After my niece told me she was gay years ago, she asked me if I was okay.
It was a surprisingly complex, emotional, beautiful moment, and I wasn’t okay, but not for the reason she seemed to think.
I didn’t care that she was gay—not that my opinion should ever matter about desires of her heart.
Giving it space, I took my time responding. Not long enough to send her anxiety level through the roof, but long enough to stroll around the whole thing in my mind, loudly strumming that chord of how could I not have known?
Then, the conversation went something like this:
Me: No, I’m not okay. I’m sitting here trying to figure out why you didn’t tell me who you were and I’m hurt that you didn’t trust me with your truth.
Niece: When I was a teen, my mom was horrified and shamed me. After that, I kept it a secret.
I wanted to say that while I have been civil, I had never liked her mother and liked her even less for her shitty, unsupportive reaction, but it seemed inappropriate in the moment.
Me, smiling: What’s that have to do with me?
Niece, shrugging: Nothing.
Me: And why did you let me use the wrong pronoun for your dates for so long? Now, I feel stupid.
Niece, head hung: Sorry.
It didn’t occur to me until later that for the year before she came out to me, she had been using the pronoun “they” when describing her crushes, something that had grated my English-major soul. Again, I felt like a dummy. She had been passively trying to tell me, and I’d been silently grading her English instead of deciphering code.
Me: You dwell in my heart. I love you. Period.
Niece, smiling: Okay…okay.
Me: I’m proud of you. That took a look of courage and vulnerability. Anything else you want to tell me?
Niece, laughing: No, not that I can think of.
Me, laughing: Okay then, let’s get lunch.