As we quickly approach the Supreme Court decisions affecting marriage equality, here’s another column from Judy Richard, who has been in the fight for binational couples with her wife Karin Bogliolo all this time.
Originally in HuffPost Gay Voices.
I spent a lot of years in the 1950s and ’60s as a tomboy. I wasn’t upset or concerned. It was who I was, and in spite of having to wear dresses when I didn’t want to, I got to wear pants and shorts a lot, so I don’t remember suffering too much.
My parents loved me the way I was; I have learned from so many that they didn’t have the same kind of childhood I did. I feel for them, big-time. My folks finally got it that I really didn’t want the same doll they gave my sister each year. I really did want that dump truck or whatever I had asked Santa for. By the time I got the dump truck, I was too old to really want it, but I know now in hindsight that it was an important passage for me and Mom and Dad. It was brought home to me big-time when I did get that Erector Set for my 12th birthday. Wow!
Through school, I never dressed or acted exactly like my female friends. I never had a boyfriend. I liked to talk to boys, but not in a flirty or dating way. I wanted to hang out with my friends, who happened to be the cheerleaders and pom-pom girls. So I was the school mascot one season for basketball. While the girls were excited to be around the boys on the team, I was happy to hang out with the cheer squad.
In college, I still hadn’t put the puzzle together. I went out with a guy I liked, but after three dates, he got that I wasn’t interested in more than being together. I liked him, but not the same way he wanted to like me. I think I must have been the most naïve female in the world.
It took years — too many years — for me to put it all together, and, like a ton of bricks, it was the first woman who pursued me who made it all clear. I was embarrassingly old, I thought, to be coming out: I had just finished grad school. But in the ’70s it still wasn’t as easy to come out as it is today. However, I am not saying it is guaranteed easy for anyone today, in spite of how much more information and public support there is. Everyone has his or her own journey, then and now.
Coming out to my mom was easy; in fact, I was upset that she seemed to know. I asked her why she didn’t tell me and help me figure it out. She told me that nothing had changed between us and that she always had and always would love me. Huge! And huger still because I was an adopted infant and always carried some of that rejection stuff inside me.
My dad was a different story. He told me that the only thing that he knew about homosexuals was that they hung out at public bathrooms looking for sex. I burst out laughing when he said it and asked him if he thought I was someone who would do that. He was not comfortable thinking about it in 1973, but over the years he learned and grew and became a staunch advocate and proud PFLAG supporter.
I lost Mom to cancer in 1992. Dad lasted more than a decade without her and passed in 2003.
I thought I wouldn’t come out to family anymore after that, except to whomever my niece would date or marry, probably.
But life has a funny way of shaking you up. In 2004 I tracked down my birth mother. She did not want to meet me, and I was sad. But later that year I found my birth father. He was shocked to find out about me but was ecstatic to meet me. He had lost contact with my birth mother, whom he’d considered his fiancée, in 1947, when he was working in another town. He’d returned home and hadn’t been able to find her or her family. And he never knew she was pregnant.
So the thrill of having parents again came with the duty and task of coming out. I told my birth father and his current wife (my bonus mom!) that I needed them to know who I really am so that we wouldn’t have any problems later on. They were not upset. They welcomed me. They said everyone deserves to be happy. I was glad and more than stunned.
From there I came out to three brothers in my dad’s family (same dad, different mother). My sister in that family had already died before her 45th birthday. Then I came out to a sister and brother and their families in my bonus mom’s family — no blood relation, but that doesn’t matter to me!
Then it started getting more interesting. I met my wife Karin in 2005. That meant I had more family: her daughter and family in England, and her son in Scotland. They know me as Mum Number 2 and Grandmum Number 2. I like that!
By then I thought we were at the end of the road. My birth mother had told me that no one knew about me, but that turned out to be wrong. In 2011 I was shocked when I got an email with this subject line “I believe you are my sister” — from a man in Virginia. I am his sister: We have the same mother but different fathers. We look very much alike. In this family, I am again the oldest. But unlike my birth father, my birth mother always knew about me. She just thought no one else did.
A well-placed and discreet message after my birth mother’s death led this “newest” brother to find me via Google. He found me thanks to all the results about my LGBT advocacy and my book about same-sex binational families, published in 2011. All he had to go on was my parents’ last name. Since I never changed it, he got lucky. If I had changed it through marriage, I doubt I would have met him, his wife, his daughter and her husband.
My family tree is so unique that everyone tells me I need to make a map that people can follow. Maybe I will one day. But right now I am still going through my journey. I know how sad I was to lose my folks, never thinking I would have parents again. I know how sad I was to hear that my birth mother didn’t want to meet me. Then I know how excited I was to hear that my birth father wanted to meet me — and keep seeing me! The rest is all good.
As the oldest of 11 children in four families in America, I now have nieces and nephews galore, in addition to the one I have known since her birth. I have sisters to add to the one I have grown up with. I have brothers too. The brother I had, my sister’s husband, died too early, from cancer in 2010.
And the UK family is a big bonus. I want a family that knows who I really am; that’s the only way to be. So coming out six times was more than I ever dreamed — but wow, did it pay off!