I came out several years ago as a transgender man and proceeded to do very little more than letting it settle into the minds of others. I’m going slowly, and that’s perfectly okay.
A decent number of years ago, a man called me ‘little buddy’ at the library, and I was so happy I’m fairly sure I had stumbled around like a fool for a while after! Male pronouns and being called a ‘male’ name on the internet made me the happiest I had been in a very long while, as it just felt right. I gravitated towards male clothing, and eventually my family had to notice. Coming out to my mother and father was rough, seeing as their ‘daughter was dead’ now. They cried. With this weighing on their hearts, they sought out the help of PFLAG to understand what was happening to their child, and to seek out company from people who have been through the process. I don’t know everything said during those meetings, as I wasn’t there at the time, but I do know that my parents were able to make friends and come to terms with their ‘new’ son.
So I was out publicly. Work, school, home. “My name is Arty and I am a guy.” I dressed like a guy, I became one of the guinea pigs for a gender inclusive housing dorm at UNO, I wore binders, and that was that. That was several years ago, and little else changed from that point onward. Sure, I corrected people and kept having little ‘coming out’ moments to new folks, but I was taking my time with everything else. I let it stew for a bit, came to terms with it for myself and just… lived.
There’s nothing wrong with going slow and waiting until you’re ready.
And a couple years later, when I really felt I wanted it, I took my next step. On November 14th, 2018, a Wednesday, at 9:45 am, I legally changed my name, and it was wonderful.
But, like I said, I move at my own snail’s pace, so I’ve been taking my time with everything else. In the meantime, my family moved out to Oregon, I got an internship, and followed them to my new home. Lots of things happened, and I finally feel ready to take the next step. On December 12th, I finally received my first testosterone injection. It may have taken me a good number of years to get here, but it is all worth the wait.
So if I have to give even a smidgen of advice, it would be this: Everyone moves at a different pace, and none of them are wrong. Go as slow as you like, and you’ll get to where you’re meant to go.