Editor’s note: In honor of Pride Month, Brentwood resident Emily Banks shares her story of self discovery.
I sat on the couch that night, like all other nights, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert playing in the background, the kids upstairs in bed, my husband and I settling down for a show or two before I fell asleep, myself.
I opened my mouth to comment on the opening monologue and instead said, “I think I am gay,” as if continuing an ongoing conversation. The words tumbled out on their own.
I closed my mouth. But I couldn’t put the words back inside.
I glanced at my husband.
He looked ... resigned. Not a stupid man, he probably saw the writing on the wall when I told him two years earlier I thought I was bi. Or perhaps it was my ongoing crush on Mary Louise Parker that showed my hand. Either way, the look on his face was not one of shock.
I burst into tears. “I’m sorry,” I whispered.
It had been building in me for weeks, months, years, a lifetime.
Detached from myself for a moment, I wondered idly when this had started. After the birth of my daughter, when I started Googling “can you be gay at 35?” In junior high, when I felt that SPARK when Melissa L. accidentally brushed my arm in PE? Earlier? My rainbow obsession. Was that a sign?
Did it matter?
The truth was, I’d always known on some level. It was just never safe for me. Raised in a conservative, fundamentalist Christian home, I would have been sent off to Pray The Gay Away, isolated on some farm in Idaho with nothing but a devotional and a Bible to read, until I put myself so far back in the closet I’d never see the light of day. Conversion therapy at its finest.
I can’t remember, now, just two and half years later, what we talked about that night. How we left things. It took me a few weeks to feel like I could inhabit my own body again.
We tried all the usual things of an ending marriage. Counseling. Date nights. Opening the marriage. But it simply wasn’t meant to be. Our forever was coming to a close, and I was sad. Relieved in a way, but sad.
My husband had been by my side for some of the hardest years of my life, when my health failed and I didn’t know if I’d live to see 40. How could I embark on a life separate from him? How could I exist without him by my side? I didn’t know if it was possible.
But what I did know, without any doubt, was that the status quo was not working anymore. Depression hovered over me like Eeyore’s rain cloud, coloring every step I took. Each breath was an effort. One foot in front of the other, I repeated to myself.
“Just until the kids are in college,” I told myself once. My kids, at the time, were 9 and 7. College was a long way off.
On outings into San Francisco with my kids, I looked wistfully at the women I saw holding hands. I wanted to be one of them. I wanted to belong. I wanted to feel like I fit in my own life. I didn’t want this unnamed secret living in me, this longing for a certain type of connection that I was lacking. I didn’t want to be lacking.
I was scared, terrified, of what I was risking. Of what I was walking away from. A steady marriage. A man who loved me. A family unit that I’d always wanted. Parents who supported me. Brothers.
And I wasn’t wrong to be scared. I lost a lot. I lost my parents. I lost my brothers. I lost my kids’ extended family. I lost the security of my marriage.
But I didn’t lose my family. My husband stood by me, and remains a friend and loyal supporter. My kids adore me, and I them. My local friends made me a cake when I told them I was divorcing. “You can do this!” It read. My distant friends sent cards and emails and left comments and sent so, so much love.
But mostly I gained. I gained self-respect and certainty. I gained freedom. I gained comfort in my own skin.
Now, I absent-mindedly trace circles on my girlfriend’s hand with my thumb, The Late Show playing in the background. Her cat paws at the strings of my hoodie. I rest my head on her shoulder.
“I love you,” she whispers.
I smile, I float, I soar.
I gained myself.
– Emily Banks