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What Do You Do When Your Best Friend Tells You She Might Be Gay?

I’ve known Maggie since we were freshmen in high school. We’re now both married moms who don’t get to see much of each other because she lives in a different state. But occasionally she comes back to California to visit her parents who still live here.

When I first met Maggie she really bugged me. She was so freaking chipper all the time, especially first thing in the morning. I’d arrive on-campus at 8 a.m. still half-dead, being a night owl who stayed up late to watch horny Benny Hill reruns, and there Maggie would be in homeroom, bouncing cheerfully off-the-walls wanting to instantly talk really really really fast! And did she mention she was sooo excited to just greet the sunrise and all of the possibilities before her for that one so very special day?

One time, in first period wood shop, I told her if she didn’t lower the decibels of her morning greeting I was going to put her head in one of the C-clamps on the lathing table and tighten the screws. Somehow she put up with my early morning homicidal tendencies and we’ve been friends ever since.

Then recently, on her last visit to California sans family, we went out for lobsters and beers at Shutters in Santa Monica and she confessed she was struggling in her marriage. This surprised me because the last time we’d seen them all they’d seemed so in sync and happy.

Then she added the kicker. She told me she was beginning to wonder if she might be gay. There was a girlfriend in her life back home she found herself attracted to.

I was completely blindsided. Maggie looked and sounded exactly the same, but it was as though she’d shape-shifted into something unfamiliar. And worse still, this admission suddenly colored the unfurling pageant of memories I had of our friendship. All of those nights we lay side-by-side in one of our beds giving each other massages and tickles as we shared confidences about our lame love lives took on new meaning.

Had she known she was gay then and did she just make those crushes up? Did she feel attracted to me? Which was followed swiftly by, What’s wrong with you for thinking this way? Aren’t you a proponent for gay rights? Aren’t you thrilled that gays can now get legally married in California if they really want to jump in the crucible with the rest of us? Yes and yes. Then what the hell is wrong with you? Are you suddenly an anti-gay born-again bigot? No, no and no.

Months earlier my gay friend Mark, who came out in his early twenties, told me he wasn’t ashamed anymore of being gay, but he was still ashamed of keeping it a secret from his family and closest friends for so long. He said the feeling of being a fraud and of feeling he had lied by omission was devastating. At the time I didn’t get it. What did his being gay have to do with his parents and friends? Why was it any of their business? But now, sitting across from Maggie, I got it.

I couldn’t help feeling that Maggie had betrayed me. That our friendship, if not a lie, had somehow not been entirely true. That our trust was breached.

Since Maggie’s gone home our history together passes before my eyes in dreams at night, as though my subconscious brain is knitting together the rupture in things as I thought they were and things as they really are. In waking moments I rewind the tapes of our friendship again and again, looking for something.

I don’t even know exactly what I’m looking for. The truth? I suspect I won’t find it in the past. I’ll have to find the right time and place to talk to Maggie about my feelings in the future. Which seems narcissistic and self-involved when I consider that she’s grappling with the more serious problem of the future of her marriage.

But I think being willing to have awkward conversations with the people you love is a sure sign of how committed you are to the relationship. And that sometimes these awkward conversations can lead to more honest and closer friendships.

Has a friend ever divulged information you didn’t quite know how to handle? And what did  you finally do?

(Names and some facts have been altered to protect identity.)

LYLA AND ROWAN

Girlfriends are one of my dearest possessions. My daughter Clare with one of her closest friends.


