04 Nov #LLTalksLGBT: Coming Out To My Family
It was the first day of January 2012. I was vacationing in Atlanta, Georgia, and had just finished watching an episode of a popular TV series in which one of the main characters came out to his parents and his whole family during the traditional American Thanksgiving family reunion. I contemplated coming out to my family, and Jayson(friend) convinced me it was the best thing to do if I wanted to lead an open and authentic life. Taking a decision to burst out of the closet, I composed a message, in which I stated that I am lesbian, and then sent the email to my siblings.
A few weeks later, I returned home to Nigeria and called a meeting with my Dad. I was too scared to tell him straight up that I am a lesbian. So, I came up with a roundabout way: I disclosed to him that I was not romantically attracted to men. He then asked if I was attracted to women. I said “yes”. He had a calm demeanor, and I was still struggling to make sense of his body language when his voice jogged me back to consciousness.
“Your sister already told us – your mother and I”, he said. As I gazed at him, I felt many emotions – betrayal, hurt, anger, shock, disbelief – but anger and betrayal were the two strongest emotions. How could she? This was not her story to tell! How could she betray my trust with something so delicate? I was livid.
At this time, my mum had joined the conversation, and they dismissed what I just said as a mere phase, urging me to keep praying for it to go away. Pray? Ok. When the conversation ended, I walked out of the room, and went to my sister. I told her she had no right to disclose to our parents without asking me whether I had planned to tell them. She defended herself, saying she had an obligation to tell them.
You see, no one is obligated to tell YOUR story –even if you’re dead. It is a profound breach of trust, especially if it is done without your consent or knowledge. Family or societal position is not incompatible with respect and trust. Betrayal is hurtful, but being betrayed by a family member hurts the most. When my sister ran to my parents to tell them that I’m homosexual, perhaps she did it honestly believing that she was doing the right thing…perhaps.
When I married a man in 2009, my family was proud. I had done everything they expected me to do. I checked all the boxes. I made them happy. I was considered the lively one. The one who told the funny jokes, the life of the party, the one who made sure everyone was having a good time. But when I came out to them, my relationship with my entire family changed. All of a sudden, I became the estranged one. The one everyone felt compelled to pray for. The ensuing loneliness and isolation was shocking. My mother’s delayed reaction to the news is a story for another day.
I was angry at my sister for betraying me. I did not speak to her for many months. I cut her off from all social networks. I was hurt. I was angry. Then one day, she got sick with food poisoning. I stayed with her in the hospital, drove her on several trips to take her injections until she recovered. If I could do that for her, despite what she did to me, I knew I had forgiven her. I did not care about the apology she owed me. I decided to just let go.
I composed a message and sent it to her. I said even though she was unwilling to accept any wrongdoing or even acknowledge the hurt she caused me, I was willing to forgive her anyway. To my utter surprise, she responded with the elusive apology I sought for months. I accepted it, but it meant nothing to me anymore.
It is possible to heal without an apology because true healing starts from the inside, and is not dependent on external factors, or the feelings of those who hurt you. In order to truly forgive those who hurt us, we must first forgive ourselves for allowing them to have such power over us in the first place. And that is the hardest forgiveness of all.