"My reason for coming out isn’t to be some sort of hero, I’m just at a point in my life where I’m tired of having to pretend to be somebody I’m not." – Sheryl Swoopes
In 1869 German homosexual rights advocate Karl Ulrich introduced the idea of coming out as a means of emancipation. He believed that homosexual invisibility was a major obstacle toward changing public opinion and as such he urged homosexuals to out themselves.
I am not homosexual but I am going to guess that for those who are the idea of coming out, while liberating, can be equally terrifying. I say this based on my own experience as a mother who lost a child to adoption and was told to stuff that traumatic experience into the emotional closet and pretend to get over it, pretend I wasn’t a mother, pretend I did not have a daughter, and pretend “it” never happened. Much like homosexuals, I was told by society to pretend to be something I wasn’t.
And so I did.
For a while.
I didn’t want to hide. I did not want to keep that information secret but my parents wanted me too. The agency wanted me too. Societal constructs wanted me to. For the sake of everyone’s else’s perceived benefit, I had to lie. Lie about who I was, how I felt, what I needed and wanted.
The message I received loud and clear was that I was unacceptable. My behavior was unacceptable. My daughters birth was unacceptable. If it wasn’t, why did I have to hide it?
If I ever wanted to be deemed acceptable, if I ever wanted a “decent” man to marry me, to have a respectable life, a good job, a future, I had better, at all costs, keep the person I really was locked and buried in the closet.
Coming out was not an option.
Eighty percent of the time I complied. I rarely told casual acquaintances. I wouldn’t speak out in public. I never (good god) told anyone I worked with. I did however, always tell friends and loved ones that meant something to me. If I wanted you in my life, I told you before we got too serious. Back then it was a litmus test. Let me show you all my dirty secrets and then you decide if I am worthy. Um, sorry to offend myself, but that was an assanine approach. That line of thinking still left the power to be deemed acceptable or not in the hands of others. It was predicated upon the belief that I was bad or damaged and others were not. That was crap, Suz.
Over time, without even knowing it, I adopted a model similar to the Cass Identity Model. This model, developed by Vivian Cass, is one of the foundational theories of gay and lesbian identity development. The Cass Model was the first to treat gay members of society as normal and views the homophobic society as abnormal.
This model outlines six stages that individuals, who successfully come out, go through. These are identity confusion, identity comparison, identity tolerance, identity acceptance, identity pride, and identity synthesis.
Not surprisingly, I can apply each of these stages to my own experience as a woman who had supposedly offended the sexual mores by committing the unforgivable act of not suppressing my sexuality and then becoming pregnant. Much like my gay friends, my actions were threatening to the fabric of society. They threatened my families values, the life path my parents had planned for me and they threatened our church teachings.
Identity confusion: I am a mother. I know I am a mother but I am not. They tell me I am not. They tell me I cannot be. My baby is gone. I gave her away. How could I be a mother? I have stretch marks to prove it. I remember the birth. But everyone is telling me I am not a mother. How can that be? No. I am not a mother. To be a mother you must have a child, in front of you, with you. You must be raising the child. No I am not a mother. I don’t know why I have these stretch marks or this desire to hold a child but I am most definitely not a mother. Wait. Where is my baby? Oh my god, where is my child!
Identity comparison: Meeting other mothers via the internet caused me to challenge my confused state. Wait. They are a mother. They claim their child. Maybe I am one too? Maybe it’s okay to say that? But hold on, they aren’t Catholic. They aren’t white. They aren’t the same as me. They can say they are a mother but I cannot. Can I?
Identity tolerance: More mother friends. More reading. Some therapy. I begin to seek out and prefer the company of others like me. If they are okay, I am okay. We can be okay together. There is strength in numbers. I begin to realize and accept that having surrendered my child to adoption does not have to limit my options in life. There is support available to me and I actively seek out individuals who will understand, validate and respect who I am, what I did and what happened to me.
Identity acceptance: I start to come out to those outside my inner circle. I am anxious about this but I tentatively make steps toward self disclosure to select individuals. I find support in dealing with my grief and loss and start to realize that I was not wrong but what was done to me and my child was very wrong.
Identity pride: While the Cass Model for homosexuals suggests the ability to be proud of ones sexuality, I find it nearly impossible to be proud of my status as a mother who surrendered her child. I can be proud of my status as a survivor and am also proud of what I have done and continue to do for others.
And finally, identity synthesis: Integration and acceptance that my status as a mother who surrendered her child is not all of me. I am far more than what happened to me and my child. The experiences does not define me nor do others. I do.
When a member of my family learned of my pregnancy, they responded with “..it figures your mother didn’t teach you to keep your legs closed.” Guess what? She did not teach me to keep my mouth closed either.
I came out three times this week to friends or coworkers. One of them stated how impressed they were with my ability to do so. I responded by saying that for me, and for my sisters and our future daughters, I have no choice. It is healing for me and also, and perhaps more importantly, if I and my sisters do not come out of the closet, society will forever believe that needlessly separating mothers and children is a good thing.
It is not. Never has been. Never will be.
It must stop.