As the day came closer, I conducted last-minute tests with everything already in place, sitting in all the different chairs to see how the light fell on my face.
When the big day came, I set the cameras in their positions.
Everything was ready…
My mum got up quite early as usual, and prepared my dad’s breakfast before heading out to church, as she did every Sunday. Dad spent the morning watching TV in his room before he headed to his studio for a guitar session. It had begun as a pretty ordinary Sunday for them. But that was about to change.
At one o’clock, all five of us were together. I realised it had to happen then or never. I could tell that my sisters were almost as nervous as I was. I positioned them according to my carefully drawn plan. It felt surreal as they sat down.
With everyone in position, I went to check the three cameras. I programed them to go off every five seconds, which was more difficult than it should have been because my hands were beginning to shake with nerves. The shutters started going off and I put on some background music just to muffle out the sound the shutters were making. It was an instrumental record I had asked my dad to have ready for me, featuring Spanish guitars and violins. I wanted something a bit classical, rather than trusting the radio and ending up with this moment accompanied by some over-the-top salsa.
I took my seat at the head of the table. I felt my heart pounding. I felt their eyes on me. I noticed that my parents were uncharacteristically nervous too. My dad was wearing his serious face; it was that look that had always made me want to run in the other direction when I was a little girl. He was expecting something serious, but clearly had no idea what.
As I started talking, I found it hard to maintain eye contact with anybody at the table. Even over the music, I could hear the sounds the camera shutters made every time they captured a new photograph. I hoped they weren’t too distracting. Mostly, I was thinking I couldn’t believe the moment was finally upon us.
I started talking about love and acceptance. I talked about how important family was and how we must always come together. I went on like that for five minutes or so. At that point I could see tears in the eyes of both my sisters. Their support had been such an essential part of the process; they had walked every step right alongside me.
I told my parents that there was something I hadn’t been able to tell them before. They didn’t move an inch. In fact, they barely seemed to be breathing. They just kept staring at me. The expression on their faces was tense and worried. I could feel their uneasy anticipation. The shutters keep clicking.
My eyes moved to look at the ceiling as I mouthed the words.
‘Since I was five years old I have known there was something different about me.’
It took me a while to be able to say the next words. I looked down at the table and took a deep breath. As I exhaled, I finally said the words:
How long the words hung there in the silence I couldn’t tell you, but I knew I couldn’t just leave them hanging there, so at some point I carried on explaining, trying to show my parents that there was much more to this revelation than just my sexuality.
‘The hardships have been overwhelming, like feeling different from everybody else from so early on, the suffering and the secrets. Coming to accept myself has been a life-long battle and I have endured a lot of pain in silence for too many years. After going through a long process of self-acceptance, I have reached a point where I am happy to be who I am and I want you to love me for who I am. That is, the real me.’
My parents didn’t react immediately, but I could feel their eyes on me. I took a deep breath and I forced myself to look at them. There was a stillness in their eyes. I could no longer hold back the tears. I could no longer hear the shutters. I could no longer hear the music. Everything was blurry. Everything was tears.
And then, through the blur, voices reached out to me.
‘We don’t care.’
‘We love you.’
My mum and dad broke their stillness as one; their tears matched my own. Their hands reached for mine. My mum’s eyes were filled with tears. She just kept repeating, ‘I don’t care, I don’t care.’ I could barely comprehend what was happening.
I was in a state of shock. Where was the anger? I collapsed onto the table, my head on my folded arms, sobbing. I felt their hands on my head, comforting me the way they so often had to ease me through the discomforts of childhood. Finally, when I looked up at them I saw that they were smiling at me through their tears. My sisters, tissues to their eyes, were also overcome with emotion; they couldn’t believe what had just transpired either.
Dad began talking. He said the most beautiful things. He talked about acceptance and said that whom I choose to love was not his or anybody else’s concern. He stated that the idea I was gay had crossed his mind once or twice, and that he felt I’d decided to come out to them at the right time. Now, at the age of sixty-five, he had the wisdom and experience to focus on loving me, rather than caring about what others thought of me, of our family. He just wanted to support us and to take care of us. He said that he would stand by his daughter even if the other parts of the family would not. If they didn’t accept me, that was their problem, not ours.
We talked for another two hours, probably more. I had a chance to tell my family what I had gone through as a teenager, how hard it had been to accept myself for who I was. They listened intently. I could never have imagined those moments that followed, with me sharing aspects of my life that had once been so hidden and with them so sincerely interested in listening and clearly sharing my hurt and confusion. But it suddenly all felt so easy.
As is her way, Mum remained very quiet. When asked, she admitted to knowing about me for quite some time. It is crazy how intuitive mothers can be. Even though she was accepting, she did voice some concerns. The first had to do with family – all-important in any Latin American household. An Ecuadorian family is usually huge, extending far beyond the immediate family members, to include grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins and second cousins, the cousins of one’s uncle and so on. What would they say? I could tell that the concern was stressful for her.
We talked about how I might never be able to come out to all of them. Mum also voiced her concern and general discomfort at seeing two people of the same sex expressing affection. She explained that she didn’t care that I was gay, but would feel uncomfortable seeing me with a girl. I tolerated her concerns; I understood they were not intended to hurt me. I hoped in time that she could come to understand that affection is a beautiful thing, no matter whom it is shared with.
My sisters helped me answer their questions and explain to them that getting used to the idea would take time. Despite their generally positive and accepting reaction, I understood it would take time for them to fully understand who I am and what it means to be gay. They would have to go through a process of their own.
At one point Mum got up to get a carton of cigarettes, placing it on the table when she returned. We all reached for one in unison. None of us were really big smokers, and we rarely smoked together, but those last several hours had been an emotional rollercoaster for all of us.
As I smoked, I realised I was exhausted – and why not? Although those last few hours had been emotional for my parents and sisters, I had been enduring those feelings intensely for every waking minute of every day for the past several months. I hadn’t slept well for weeks, but it would be wonderfully different that night. That night I would sleep with an inner joy and contentment I had never really known before – and I did.