Updated: Jul 7, 2020
| This is the 199th story of Our Life Logs |
When I accepted myself as a lesbian, I was in my 30s, married to a man for 10 years, and had two children. It was the first time I had a label for what I had been feeling for years. But I don’t regret coming out because the life I lived as I came to understand my sexuality was full of love and wonder after I acknowledged my true self.
I was born in 1962 in Kansas City, Missouri. My mom was part of the first generation to move from the South to the North. My parents were not together, but both were very prevalent in my life. I was surrounded by people who loved me. As an African American growing up in the 1960s, I dealt with bullying as the country still had racism imbedded in their roots. However, outside of the bullying, I had a good childhood.
As a teenager, I was never boy-crazy, but I did date a few guys in high school. Then again, when I look back on the guys I dated, one of them was definitely gay and the other was very hyper-heterosexual, expecting me to act and dress like his version of a “true woman.” I never fit the mold. I was never very into makeup or femininity, but I always wore what was in style.
I moved to Iowa to begin college and the next stage of my life. As I settled into the new environment, I met a confident girl with beautiful chocolate skin—let’s call her Lila—whom I quickly developed an intense friendship with. This was peculiar for me because I had never had many close female friends. But Lila was so different from any other girl I had met. She was from Chicago, a proud lesbian, insanely funny, and had a swagger about her that drew me in. She asked great questions about life and challenged me to think beyond the pre-defined walls of my brain. We spent all our time together. We’d eat in the Student Union, study together, and chat about our days. She was my dearest friend.
I had a really intense feeling for her that I didn’t know how to define. I just knew I cared a lot about her and loved being around her. I thought that was what close friendship meant. And I thought our bond would never be broken, but it became tethered after I started dating guys. I tried to make time to hang out with Lila, but she acted strange whenever I was dating someone. It hurt, but I had to accept it, especially when I became more serious with one particular guy.
On top of me getting closer with my boyfriend, Lila and I also had a serious conversation that I think truly shattered the close relationship we had. We were talking about sexuality, and she told me she came out to her family during one of their family therapy sessions they attended to strengthen their family bonds. As I commended her for taking such a big step in her life, she caught me off guard with a question.
“Kim, do you think it’s possible to be in love with your best friend?”
At first, I didn’t realize she was talking about me. Then she came out and said outright that she was in love with me. She stared at me with hopeful eyes, but that hope was crushed when I told her I didn’t feel the same. And I didn’t. At least, that’s what I thought at the time. It could have been the sign of the times and because I wasn’t as in touch with my feelings back then that I didn’t even explore the possibility. I just told her I didn’t feel that way. Our friendship was never the same after that. As we graduated, we drifted apart and stopped speaking altogether.
After graduation, I moved to Chicago, Illinois with my college boyfriend in the 80s. I didn’t see many strong marriages growing up given that my mom was married four times, so I thought the relationship I had with him was fine. I grew up in a time where success for a woman was defined by getting married and having kids. There was this unspoken pressure telling me that this was what I had to do to be happy. So, we got married in the mid-80s and settled down in a cozy Chicago home. We lived an average, peaceful life for about 10 years, adopting my brother when he was 10 to get him out of a rough home life, and having two of our own children together.
As I got into my 30s, I began questioning our marriage. I felt that something was off, but I couldn’t quite figure out what it was. I just knew some of the intense feelings from college were creeping back into my psyche, and I couldn’t get them out. I didn’t know what that meant.
I turned to journaling to work through my internal struggles and reflect on life. I started questioning if my thoughts about women were beyond friendly affection. The more I journaled and revisited the past, the clearer I saw who I really was. I came to a stunning realization. I was probably in love with Lila back in college and I didn’t even know it! Did that mean I was bisexual or gay?
By pure serendipity, as I tried to explore the possibility more, Lila happened to be in Chicago at the time in 1995. My husband and I went to visit her. Lila and I easily picked up where we left off, becoming close friends again. The following year, my husband and I went down to Atlanta to visit her on our way to a family reunion. On the night of our visit, Lila and I were talking about that conversation we had back in college. She said to me, “Back then, you said you weren’t in love with me. Were you telling the truth?”
