She woke up early enough to see the sunrise. Slowly, she opens the window in the bachelor apartment she shared with her girlfriend. She just wanted to sit on the window sill and smoke a cigarette while the dawn broke. Her hands were shaking, making it almost impossible to get her lighter to spark enough to ignite the end of her cigarette.
‘Careful now’ she whispered to herself. She inhaled deeply and exhaled with the unlit smoke in her mouth. Finally, she steadied her hands enough to get it lit. She took a long inhale of the nicotine, and she sat in the window, making sure to blow the smoke out the window. Her eyes lingered over the quiet city streets, and she smiled slightly. There was something so beautiful to her about the early morning silence, almost like she wasn’t living in a major city. She looked back to the bed where Bella laid with her golden hair pooled on the pillow. There was nothing in the world she loved more than Bella but today was Sunday, and she always dreaded Sundays.
Sunday meant getting up early, so early that she never really slept the night before. To be honest, it wasn’t the time she had to get up; it was the fact that when she awoke, she had to pretend to be something she wasn’t.
That was the problem of being a lesbian in a family that didn’t believe in homosexuality. A family so dedicated to the word of God, that to even fathom that their daughter could be gay would give her parents a heart attack.
“Women don’t fall for other women Gwen,” her mother had said to her. “Tell me in the bible where it says two women or two men belong together?”
“Tell me where it doesn’t say that,” she had challenged her mother.
“Don’t be ridiculous. You’re just young. You have no idea what you’re saying, and unless you want to kill your father and grandparents, I suggest you keep this to yourself. Lord knows I definitely won’t be repeating this conversation,” her mother walked away before anything else could be said.
Gwen leans against the side of the window, that memory burning her throat worse than any cigarette ever did. Looking over at Bella again, she thinks about the fight they had just last night.
“I don’t understand why you even bother to go to those homophobic, sociopathic assholes house anymore. Really Gwen! Your parents are awful. They don’t even acknowledge who you are,” Bella had slammed the kitchen cabinet. It wasn’t that she was mad at Gwen, she was pissed that Gwen’s parents were trying to make her feel bad about something that wasn’t even wrong. People fall in love, every day and no one tells them how to do it. They just love and are loved, and that’s what parents should want for their children. At least that’s what Bella’s parents had taught her. When she came out to them, they hugged her. They told her they loved her. They promised that no matter what they would be there. That’s what a parent should do; not make their children feel as if there is something inherently wrong with them if they decide to love someone of the same gender.
“I get it Bella, I do. I know you never wanted to be with someone who wasn’t out to their family, but I’m sorry that’s not an option here. We live our lives here, and then I only have to be there on Sundays. Who cares that for those six hours I’m just the Gwen they know?” Gwen had said back. She was tired of having this argument every Saturday.
“But they don’t know you, Gwen. If they’re ignoring a major part of you, then they don’t know you. I am a major part of your life. We live together for Christ sake!” Bella sat at the edge of the bed.
“B come on. Why is this such a big deal?” Gwen swallowed hard. She knew why it was a big deal. She knew that her family was ignoring a major detail about her had led her down some dark paths. At 32, Gwen had been through some dark times in her 20s. Even now, there are times she reaches for the bottle when she knows she shouldn’t. Sometimes she just needs to drown out the voice in her head that was telling her that there was something inherently wrong with her.
“Gwen you need to stop going there. You need to tell them the truth and then be OK with walking away and never seeing them again. You don’t need them,” Bella says.
“You’re telling me to abandon the people are my family. My blood,” Gwen replies getting increasingly angrier.
“No, I’m telling you to leave behind the people who make you want to drink till your liver explodes. I want you to leave behind the hate and just live here with me in love. Together we are a family. You don’t need them,” Bella says exasperatedly.
Gwen had thrown on her jacket at that point.
“Gwen I just- I just love you, and I hate watching you go through this mental torment,” Bella stood and placed a hand on Gwen’s forearm.
“I know. I need some air,” Gwen replied before giving Bella a quick smile.
That was the problem with her family, Gwen thought, shaking the memory of last night out of her thoughts, they were poisoning everything even when they weren’t around. She didn’t understand that in this day and age, how her family could display such hatred to anything that wasn’t ‘hetero-normal.’ Bella was right; they weren’t a family to her anymore. They were people who hated the very core of her being. She was in love with another woman, and her parents weren’t going to ever accept that.
She let out a long breath and put out the cigarette in the ashtray she kept on the fire escape. She had never admitted to anyone the pain she felt that was almost physical every time she had to dress up to go to her parent’s place. She never told anyone that her skin crawled when she stepped foot into a church that had preached how wrong the very core of her being was. She never told anyone other than Bella about the time she almost took her life at 16. Or when she tried to take her life again at 24 after her parents tried to set her up with a man from their church. She understood why Bella hated them so much but what Gwen couldn’t understand was her blinding allegiance to people who unknowingly inherently hated her.
She had sat through dinners listening to her parents discuss the epidemic of gay marriage. When it was legalized in the US, Gwen had celebrated with her closest friends. The next day she was sat across from her parents, listening to how the homos were making a mockery of marriage. That was the moment she started to become numb to her family’s comments. Instead of trying to defend herself and a community she loved, she sat there quiet. Choosing to be silent at that moment made her hate herself even more. She hated the fact she couldn’t just tell her parents to just shut the fuck up! She wanted to yell at them to stop judging people they never even knew or ever gave a chance. These people they were categorizing as less than were exactly that; people. People that have nothing wrong with them. People who love just as much and just the same as everyone else.
The rhetoric that was spewed from alt-right politicians and hate from their supports that the LGBTQ+ were considered plagues on society had gone on long enough. Gwen didn’t understand the amount of hate that was still in people’s hearts in regards to a community that never did anything to anyone else. They just wanted to be who they were and be accepted. What’s wrong with that? Not a damn thing but here we are in 2018, acting like we’re back in the 1950s where people have to pretend to be something they’re not to be accepted.
‘Maybe that’s the biggest lie of all,’ Gwen thought, ‘That we think we’ve come so far only to head full speed backward. Maybe we can only progress so much before we just revert to old ways where freedom wasn’t actually a thing, only an idea we were pushing because it sounded great. We live in the truest lie of all time that we’re free to be who we are. Because in actual fact we’re hated if we’re at all different from what society deems as normal.’
The sun had broken free from it’s night time imprisonment and was now shining directly down on Gwen. She sighs then stands to get dressed for church and lunch with her family. All of the things she wished she could say are covered by acceptable natural looking makeup. She looks at Bella one last time before she walks out to door to travel to see a family she never felt a part of. Maybe one day she’ll be able to scream the truth at them and walk away without turning back. But not today. Today she was going to bury her true self and be what her family wanted her to be, no matter how soul-crushing it was. In her heart she knew, that one day this world was going to wake up and realize that no matter who you love or what color you are, you’re a human and that’s what everyone has in common. So even though she walked towards people who held deep hatred in their heart, she knew that the world was filled with beautiful, loving people and for today that was enough for her.