So there I was in the worst position I have ever been in my entire life: hugging my dad as he was crying on my shoulder. I hate seeing my dad cry. He’s always so strong. I saw him cry only once before when his brother died. And now, it was because of me. On something that I was never planning to bring up until many years into the future: my sexuality. But it was forced out. Forced out by my insensitive mother. And now here I was, the Sunday night before my first day of my senior year of high school, holding my and dad and feeling his strong back shake underneath my hands.
The events leading up to this began a little over a week ago: the dawn of the last week of summer. My brother and I were at home doing nothing in particular, so bored that we were even wishing that school would start sooner. My dad, who was working from home that day, picked up on our body language and decided that we should go spend the day in Berkeley. I love Berkeley. We took the BART over there and had a great time, eating at my favorite Indian restaurant Naan n’ Curry, walking around the university which was (and still is) my dream school, and strolling up and down Telegraph Street admiring all the booths with their jewelry and handmade crafts for sale. One vendor completely caught my attention with a table full of bumper stickers. I recently got my car handed down to me by my mom: a 1999 Toyota Sienna minivan. I am absolutely in love with it now, but then, it still felt like a soccer mom car and I wanted to make it feel more like my own. A bumper sticker would do the trick! My eyes scrounged the plethora of bumper stickers, but none of them really caught my attention. They were mostly political, saying things like “Bring the Troops Home” or “BUSH” but with smaller letters you could se it really spelled out “BUll SHit.” As much as I agreed, I didn’t want to vocalize it on my car. I was just about to give up and leave the table when one caught my eye. It said “Celebrate Diversity” in colorful letters with a white background. I smiled and immediately fell in love with it. My brother and dad both liked it as well and thought it fit my personality, so I bought it. On the BART ride back home, my mom called asking about how our day was. I told her what a great time we had, but when I excitedly told her about the bumper sticker, she laughed at me and said, “Why did you get that? That’s for the gays!” My heart sank and my eyes teared up. I didn’t let it show in my voice and tried to calmly explain to her that it is not just “for the gays,” but diversity encompasses everything: ethnicity, religion, gender, individuals’ experiences, and of course sexual orientation, but that is not the only thing. When I got home, I showed her the bumper sticker. There are no rainbows or unicorns, just “Celebrate Diversity” in pastel colors. Still, she forbade me from putting it on my car. She didn’t want the neighbors to get a bad impression of me. We live in the fucking Bay Area! A gay couple lives across the street from us! One of my best friends lives right next door! My mom was on drugs or something. I put it on my car anyway.
She didn’t notice until two days later. It was the day of my senior portrait. We spent more than an hour doing my makeup, getting the curls of my hair to fall down perfectly, and picking the perfect necklace and earrings. I was beautiful. We got into her car to drive to the photo studio and as we were pulling out of the driveway, she saw the bumper sticker on my car. She. Exploded. WHY DID YOU PUT THE STICKER ON YOUR CAR? I TOLD YOU NOT TO! WHY DID YOU DO IT? ARE YOU GAY, SINCLAIRE? YOU CAN TELL ME IF YOU ARE. ARE YOU? ARE YOU? ARE YOU?
Now. This is a psychological test my mom likes to do. She asks me if I’m gay as if it’s the most horrible thing in the world, thinking that I’ll say no because I don’t want to be associated with it. I was quickly debating what I would say as her shrill voice was slowly fading into the background. But then it came back at full blast, ARE YOU? ARE YOU? And I said, “Yes.” If there’s anything I learned from this experience, it’s to not come out to someone when either of you are driving.
She paused. “What?”
“What you were asking me…I said yes.”
“Just take off the bumper sticker—”
“No!” I cut her off. “You were asking me. You wanted to know. And now I told you.”
She was crying the rest of the way there. Once we got to the studio and parked, she was just sitting there, still holding on to the steering wheel. “We can go inside,” I offered. She said nothing. So I got out of the car and started walking to the door when she said, “Wait!” I walked back to the car. “You can’t tell Dad,” she said.
“Why? I want to tell him!” I said.
“No! I’m afraid he’ll get a heart attack.” That is what broke my heart. My dad has a history of high blood pressure and high cholesterol. My eyes teared up but I couldn’t cry because it would ruin my makeup. We went inside and I got my picture taken, my mom standing in the back and offering no input. My senior portraits are my favorite pictures of myself, but they always remind me of what was going on that day.
There was now exactly a week left until the first day of school, and they were the worst seven days of my life. My mom was always crying. She would send me these long texts from work saying how she can’t get what I said off of her mind and that her coworkers are getting worried for her. My dad obviously noticed that something was wrong and when he asked, I overheard her say that we got into a fight. So when he asked me, that’s what I’d say too. Now I really couldn’t wait for school to start so I could get out of this hellhole.
Finally, it was the Sunday night before the first day of school. I was in my room picking out a cute outfit when my mom came in and closed the door. “I want you to try dating boys,” she said. I laughed, “I won’t date girls if you don’t want me to, but I am not dating guys,” I said. She sighed and opened the door to leave, and we saw my dad standing right there. “What did I hear…” he asked. My mom turned him around and told me to meet them in their room in five minutes. My heart was pounding.
Their lights were dimmed and they were both sitting on the floor, which was a little unusual. I joined them. My first thought was, “All that’s missing is a hookah!” which made me feel worse than I already was.
“What did I hear?” my dad asked.
“I think I’m gay,” I said, adding “think” in there to lessen the impact. My mom started crying again when I said that.
“There is no way you can know! You haven’t been with a guy!” my dad responded. I was almost going to tell him about the girls I’ve been with, but decided against it. “Have you told anybody else?” I said that I told all my friends earlier that summer. He couldn’t believe it. “The first thing you are going to do is tell all of them that you made a mistake. You were just trying something new. And I don’t want to hear anything else about this again.”
I agreed to everything he said. I just wanted everything to go back to normal. My mom was still crying. After a minute of silence, I got up and went back to my room. I felt numb. I finished putting my outfit together and when I opened my door again to go to the bathroom to brush my teeth and get ready for bed, I saw my dad just standing there, by himself, in the hallway, in his cute sailboat pajamas, staring at the floor. I went over to him and hugged him. He didn’t really hug me back, but leaned into me, his head buried into my shoulder. That’s when he started crying, asking me in between sobs to promise to do everything he said, to tell my friends that I made a mistake. I stayed strong and stroked his hair, promising everything he wanted. We stayed like that for a while. I then walked him back to his room, tucked him into bed next to my mom who was already asleep, and told him that I loved him and that everything would be all right.
The next day at school, I didn’t tell my friends anything I promised my dad. I didn’t even tell them what happened. They love my parents so much and I didn’t want to taint their image of them. I did take “Celebrate Diversity” off my car. It’s on the wall in my room at home now, still visible. My parents haven’t spoken about it since that Sunday. Sometimes, I think they forgot it happened. It’s as if I never came out to them. Which is excellent, actually, since the new plan is now the old plan: to come out to them once I have my own job, my own place, and no more financial ties. Also, my sexuality is much more complicated than “gay,” so I hope to one day explain it in more detail to them.
And where was my brother during all this? He was blissfully oblivious playing Assassin’s Creed at the other side of the house. I wish I was doing that instead too.