You mention that you know the challenges of coming out. What kind of challenges did you face while you were coming out? What's your coming out story?
My biggest challenge was the era of my coming out, the 1970s. Not a safe time to live the life of an out and proud lesbian. Discrimination against LGBTQ people was the norm; bigotry ran rampant; same-sex marriage wasn't even a dream. The negative messages we received from society were loud and damning. Being gay was still considered a mental illness, and there were few laws validating or protecting us.
I came out to my mom when I was 21, in 1973. I'd met this girl and fallen madly in love. My college was across town from where my mom lived, so I called her and said, "Okay if I bring my laundry home this weekend?" (Cover for spilling the beans.)
I remember Mom was in the kitchen and I was hauling tons of dirty clothes to the basement. I tossed her a casual, "I need to talk to you."
She turned and said, "Let's sit in here."
"Now?" I panicked. No matter how long you prepare, rehearse every scenario, script every word, it never plays out the way you planned.
Mom sat at the dining room table and motioned me to sit cattycorner from her. I still remember my sweaty palms, my constricted chest. Mom said, "You want a cigarette?"
I choked. I said, "Uh, I think I'll need two." (At the time I smoked. I don't anymore.) Hours passed, or seemed to. Finally I confessed: "I'm in love with this girl and we plan to spend the rest of our lives together." Yes, even then I was melodramatic.
Mom didn't freak out. In fact, she nodded like she knew. She knew! To this day I think she figured it out before I did. She started babbling, as if I'd told her the sky was blue. I was going into cardiac arrest and my mother was talking about playing bingo on Friday night! By the end of her chatter I was calmer, feeling proud of myself and completely liberated. I asked Mom, "How do you think I should tell everyone else? (Meaning my sisters and brother)? Should I do it in person, or call them?"
Mom snapped, "Don't! Don't ever tell anyone else."
Okay, wow. That shut me up. That was the first time I realized that my love for a girl was somehow unspeakable. It was my entrée into an oppressive society.
My partner Sherri and I lived as a couple as honestly as possible. We bought our home together and pooled our finances. We introduced each other as "roommates." A lively subculture of gay people existed, but we weren't really part of that. Not in Colorado. Until the passage of Amendment 2.
Amendment 2 labeled homosexuals as deviants, basically, barring us from ever participating equally in the rights and freedoms guaranteed every citizen in this country. Well, that pissed us off. Gay people came out of the closet in droves to join together in fierce protest. Sherri and I broke down our closet door.
Amendment 2 was eventually overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court, but no one went back to living in secrecy. We were out now and taking our proper place in society.
I never realized how much life energy is consumed by hiding your truth; by always having to be aware of it and careful; by living this double standard of behavior. Sherri and I were as married as any couple we knew, yet still, today we fight for validation. Without hesitation, though, we introduce each other as "partners."
Just as you talked about in the 1970s there were many issues, and challenges that people coming out had to face. As you know teens today face their own problems with coming out. What advice would you give to these teens?
Be true to yourself. Stay strong and confident. People can't take what you don't give them, so hold onto your dignity and self-esteem. Chock up hurtful slurs to people's ignorance. Educate them through GSAs and diversity clubs. Use humor to defuse hostile situations. If your school harbors a climate of intolerance and hatred, it's usually emanating from the adults in the building. Challenge them to protect you. Let them know you don't feel safe in your own school. If your school doesn't have a GSA, start one.
Coming out to families is always scary. Do it in your own time and your own way. Never feel pressured to come out before you're ready. To help you think about strategies for coming out to your family, read this brochure put out by Parents, Friends and Family of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG):
Even though coming out is your personal journey, remember that it affects everyone in your life. Friends and family go through their own kind of coming out where they have to redefine their relationship with you. Give people time to get used to the new "idea" of you. You know you're no different from the person you always were, but your friends and family may now view you in a new light. At some point they may even have to defend you.
Coming out is an act of trust and faith, so trust that in time people will come around. If you ever feel rejected, know that you have a huge, loving community who will always embrace you for the person you are inside.
As I've found out from both Jeff and from perusing your website, you have a link to Oasis on your webpage. Do you actually go onto Oasis and read the journal entries and forums or do you just refer people to it? Why do you refer/link people to Oasis?
When young people first began to write to me, a common theme in their letters was alienation. The Internet gives us a tremendous opportunity to connect as a global community, so I searched the Web for online forums that catered to youth. There were plenty of chat rooms, but safety was an issue. I did monitor the discussions at Oasis for quite a while until I felt it was a legitimate site.
I don't get much time to read the journal entries or forums myself anymore, but I do have young people come back and thank me for referring them to Oasis.
Many of the teens on Oasis are hoping to become writers. What advice would you give to aspiring teen writers?
Read. If you want to be a writer, you must be a voracious reader. Read for enjoyment, yes, but also read as a writer. Dissect your favorite works into pieces and parts to analyze how the author did it. How was the plot paced? Language used to engage readers? Characters brought to life on the page?
Apply the three P's of writing: Practice, perseverance, and patience. Also, write for the right reason-because you love doing it. Because you find fulfillment in expressing yourself with words; in discovering the deepest well of yourself that only writing can release.
The drawing of Julie on this page was done by a fan of hers, Paula Ashley Rosales.