“You’re not pregnant, are you?” was the first question my parents asked when I sat them down and told them we had something we needed to talk about. The question seemed laughable to me, considering my long-term boyfriend had just broken up with me and what I was about to tell them.
“I’m … not straight,” I told them haltingly, and braced myself for their response. While I love my parents, acceptance of the LGTBQ+ community has never been their strong suit. When my cousin came out in 2016, I had to hear many disparaging comments about her “choice” to be gay. That’s why, when I began to realize that a particular friendship I had with a girl named Ava* was starting to feel suspiciously like a crush, I ignored it and didn’t mention it to my mom, with whom I share a lot more than the average teenager. What’s more, I had just started dating a boy that I’d had a crush on for years and was falling madly in love with him. The situation with Ava was a fluke. It was unnecessary to explore further.
Then I got to college. Amazingly, not only was I still with my boyfriend, but we had both been accepted to Cornell. But if there’s one thing about college, it’s the madness that is cramming thousands of horny twenty-somethings into a small radius. Just like with Ava, I began to feel things around a new friend that I had made, and the question of “wtf is my sexuality” was reopened. My roommate had just come out as bi and I grilled her with questions “for a friend” about how she knew she wasn’t only attracted to guys. I did a lot of soul searching and finally accepted that my childhood fixation on Bend It Like Beckham was caused in part by Keira Knightley’s abs and that Hermione held more appeal for me than Harry, Malfoy and Cedric Diggory combined. I admitted that my feelings for Ava had begun to surpass friendly interest, and that maybe my decision to get a pixie cut wasn’t as entirely “not gay” as I had assured my mother. The first person I came out to was, ironically, my boyfriend. Sitting on the rock between Dickson, Donlon and Jameson on a September night, I told him, “I like girls too.” His response was the absolute best I have yet to receive: “I mean, yeah, girls are hot.” We laughed it off, I answered a few of his questions, and our relationship just seemed stronger now that I had been open with him. Flash forward a little over a year and he decided he wanted to break up. While I was — and still to an extent am — wrecked, I knew this also meant something else: I would be able to explore my sexuality further.
When I first told my parents, they pushed back, said it might be a “phase,” that it was probably just because “my relationship with a man hadn’t worked out” and implored me not to do anything they associated with the queer community like get tattoos, a nose piercing or dye my hair a crazy color.
In my defense, I only did two out of the three and, drunk on my first single Valentine’s Day in three years, I downloaded Tinder and made my settings open to girls as well as guys. As much as I still wasn’t emotionally moved on, I began swiping right on girls I would have only crushed on from afar. I went on a few nerve-wracking dates. I flirted. Then, in one of the most unexpected twists, I found a non-binary person named Blue* and we had an amazing first date. But, just as I was scheduling a second date with them, coronavirus began to become a national concern. In what seemed like record speed, life was upended and my attempt at a new normal was threatened. My parents were not exactly welcoming me home with open arms. Upset over my bright pink hair and unable to accept my “choice” of sexuality, we had been on the rocks for weeks. Facing months of isolation with people who attacked me for the very things that were making me happy amidst one of the most difficult times of my life, I made a tough decision. I decided to apply to stay on campus. I technically qualify as immunocompromised, and after expressing to my RHD my other reason for wanting to stay, I was amazingly greenlighted to stay in Ithaca.
My parents know that a part of my reason for staying is because of their reception of this “revelation” about my identity. It has hurt my relationship with my mother and I know her emotions have most likely affected my sibling, who has gone home. In a moment of excitement over this new development in my life, I told my mom about Blue and it turned into a week-long sparring match that included texts from my dad saying that I was putting my mom’s health at risk with my decisions. While still hesitant to mention them, I am trying to sprinkle in comments about our FaceTime calls when on the phone with my parents in an attempt to normalize the idea to them. This has gone better sometimes than others, varying from silence and tight-lipped disappointment to hanging up.
As I prepare to go home for the summer, I honestly have no idea what to expect. I know too many people who have to hide entire parts of themselves and their lives from their parents, and quarantine only amplifies this. I want to share my life with my parents because we are usually a tight knit family, but I’m not sure if I want the conflict that comes with being authentic with them. All I know is that I am grateful for the wonderful people who have shown me love and support for who I am and who I know will continue to.
*Names have been changed to preserve anonymity.
Questioning Everything is a student at Cornell University. Comments can be sent to [email protected]. Sex on Thursday runs alternating weeks this semester.