In the summer of ’93, I took a road trip from Virginia to Prince Edward Island, Canada, trying to reconnect to my past. I spent about 2 weeks visiting friends and family, and sightseeing on PEI – a beautiful location that I hadn’t seen since I was 3 months old. After touring the island and speaking to the nun who had facilitated my adoption almost 29 years before, I felt somewhat more connected to the place of my birth. Although I hadn’t taken any steps towards finding my birth family, I thought I could return home feeling more settled about who I was. But there was still a restlessness within my heart. There was still a part of me missing.
My trip back to Virginia was somewhat more direct than my trip North. I only made 3 stops – a hotel in Bangor, friends in Boston and an aunt in New York. The stop in Boston is what ultimately made the whole trip worthwhile. I had two friends from college who lived there – one of whom was out as a lesbian when we were in school together. When I called to let her know when I would be arriving, I found out the other one had come out too and they were, in fact, dating!
I spent the weekend getting reacquainted with them both. They were the first female couple that I knew (well, the first that was open about it) and I was able to talk to them about my confusion. They took me out to the end of Cape Cod – a beach village called Provincetown, known to be a gay-friendly area. While walking around, we saw couples – same sex couples – holding hands, pushing strollers, generally living their lives, completely comfortable with who they were. It was eye-opening and liberating. I felt like I had come home. I realized that I could accept myself and that it was possible to find others who would accept me too.
While the process of acknowledging my feelings had been a long one, once I was willing to admit to myself that I was gay, I couldn’t wait to figure out what came next. I was still scared – I had been turned down the one time I had expressed an attraction to a woman, so how would I know who I could trust, who else might be gay? The friends I was visiting explained a concept to me known as “gaydar” – a sense I would develop over time. In the meantime, they suggested I look in the local gay paper for support groups for those coming out. They also said that there were likely to be social groups centered on common interests – I should just find something that I enjoyed doing and join a group for that activity.
When I got home to Virginia, I was a changed woman. But I still felt lonely. I wasn’t sure who I could trust with my new-found knowledge. So I took the advice I had been given and sought out a support group. I tried a few on for size before settling on one about 20 minutes from where I lived. I got to know a group of women who were going through a similar experience, trying to come to terms with their identity and facing the coming out process with friends and family. I was at a meeting one week when a woman stopped by with flyers for a lesbian bowling league that would be starting up the next month. I remembered the suggestion that I find an activity I enjoyed in order to meet more people, so I decided to show up. It was at that bowling league that I met the woman who I now consider my wife!
While I was feeling more and more comfortable with myself over the course of that Fall, I was still feeling unconnected to others. I tried to keep myself separate from friends and family who didn’t know my secret. I still wasn’t sure how people would react and I was scared of being rejected. So I avoided my parents, my close friends, anyone outside of my support group and the bowling league. In hindsight, I realize I was scared of saying something that would “out” myself before I was ready.
Over the years, I have grown to realize that I wasn’t doing myself any favors, trying to live 2 lives. I slowly started coming out to family and friends. The first person I told, outside of my new circle of friends, was my brother’s wife. We have always been very close, but I was still scared. Her reaction – “so? Is that supposed to change the way I feel about you?” – gave me courage. A few months later, I told my parents. Although they had a hard time with it at first, they never rejected me or made me feel unloved. 16 years later, they are completely supportive, accepting my partner as part of the family.
This summer, I took another trip. This time, I went to visit my brother’s family and while there got to reconnect with one of the friends from Boston who is now living in a different city. I think that reunion is what got me thinking about that trip from 17 years ago. It was truly a life-changing event. I discovered the freedom to be myself and my life has never been the same. I left on that journey seeking roots, and what I found were wings.