We’re here two days after our blog anniversary with another guest post & we’re hoping you are all still in the mood to celebrate with us.
Today, we have an essay by Gabriela Martins. I met her around a year ago, I think, thanks to the book twitter community & being friends with her has been amazing. That’s why I was thrilled when she agreed to writing something for our blog!
And hey, we actually interviewed her a few weeks back!
I came out to my Mom at the age of 21.
It was an intense experience. It was my twenty-first birthday, I had gone out for drinks with friends, then returned home, went to bed, and started crying. I still lived with my parents at that point, and I think my Dad was traveling, because I don’t remember him being around when Mom opened the door to my room with a suspicious look on her face. The very Latinx parent expression of who hurt my child and how can I make them regret being born.
She started pushing for answers. I didn’t even know why I was crying at first. I felt like a phony, and I wasn’t sure why myself.
I was also on Tinder at that time, and I had set my profile to interested in all genders. I had also set my Tinder notifications to inexistent, because I was sure I would properly die if anyone — Mom, friends, coworkers — saw a notification that said someone with a name of my gender had sent me a message. I remember being a little alarmed whenever my phone beeped, even if I knew I couldn’t be found out. But it was stressful anyway.
I never did go out with anyone I met on the app at that time, but it served to push me to my limits, I think. With Mom sitting on my bed in the dark and my sobbing growing louder, I remembered why my phone screen was turned down.
Mom has always been the understanding type. She’s always been my absolute best friend. When I had my first kiss (with a boy), she was already expecting it, because I’d been head over heels for a few months. She gave me flowers the next day.
That’s why I figured I had to tell her. The co-dependency of our relationship meant that keeping this secret from her was killing me. I wasn’t ready to admit that I was bisexual. I had never said that out loud. None of my friends* knew, but I had already had been in love with a girl at that time, and also been in a sort-of-relationship-but-not-really with another. (If you’re wondering, the girl I actually loved never learned just how much she meant to me. But that’s another story.)
* : I actually had a friend… I think I was 14. I was telling her about a confusing moment I had had with a friend (another friend. I guess we were all very queer and didn’t know how to deal with it) with whom, every time we went to parties or drank a bit… we almost kissed. We got too close and too personal and we’d sleep together but not like that. It was the weirdest thing, but alas: I told one person about this. About my confusion with our friendship. And this other friend who I’d told about Possibly-Queer Friend, she said: “but you know you’re bi, right?” I did not. Hearing that freaked me out and set me back for years.
I didn’t know how to break it to my Mom that I wasn’t straight, so I went straight for it (ha! Pun not intended! I was never straight! … let me have this): “Mom, I think… I think I also like girls.”
It was important for me to add the also because I had had a boyfriend for most of my teenage years. And that was precisely what she focused on, as soon as she stopped trying to convince me that I was just bored and trying to have something new happening in my life, post-dropping out of college.
“Are you telling me that it was a lie between you and Boyfriend?”
I shook my head. “No. I loved him. It was real. But I’m not only attracted to boys.”
“So you weren’t attracted to Boyfriend?”
It was a long process. I can’t blame her for not having a full grasp on what being bisexual meant. I hadn’t either. That was part of why my adolescence was so troubling. I knew I liked boys. I knew I could fall in love with a boy. Then why had my first love been a girl? Why did I think of certain girls in ways that were romantic, sexual? I had never seen a bisexual character on TV. I had never had access to a book with a bisexual character, either. I knew what the word meant intellectually, but I was sure it was just a rhetoric term that meant nothing.
I had to be either gay or straight. Everyone was one of them. And I was neither.
It took months for my understanding best-friend Mom to understand and accept, but once she did, she started overcompensating, telling me she had a dream here and there about me finding a girlfriend, asking about whether I’d heard that the new soap opera would feature a queer woman, and, of course, she was very patient when I taught her what queer even meant.
Once I had that out of the way, I knew I had to tell my friends. My friends, who sort of knew, but I’d been telling they were wrong whenever they casually asked.
