by Sarah Rutledge Fisher
I’m a 28-year-old lesbian, and up until a few weeks ago, I was a grad student living in university housing and working towards my PhD. It wasn’t glamorous, but I was out and independent. In March, my university closed down all housing to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. With no other options, I went back to my hometown to ride this out with my mother and her boyfriend, Craig.
Mom and Craig are fundamentalist evangelicals and believe that being gay is immoral. Ugh. They know I’m gay, but both pretend they don’t know, ignore any mention of my sexuality, and make loud homophobic jokes in my presence.
I know I’m lucky to have a roof over my head, but I think if this goes on much longer, I’m going to lose it. How do I come out the other side with my identity and my sanity intact?
Lesbo in Homophobic-Lockdown-Land
Dear Lesbo in H.E.L.L.,
This pandemic has turned life on its head, even for the luckiest among us. Right now you are suffering loss of independence and identity, on top of having to confront daily alienation by the very people who are supposed to love and support you. None of us know for sure how soon the pandemic situation will end, so let’s make a plan for your survival while you do your part by staying home.
First, if you’ve read my column before, you won’t be surprised that I urge you to take care of the only thing you can truly control here—yourself. Focus on the basics: a regular bedtime and 7-8 hours of sleep; wholesome food that includes some fruit and vegetables; and some physical movement (out in the sunshine, if possible). And, of course, don’t neglect your mental health. If you can, make a regular phone or video appointment with an LGBTQ+ affirming therapist. (To find one, reach out to your local LGBTQ+ community organization for a referral or try an online counseling platform like Pride Counseling, pridecounseling.com). If that isn’t in your budget, then try at least to add a mindfulness practice to your daily routine to increase your resilience and calm.
Second, when you are by yourself, be aggressive about staying connected to your
queer identity. Lean into lesbian culture like you never have before. Read LGBTQ+ fiction, listen to queer music, watch lesbian comedians and films. And you don’t have to connect to your identity in isolation. Reach out to people you know or people you don’t know who are in similar situations. If you are single, consider some virtual online dating. Whatever your comfort zone, the point is to root your identity strongly within yourself, so that its negation by your mother and Craig doesn’t leave you feeling invisible.
When you are with your mother and Craig, set firm boundaries, refusing to engage with any of their aggressive or passive aggressive behavior. And give yourself permission to be a bit in the closet while you are stuck in the house with them. Think about the advice often given to young teens living with homophobic parents—not to come out if doing so will threaten their physical or emotional security. You aren’t a teenager, and you are already out, but your emotional security is under threat by the people who control your living space. Now may be a time to retreat and detach instead of spending your energy on a full out attack.
Finally, if you feel up to it, take a few steps towards extricating yourself from your situation. It may feel impossible in this time of uncertainty, and if so, that’s okay. But if
planning an escape fills you with a sense of hope and control, take some practical steps—get a sense of your financial resources and obligations; contact your university about any plans they have to reopen graduate student housing.
No one knows if or when things will return to normal, but things will change, and if you take care of yourself and keep your heart focused on the future, when that time comes, you will be ready. That should get you started.
To submit your own question, email Allie at Allie@focusmidsouth.com.
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