When we don’t have a shared lived experience with others, it can cause us to develop a blind spot. When that happens, we tend to lack compassion for the ways the people around us are struggling. Until recently, I’d considered myself to be very open and accepting. That made me blind to how difficult it was for my LGBTQIA friends and family to come out and be out. In an effort to understand and get educated, I sat down with one of my closest friends, Dionne, and her wife, Millie, and asked if they would share their stories with me.
Dionne is one of the most loyal and loving people I know. In over two decades of friendship, I’ve never heard her once say an unkind word about anyone, no matter how she felt about them. Admittedly, I had no idea during our time on active duty that Dionne was gay. I found out on Facebook after she and the Air Force parted ways. Through this interview I came to understand that just living life as she is, sans fanfare or announcements, is just part of the package. I’d never met her wife, Millie, before this interview. I knew that if Dionne loved her, she must be incredible. After speaking with her, incredible doesn’t even begin to describe her. She’s a vibrant, fascinating, and energetic being that just lights up whatever room she’s in. I could not imagine anyone not loving everything about her. Little did I know that once she began her story, this beautiful stranger with whom I had no prior emotional connection, would take me on a ride that would break my heart and then put it together again.
Tell me about how you came out.
Dionne: I guess I was attracted to women since elementary school. Of course, that was during the ‘80s. I never even thought about coming out. I didn’t know what the hell coming out was. But I had the feelings. I got to high school and had my first experience. I had a couple of girlfriends. I had this one particular girlfriend that wrote me a letter. I brought the letter home. I don’t know how but my mom found the letter. I can’t remember exactly what it said but I denied everything. I said I don’t know why this girl wrote me that letter, I don’t like girls. I denied that ****. This was right before I joined the Air Force. When I left, I just did what I did. They didn’t see it, so it was like, out of sight, out of mind. But gradually over the years, I would bring girls home here and there. Once you’re of age, it’s really whatever it is, that’s what it is. My mom wasn’t happy about it.
At what point did you finally tell her?
I never verbally said it to my mother. She just became acclimated to it over the years. With me not living at home since 19 or so, I didn’t have to worry about them (the family). I was just doing what I did.
Was it difficult for you to navigate life on active duty?
Because it was “don’t ask, don’t tell,” I couldn’t do certain things on base. But I was still seeing people and dating people.
Millie, did you actually come out?
Millie: I didn’t come out, I was outed. My mom found out because she saw me in a car in a compromising position with the girl I was seeing at that time.
That must have been awkward.
She didn’t really react in a negative way. She just told me to make sure that whoever I was with treated me right.
Your parents weren’t together by that time, correct? How did your dad find out?
They weren’t together then. I was living with my dad full-time. One morning as I was sleeping, he came into my room with some McDonald’s breakfast for me. He also had a camera. At the time, I didn’t put two and two together. I was just sitting there eating my McMuffin. He said he’d been taking some pictures and he wanted to look at them. He said, “I was scrolling through them and I saw this one”. It was a picture of me sitting in my girlfriend’s lap. I just told him I was sorry he had to see that. He asked who she was, I told him that was my girlfriend. I never lied about it, I didn’t deny it.
How did he react?
He didn’t find it amusing or to be a good thing, at all. He started telling me how I was taught better than that and I’d gone to too many Christian schools and I know my bible too well to be dating girls. He said maybe he needed to rethink letting me go to Xavier because they had too many gay people as it is. He said I was going straight to the pits of hell.
I only had my permit at the time, and he took all of my driving privileges away. Now he wanted to drop me off and pick me up and during that time, he would just berate me and tell me I was going to hell. I remember one time I told him I’m not talking about this anymore. I don’t understand what the problem is because I’ve always been like this. How can you tell me there’s a God up there, that is all love, and he would create millions of gay people and then hate them and send them to hell? That’s not a loving God.
Over time, it just became worse and worse. I tried to avoid any conversations about it. But he was not avoiding anything. It didn’t matter if it was the middle of the night, if I was brushing my teeth, he was talking about it. And then he got to the point where when anything went wrong in his life, things that didn’t have anything to do with me at all, he would blame me being gay. And that’s the reason why everything was going south.
An incident occurred that resulted in me packing up whatever I could and leaving like a thief in the night to my girlfriend’s house. We hadn’t even been dating for six months. I didn’t talk to my daddy for two years after that happened, which allowed me to, you know, start to kind of build a little bit of a relationship with my mom. When me and my girlfriend broke up four years later, I moved in with my mom. And when I finally did start to build a relationship with my dad again, it was conditional. We could have a relationship, but I had to “not be gay.” So I didn’t really talk about it. When I finally started dating someone else, he was a little bit more accepting of her because she was feminine presenting. We looked like we could be just two friends hanging out or two sisters out or whatever. It didn’t bother him as much because everybody wouldn’t look at me and immediately see “gay” because I wasn’t with someone who “looked gay.” And he would always tell me, “I’m going to pray for your soul like any good parent would and make sure I tell you what’s right and wrong and let you know that what you’re doing is going to send you to hell.” We went through all that rigmarole up until 2019. That year, I sat my daddy down and told him I was moving here. And I was like, I’m moving to DC, to be with my girlfriend.
Dionne and I got engaged in October that year. I told my dad, hey, I’m getting married. When it was time for me to invite him to the wedding, he was like, oh, I thought you were already married. Why would I get married and not invite you to my wedding… please! Even though I always thought my dad isn’t coming to a (gay) wedding, he is not walking me down the aisle, I already know that. That’s okay. I had come to a place of peace when it came to him not really being in my life. Little did I know, he was combing through his Bible trying to figure out how he could make it to this wedding. So, the night before the wedding, my daddy drove 20 hours to DC, told nobody, and was like, I’m here. You’re where?? (Recalling this moment elicited the sweet girlish giggle of a true daddy’s girl). He came all the way to DC from Louisiana to be at my wedding. We’re in a great place now.
I wish I had the coming out story that was all loving and everybody just accepted me. I wish it didn’t take years for my coming out story to come to a completion. But I was 34 years old. My dad has finally got to a point where he accepts me and accepts Dionne. He calls her daughter now.
What would you tell other people who may be experiencing what you did before you were out?
You have to learn how to set boundaries. Also speak up for yourself to your parents, which is very hard. Usually your family is the one who is inflicting the most trauma and pain on you with their own belief system. I need people to know that you can do it.