My best friend was the first. I asked to see her. When I arrived at her house, I started stuttering and attacking the hem of my shirt. She sat down in front of me in the kitchen and said: “Gabhi, what’s going on? Something’s wrong.” What was wrong was that I had to do it all again.
I took a deep breath. “I… am bi.”
She frowned. “Okay…?”
She was deeply confused as to why I was telling her that. She was sure I knew that she already knew. That seemed to be the case with a lot of friends. But she also asked me whether I was going to start having threesomes, now that I was out. Understanding was… flawed.
Once I told this other female friend, her boyfriend forbid her from talking to me. Another female friend was suddenly absolutely opposed to going to the swimming club with me; seven years of changing in front of each other had never done anything for me, but now she was convinced I’d fall in love with her average-looking body and unflattering personality.
I lost a few supposed-friends along the way. Most of my family was absolutely accepting, and I know how lucky I am for that. I had a few horrible experiences with doctors, but I found new ones. I also found new friends who accepted me for what I am.
Happy ending, right?
I’m an author, but I’m also a freelancer (… aren’t all authors freelancers, though!). I’m a language coach and teacher; I have groups of students who I teach in-person and online, both English and other languages. But that’s very recent, only working freelance. For most of my life, I worked in regular schools.
And hid all my online “out” identity. Nobody could know.
To be fair, however, as a high school teacher, I was always encouraged to hide anything that could form dividing opinions. Political views, sexual orientation, religion, and football club. All of those were forbidden topics in the classroom. Topics I absolutely did talk about regardless, because I am of the opinion you cannot teach without being political. (I did avoid the football club talk, though, as in Brazil that can be way more dividing than any of the above.)
But I didn’t talk about me. I mean, not really? I was open about my political views and dared anyone to shame me for that. That included how I thought LGBTQIA+ rights were important. Though I also talked a lot about anti-Black discourse and police brutality, and I’m not black. I imagine it’d be easy to take me for a LGBTQIA+ ally. A passionate one, but just an ally. Sure I was excited to discuss with them representations of bisexual characters, but I was also excited to discuss representations of trans characters while being cis, and asexual characters while being allo.
I think most of them had no clue.
Then came this student… we’ll call him A. A is a queer boy who gave me a number of clues to that throughout the year, from writing Troye Sivan lyrics on the margins of his tests to aggressively affirming LGBTQIA+ rights as his fight. I love A. I made sure he knew I understood, and we had long great talks about all sorts of subjects.
Somehow, in spite of all of my efforts to use a different surname in school than that of my writing (and so, all of my social media related to writing), he… found me.
I was in class one day when I got a notification on my phone. A had followed me on Twitter, and subscribed to my newsletter. And I panicked.
When I say I panicked, I want you to know that I had to excuse myself from class, lock myself in a bathroom stall, and try to remember how to breathe, as I gasped for air with my knuckles white and balled into fists. I had been discovered. By a loving boy who wasn’t likely to out me to the rest of the world — and I am, hadn’t I come out several times already? Wasn’t I out-out? I was going out with a girl at that time, ffs! — but alas, now he knew. For sure.
I blocked him. Everywhere. Later I learned that he was very upset that I did it. A, if you’re reading this (since you have very good stalking skills :P), I didn’t block you because it was you. I blocked you because I couldn’t possibly accept the idea of any of the kids I loved so much having the possibility of despising me for something I can’t change.
Fast forward to a few months. I have a CuriousCat, and my followers ask a variety of questions, both about my writing and my personal life. They ask me advice as well. I love the questions for advice.
I get a question: “Have you kissed a girl?” I jokingly answer: “Thank God.” I don’t think much of it.
Then one day a student is hanging out with me before class starts; she arrived early and I’m already there, so we get to chatting. She asks me about my writing, because I’m about to start a Writing Class in the school. (My students knew I was a writer, but they didn’t know anything other than that. I didn’t want them to have access to my writing, because it’s all queer.) Then she wants to show me something on her phone. I think it’s a meme, but I don’t remember.
