In an earlier post (HERE) we detailed how my parents struggled to deal with me coming out - the phrase that sticks most in my mind was that 'I broke their hearts and in choosing to love Laura I am being selfish and bringing shame and disgust on the family'.
I was lucky enough to grow up with parents who have always loved one another. They met on holiday in Benidorm, my Dad from Hastings (England) out with his 'boys' and my Mum from Kilmarnock (Scotland) over with her 'girls' - they met on the 2nd to last night and spent a loved up day together before catching flights home. It took my Dad only 3 days to realise he couldn't be without my Mum and he drove (on a small motorbike) from Hastings to Kilmarnock to ask her out. He stayed for 4 days in a b&b (my Scottish family didn't take to kindly to an Englishman coming to take one of theirs) and they made the decision that they wanted to make it work. Three months later and my Mum and all her belongings were in a small car heading to Hastings - they moved in with my Great Nan and the rest is history. They made it work despite my Mum's parents' prejudice against the 'bloody English' and despite everyone's negative comments about holiday romances.
By the time I arrived, they had set up home near Reading and I was the first to join what had become a tight-knit family foursome of my parents and my Dad's sister and her husband. By the time I was 5, I was head of a band of 4 kids. We holidayed as a eightsome, we had sleepovers and parties and a great childhood full of amazing memories.
So with this background, I never thought that my parents would react in the way they did when I said I had found someone I loved. I knew my parents didn't know anyone gay and they had always made comments about flamboyant gay men, but I thought that was more because they were different to the people they knew. My Dad is a man's man and was a policeman so he had a very set idea of what he expected in my future husband.
I had moved to Australia for a year to give life with Laura a chance - in London I was never too far from home and Australia would give us space to just be us. I spoke to my parents on a weekly basis and sent emails with what I was doing but they never seemed hugely interested; I presumed it was because they felt I had 'abandoned' them or something. One of my Mum's older sisters (and the only Scottish Aunt I have anything to do with) organised to come to Bali for her 60th with the plan being that my Mum would come too and we'd all meet up there. For some time I had planned to tell my Mum about Laura, but I wanted to do it face to face so I set my mind on Bali. My coming out 'speech' was very much in line with Laura's Obama letter.
As I arrived at the hotel in Bali I met up with my Mum and Aunt and we had a great time catching up before heading to bed - I was sharing a room with my Mum and what happened next was not at all how I planned it. My Mum commented on how well I looked and that Australia must be suiting me (well, who wouldn't it suit!) and for some unknown reason I used this as my 'in'. I launched into 'I have met someone and we are so happy. I have had an amazing couple of months spending the weekends discovering Sydney and working part time. It's so nice having the time getting to know them and I am so excited for the future.'....my Mum asked 'What's his name?'....'Laura'..... Mum burst into tears- 'I was so scared you were going to tell me that, I can't believe you want to ruin our family. You must not tell ANYONE this - it will kill your Dad and NO-ONE can know, if ANYONE finds out I will die'.
The night continued with my Mum crying herself to sleep and the holiday continued with smiles on our faces for my Aunt and a continued bombardment of 'How can you be doing this?', 'You're so selfish.' and 'How can you want to break our hearts like this?'. The holiday ended with me getting a taxi to the airport on my own as my Mum couldn't bear to say goodbye and a comment ringing in my ears 'Don't come back from Australia until it's over'.
For the next four months I got a constant barrage of letters, emails - so many emails, and phone calls telling me to change my mind and that I have ruined their lives and the devastation is causing my Mum to get sick and that there would be no future as part of their family with Laura. It was backed up with Laura has changed me and I can't be 'their' Sarah if I loved a woman.
Throughout all of this Laura was nothing short of amazing: supported by her family I found the strength to hold my head up and persevere. My plan was to head home at Christmas, despite my Mum's request not to, to show that I hadn't changed. This lead to the WORST Christmas - Laura and I had gone to Boise, Idaho for a ski-break and to see her family and I left a couple of days before the holiday to head home. On arrival at Heathrow after a year away there was no hug except from my sister. The journey home was quiet. It wasn't until Christmas day that the comments started again. Again my ultimatum was lose Laura or lose them. The only way I stopped all four of us ending up in separate rooms was by agreeing that no-one outside our family would know.
That was Christmas 2010, and nothing has changed.
Anyone who has become our Facebook friend through the blog will know there is no reference to Laura and I as a couple of our FB profiles - a fact that breaks my heart as I am proud to tell the world about us - but there are plenty of family members and friends that I would need to delete to be able to declare this without World War III breaking out.
It is a question I am constantly asking myself - 'Why not just do it, just be out and proud' but I truly fear my family turning their backs on me. I grew up shopping with my Mum, watching football with my Dad and a Saturday night watching TV with them was a good night. I don't hate my parents, I certainly don't want to break their hearts. I want them to be proud - it's all I have ever wanted. So how do I take the leap knowing I can never turn back?!
My 'It Gets Better' slogan should read 'I Get Stronger' or 'It Hurts Less' because things aren't getting better. I am friends with a girl who had a negative reaction when she came out and she had the courage to give her parents the ultimatum - accept my girlfriend and me or lose me - and her parents didn't want to lose her. I have also had support from fellow bloggers - for some it has gotten better, and that gives me hope. I know that if I gave my parents an ultimatum they would lose me - that doesn't scare me but I fear the pressure it'll put on Laura.
The reason this post is being written today is, those Twitter followers amongst you will know that I went home yesterday. I was feeling good - my Mum had made small steps in the last three months - we had upgraded from calling L 'the American' to actually using her name and we even had a brief meeting at my sister's - I thought it was the hope I had longed for. However, this trip put it all back in perspective. To quote:
'Laura will never be welcome in this house'
'Laura's presence in your life breaks our hearts'
'The pain you are causing us is so selfish'
'The thought of girls kissing makes me want to throw-up'
'We fear the future because if you two are invited to an event we won't be there'
It culminated in a discussion about plans for Fathers Day. I said I was more than happy to come home but he had the plan to go to Windsor Races later in June. They then said they would invite my Aunt and Uncle, my cousins and cousins' partners (one cousin has been with his partner 5 years, the other only 6 months) and my sister and I.....'and Laura?' I posed. The response was 'You and Laura together will never be invited to our family events'. My response 'Well then I won't come'. And so we left it.
I will never understand how my cousin's boyfriend of 6 months, who I have never met even though he lives less than half a mile from us, is invited over us. Nor will I understand why I have been separated slowly but surely from my family - I used to speak to my Aunt frequently but as I can't mention Laura, for fear of my Mum getting ill, it limits conversation.
I have wasted far too many tears trying to gain their acceptance, I have proved time and time again that Laura adds to my life in so many ways and makes me happier than I have ever been but it counts for nothing! With the love and acceptance of L's parents, it makes the differences all too obvious but what do I do - walk away knowing my parents won't be at my wedding or in my kids' lives?! Or keep trying, hoping that some day things really will get better?!
***Update*** See Laura's point of view HERE!!
Until next time,