Each November, I await the influx of Thanksgiving-themed television episodes, my favorites centering around queer characters. I love watching Will’s bewildered, “Is she headless?” when he realizes Jack’s mother doesn’t know about his sexuality on Will and Grace and Lena Waithe’s poignant journey of self discovery on Master of None. Aside from the joy of watching genuine and hilarious queer characters interacting with their families, these episodes allow me to reflect on how far I’ve come from a Jewish teen in the closet.
In high school I was extremely anxious and in denial about my sexuality. I spent hours getting ready for Turkey Day dinner, stressing over how to make my outfit look as heterosexual as possible. One year, at around 15, I settled on a navy dress that my mom bought me for temple, a pair of heart earrings I got from my bat mitzvah, and a thick coat of my mom’s lip gloss. But as my dad, mom, two brothers, and I crammed into a taxi, I knew those hours of preparation wouldn’t matter.
Nothing could really prepare me for the arrival at my aunt and uncles’ Upper East Side apartment. There I would be swept into the living room and passed around to loud relatives who’d ask, “Any boys you have your eye on?” It was a relief to finally sit down for dinner where I could go unnoticed and eat my turkey in silence.
But I was fascinated by my cousins Liz and Amanda. They were ten years older, had bold style, and cropped hair. They were confident and unafraid to challenge even the most abrasive conservative at the table. There was something about the way they carried themselves that felt familiar to me. I desperately wanted to imitate them, to be like them, but felt like I wasn’t brave or enlightened enough to know how.
It took moving out of my parents’ apartment and an artsy college a few states away to really start coming into my own identity. By the time I turned 20, I was making progress. My sophomore year, I fell in love with an alluring Waspy girl who broke my heart. The experience made me confront what I had known since I was 13: There would be no boy under my chuppah. It was time to come out to my parents.
They were politically liberal, so I expected nothing to change. But while they weren’t disapproving, they were unsure of how to relate to me after I came out. I was hurt by their reaction, and our relationship grew distant.
The next year, I cut my hair into a short bob, pierced my nose, and started buying looser vintage jeans, boots, and button downs. I met a nice Catholic girl who loved me back. She loved the way I dressed. My parents did not.
“I don’t understand why you have to change the way you look,” my mom said as I put on slacks, loafers, and a t-shirt for Thanksgiving with our relatives that year. “You used to dress so beautifully,” she sighed. I wasn’t sure how to tell her that was never really me.
In the taxi on the way to dinner, I felt a mix of defiance and fear. I’d spent my life trying to fit in. I was no longer trying to, but was afraid of the attention that would attract. I wasn’t out to my extended family yet and wasn’t sure I even wanted to be. Telling my parents had been difficult enough.
Luckily, I managed to snag a dinner spot next to Liz. She was a locus of defiant conversation, and I ate in blissful awe of her. I was about to clear my plate when she asked, “How’s junior year? Anyone you’re interested in?”
A voice inside my head urged me to lock myself in the bathroom. A smaller, more persistent one whispered, just tell her! I took a deep breath and said very quietly, “Actually, there’s this girl.”
Liz gasped. “Oh my god, this is amazing,” she exclaimed. I stared at her in shock. “I’ve been waiting for this for years,” she continued. “Come on,” she said while grabbing my hand, “we’re getting Amanda.”
For the next hour, the three of us sequestered ourselves in Liz’s childhood bedroom. I told them everything, from how lost I felt in high school to how I struggled with my first heartbreak. After my story, Liz turned to Amanda and whispered, “I was totally right.”
“About what?” I asked.
“I was convinced you were one of us. Amanda told me there was no way, but then you walked in tonight with your badass haircut and nose ring and I knew in my gut.”
“I’m happy I was wrong,” Amanda joked. “Welcome to the club, and don’t worry about any nosy relatives out there. We’ve got your back.”
I let out a deep sigh and felt the tension drain out of my body. After being so vulnerable with Liz and Amanda, their explicit support and love bolstered me in a way I didn’t know I needed.
This November marks four years since that conversation, and it’s what I’m truly thankful for. True to their promise, Liz and Amanda helped discretely spread word of my sexual preference to the family, using the only effective application of the trickle down method I’ve ever seen. It was awkward, sure. Yet my family eventually made a real effort to accept and embrace my queerness, especially my parents.
My mom genuinely compliments my outfits now. Anytime I worry about cutting my hair shorter or bringing a partner home they remind me, “You’re our child. We love you no matter what.” I never anticipated my coming out story would mirror that of my favorite TV episodes, but I’m so grateful I can enjoy the holiday with my family as my authentic self.
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