It’s in a group chat, and it’s a gazillion funny memes or stickers or whatever. I keep laughing and scrolling up. Then I see my name and stop.
It’s a group with five or six students. Two of them had never been my students at all, but the others were still my students or had been my students the previous year.
The conversation started with them searching the Internet for my stories. Eventually, victorious, they find it. Then one of the girls — curiously, the one I’d never taught before and to this day I’m not even sure who she is — sort of gets obsessed with my Twitter page. The others call her out on it and she doesn’t care. She sends me a message asking me whether I’d kissed girls. I replied. She sent it on their group chat. Their reactions go from “I knew it”, to using slurs in a sort-of-affectionate way.
One girl says: “Now shut up about it. This could get her in real trouble.”
A, who was in the group but hadn’t said anything, says something in the lines of: “Fuck you all. Now she’s going to think I told you.”
The owner of the phone, by my side, apologizes. She’s super sorry this happened. She hadn’t even wanted to show me the conversation, it’d been an accident.
But I can’t reply. I’m tearing up. She’s also tearing up.
The class starts. We don’t make eye-contact for two hours.
I delete my CuriousCat and make my Twitter account private. I don’t know if any of them realized or thought it was because I knew. The girl who accidentally showed me the conversation never talked about it again, other than promising they’d never told anyone, and they love me more than ever.
I felt betrayed, even though they meant no harm and clearly weren’t going to do anything with that information (or confirmation of something they already knew). But more than betrayed, I felt exposed to the point of panic. Again.
The secret nobody tells you when you first come out as queer, is that you’re going to have to keep coming out. Constantly. Or choosing not to come out, for whatever reason that you’re entitled to have, and then living in fear that someone will out you instead.
There’s a reason I try not to read books where someone is outed. It’s because it fucking sucks.
Also, it makes you feel like it’s your fault. Couldn’t you have been more cautious? I mean, I’d already been found out by A a couple of months prior, so why did I have to set up an anonymous account? Why did I have to answer that question? Why couldn’t I just shut up?
It took me a while to forgive them — not for what they did, but what for what they made me feel.
I’m not out to every person I know, but I try to be. It’s freeing. And terrifying.
Coming out repeatedly is exhausting. Whenever the topic comes up, and most of the time I make it come up, I’m afraid I’ll be rejected, dismissed, or objectified. It happens in every date with a new person (regardless of their gender), when I meet new friends, and just this last week? I came out to a family member over dinner, because he implied that my generation liked labels that had no meaning, and “everyone was bi these days”. (PS: if I’m mistaken and everyone is bi, please let me know. I want to live in that world forever.) (PSS: the conversation went alright. It was exhausting, but I convinced him that my existence is valid. He apologized and we moved on.)
(I know I used the word ‘exhausting’ twice in the last paragraph. But seriously. Coming out is exhausting.)
I have come out multiple times. I know I will still come out so many more.
I also know that there will be times and people to whom I’ll choose not to come out. And I’ll fear the day they find out.
But I’m a writer. And a teacher.
As a teacher, I’m the most optimistic creature you will ever meet. I believe that education is the means to transformation. I also believe in the future. Deeply. I believe that things are getting better, although there’s still an enormous path ahead.
As a writer, I believe that art and education go hand-in-hand, and I believe that art is ultimately the salvation for both queer kids hating themselves because they don’t understand yet they are not alone, and for ignorant people like my Mom was, who don’t want to be ignorant, but had never had access to any form of representation before.
This is why I keep writing my hella queer stories. Casually queer, purposefully queer, all the queer. Because I know that if we keep pushing for the space we deserve as human beings to have, there will come a time when maybe I won’t have to either come out or fear.
Gabriela Martins is a Brazilian author of contemporary and light fantasy. She’s a proud cat-mom of two, a language coach and teacher, and in her free time, she likes to get emotional about ’00s music, superheroes, and food.