I chuckled and looked away, saying, “Probably not.”
After that conversation, we grew closer, writing to each other often. The feelings from college returned. The feelings I hadn’t been in touch with in such a long time came flooding back to me, and I waded in, happy to be enveloped again. I didn’t know what that meant for my future, but I was finally ready to explore my sexuality.
My husband began to see a change in me and noticed how frequent the letters were coming in from Lila. He put the two together and asked, “Are you in love with her?” I didn’t need to think about my answer, I just knew that I did, and as I settled into the thought, it was such a relief. Finally, my feelings all made sense. I wasn’t bisexual; I was gay.
Of course, my husband was devastated, but in a way not surprised. He always thought that I was bisexual because he noticed how close I was with Lila back in college. He figured that she and I had been together at some point, which is hilarious to think about now. My husband knew before I did! Maybe, if I had known what he thought, I would have gone for it! But I’m glad he didn’t because we never would have gotten married or had our kids.
Even though I came out as a lesbian and wanted to divorce my husband, he was very cordial about it. We went to couple’s therapy—not to mend our romantic relationship, but to make sure we could maintain a good relationship to work together in raising our kids. Therapy helped a lot and we remained good friends in the split.
My brother who I saw as a son was a teenager when I came out and he wasn’t very affected by the news. My younger daughter was too young to understand. My other daughter, who was six at the time, was devastated at first. But she was more upset about the divorce than about my coming out. She did eventually come around.
Telling my husband and kids was the easy part. Telling everyone else in my life who had known me for years was the scary part. I was mostly nervous to talk to my parents. I’d have to say first that I was getting a divorce and second that I was a lesbian. Thankfully, they were incredibly supportive. My mom said to me,
“Life is short. You have to follow your heart.”
And that was that.
After I separated from my husband, Lila and I tried to begin a relationship, but we soon figured out that a lot of our romance had been built up in our heads and we weren’t meant to be together. I dated a few other women in the late 90s, but didn’t find one worth settling down for until 1998.
I met her while I was working in urban planning. She was shy but very kind. We hit it off after carrying a CTA banner together in the Chicago Pride Parade. After a few dates, we fell in love, and we’ve been together for the last 20 years.
Looking back, I see now that my conversation with Lila helped stir up the slow process of me coming to terms with who I really was. I sometimes wish that she had explicitly asked me to question about my sexuality. Perhaps then, I would have put the pieces together. But I’m glad it didn’t happen that way because I never would have had my two kids and maybe never would have met my wife today.
I believe it’s never too late to come out. Even if you’re married. Even if you have kids. Everything happens at the time it’s supposed to. I don’t feel sad that I didn’t come to terms with my sexuality until my 30s. I’m just happy to have finally seen myself clearly after living for years in a fog. If you’re scared to come out, know that our community is growing, and we will embrace you even if others don’t. Like my mom would say, life is short, so follow your heart.
Kim currently lives in Chicago, Illinois with her wife. In college, Kim had an intense friendship with a girl that she never saw as more than a friendship, but years later in her 30s after she was married to a man with three kids, she realized that she might have been in love with the girl back then. In that moment, Kim came to terms with her sexuality, divorced her husband, and began to live her life as an out and proud lesbian, later finding love with another woman and settling down. She believes it’s never too late to come out. Kim has been with her wife for 20 years now, but recently made it official in 2015 after gay marriage was legalized. In her free time, Kim loves storytelling for fun and for therapeutic purposes. For the last four years, she has co-hosted a storytelling show called Outspoken. It takes place the first Tuesday of the month at a gay bar called Sidetrack in Chicago and gives people a place to share personal narratives.
This story first touched our hearts on October 17, 2018.
| Writer: Kristen Petronio | Editors: Adam Savage, MJ |
This story was first captured by the VideoOut team on May 17, 2017 and completed by Our Life Logs on October 17, 2018. You can listen to Kim’s retelling at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=orgaeMyUugA&t=269s
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