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COMMENTARY: Born in a small town and how it impacted my coming out

I had a friend from what seems a lifetime ago get in contact with me last week. I was thrilled to see her name pop up, and I immediately returned a little note. We've been writing back and forth catching each other up on our lives.

Unlike me, this friend had the courage to come out, leave our home town and live her own life away from the prying eyes and three-party phone lines and family living on every corner or town. She has been with her partner since 1977, living openly and not worrying about what the world thought or felt or did. She was simply living her life.

I can only imagine the sort of courage that took because I most certainly didn't have that sort of courage in 1977, or 1987, or 1997. I didn't find that sort of courage until 2002, and then it was a slow process, and I'm not so sure it was courage as much as just the sheer fear of never being able to find any sort of courage to do anything with my life.

She tells me I should have talked to her all those years ago - she could have helped me - she would have listened - she most certainly would have understood. She may have understood, but I don't believe I would have ever listened to anything she had to say. I was way too sure that doing anything other than what my parents expected of me was not the right thing to do. I didn't want to embarrass them or more to the point - I didn't want to disappoint them. I don't mean that to sound self-serving - it was really how I felt.

I realize now that my life has turned out exactly as it should have. Had I made a different turn in any direction at any time in my life - I would not be with Susan - I would not have the friends and the support that I now find paramount in my life and I most certainly would not be writing and advocating for equality for the gay community. I don't know where I would be - but I feel pretty sure it wouldn’t be where I am right now.

I did manage to come out to my father, and he loved and supported Susan and me until the end of his life. I don't believe he understood, but he was there and I knew that he loved me.

By the time I wanted to talk with Mother, she had dementia and everyone concerned with her and her health decided that it would serve absolutely no purpose for me to have this particular discussion with her - so I never did. She loved Susan like a daughter and until the end of her life was always happy and loving to me whenever Susan and I would visit. She always seemed to have something on her mind - but I knew the dementia was progressing and I never pushed her for anything she wasn't willing to give.

I don't know how the conversation would have gone with Mother or Dad when I was 16 - but I know them well enough to know that they would not have been pleased - not then - not in that town that held all of Mother's relatives, and all those conservative Christian values that still permeate the air when one drives through the town.

When I went back to that little town - my home town - for my mother’s funeral, I found that there are still people who will walk away from me to avoid talking to me - and there is family who didn't come to honor my mother because they didn't want to be around me. Try and wrap your mind around such small-minded people and their small-minded values and you might understand my hesitation to come out in the 1970s.

I drove around my home town - I took pictures of places where I spent my youth and I smiled knowing that no matter where I go - this little town helped make me who I am on this day. As much as these people dislike who I am - they are the reason I'm fighting so hard for equality. As much as some of my family refuses to believe I’m the same person I was before I uttered the words: “I’m gay,” it’s because of their ignorance and their intolerance that I stand proud and no longer hide in the back of a closet.

After our Mother’s funeral, my brother, Susan and I were sitting in this little redneck bar having a drink. Since Mother and Dad lived with my brother for a number of years, I asked him if he knew if Mother ever mentioned anything about my being gay. He told me he never heard her mention that - but she did speak often about how she would never forgive me for divorcing my husband. I just looked at him - he patted my hand - and we ordered another drink.

So, it wasn’t so much the gay thing after all.

Barb Hamp Weicksel was born in 1952 in Pennsylvania and moved to California in the early 1980s, where she met her partner Susan. They've been together some 30 years and share the love of Susan's four children, nine grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. Her blog, Barb's Gift of Gab, can be found HERE.