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6 comments

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  1. joanne
    joanne 11 September, 2013, 14:23

    Shannon,
    I had a friend from high school that I reconnected with over a dozen years after graduation. She soon after married and moved away for a couple of years. When she returned, it was obvious that there were issues in her marriage, but I was truly shell shocked when she confided that she was attracted to a mutual friend of ours who happened to be gay. That attraction was reciprocated and they met at my condo to confess their feelings while I walked my dog around the block for what seemed like hours. I felt very guilty. My friend from high school had a history – anorexia and addictions – and I felt that all the chaos that would follow – the divorce, coming out to her family – would be detrimental to her mental health and overall well-being. They were together four or five years and it ended when my friend left the state for almost six months of rehab. She had never come out to her family (except one sister) and I think that certainly contributed to her return to full blown anorexia and prescription pill addiction, which she successfully hid for a while.
    Not that her sexuality was the cause of her issues, more so the denial of her sexuality was her burden. She had an affair in college with an older woman and soon after attempted suicide for the first time. Her conservative Baptist upbringing had imprinted on her that homosexuality was not only a sin, but a perversion, and she struggled with her secret. I don’t think your friend was dishonest in your early years. It’s plausible that she didn’t realize, or would not let herself, her attraction to women until she met the ‘right’ one. All you can do is love her and support her in this difficult time.
    Sorry this is so long, this topic is dear to my heart.
    Best to you,
    Joanne

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    • Shannon
      Shannon Author 11 September, 2013, 15:05

      Hi Joanne — thanks so much for your input. Especially this: “I don’t think your friend was dishonest in your early years. It’s plausible that she didn’t realize, or would not let herself, her attraction to women until she met the ‘right’ one.” Many of my gay friends have told me they knew they were gay from a very young age, but that’s certainly not the case with everyone. I know she wasn’t trying to lie to me and I know how dangerous it can be to confide about your sexuality to certain people. I was actually quite mad at myself for my initial discomfitted reaction.

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  2. Donna
    Donna 13 September, 2013, 11:57

    I am glad you realize that she wasn’t trying to lie to you, and I thank you for writing about this experience with your usual honesty and humor. I’ve been in similar situations and had to talk myself through some of the same emotions; maybe it is a factor of the world we grew up in, which I hope is changing for the better. I know my daughter and her friends are so much more open and accepting than my generation was. It’s a beautiful thing to see, and some day we may all catch up with them. 🙂

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  3. Bob
    Bob 17 September, 2013, 14:00

    (I came across your blog via Jenny’s – The Blogess. This issue you’re discussing here has a special resonance with me because I have a child (adult now) that is gay, and another that is bisexual (adult too). I have seen what this society can do to gay people.)

    I moved into town my junior year in high school – 1978. I soon became good friends – best friends, even – with (let’s call him) John. John and I were both in band. We were both Explorer Scouts. We spent a lot of time together – we even double dated a good bit.

    When we graduated high school we went our separate ways, him to one college me to another, but we would meet when we were both in town. Then sometime that first year in college he invited me to visit and spend the weekend. He took me around and introduced me to all of his friends. That evening after supper he said he wanted to talk to me. That’s when he told me he was gay. although he had always dated girls he told me that it hadn’t felt right. That he had discovered his true nature at school. He was so nervous at my reaction that he had a friend with him when he told me. I told him that it didn’t matter to me, that our friendship was not effected in any way and that my feelings for him were the same as before.

    Since that time, every time we were both in town we would still get together and he would take me to the gay bars (that I had no idea existed!) in town and we would dance & have a great time. I would be asked to dance by the other guys – and I did, even though I subsequently had to turn down offers to go out. John would “defend” me from their sexual advances telling them I really was just a friend, and really was straight.

    We have since moved on, each building our own lives. We have somewhat kept up with each other, occasionally exchanging messages on Facebook. Life, not his coming out of the closet, caused us to gradually lose touch.

    Before you sit down and have this heart-to-heart with your friend, maybe you should spend some more time figuring out how you feel about it and why. As you say, she is the one who really has problems – trying to figure out how this will change (or end?) her marriage and her life in general. What she really needs from you right now is your whole-hearted acceptance and support and not someone else who is upset at her. Maybe later when she is more settled (and if you still are conflicted) you can talk to her about this change and how it has affected you.

    Right now, make it all about her and how you have her back.

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