June 18, 2019

Why I Won't Come Out to My Grandma

“Arielle and i have gone through the motions dozens of times. On Christmas Day, the gig is no different. My partner and I walk into my childhood home in the suburbs of north Toronto, waltz into the basement living room, and find my grandmother perched on a leather armchair in the corner. We greet her with a kiss on each cheek, and we humour her as she eyes us up and down and remarks on our thin frames. “Così bella,” she comments. Then, without fail, in her signature southern Italian accent: “You are the two sisters!” It’s intended to be a compliment, one that suggests we are of equal beauty. Instead, it belittles the very nature of our four-year relationship, reducing it to a bond of sorority instead of romantic devotion.

In the moment, neither Arielle nor I betray these feelings to Nonna. How could we? Just one look at her tiny shoulders and her round, chocolate-brown eyes, sends guilt simmering into my stomach. I choke back my biting words—we look nothing alike—and clench my jaw. Arielle giggles, fake and airy, and I sense her discomfort immediately; I watch her back straighten, teeth wired shut. We stand a metre apart, creating the unconscious distance the seventy-nine-year-old matriarch of my family has pushed on us. There’s nothing gay to see here.

For years, I have kept my sexuality a secret from Nonna, my father’s mother. Born and raised in the rolling hills of Calabria, Italy, she has lived a life of tradition, of fulfilling expectations. Queerness doesn’t exist in her world, and when it tries to break in, it doesn’t goes over well. I learned, as a young teenager, of a family friend whose daughter came out; she was in love, tired of hiding. Her mother disowned her, and Nonna applauded the decision—any other reaction would have been sinful. Grappling with my own sexuality, I made the choice at fourteen: while I’d eventually come out to my parents, brother, friends, and extended family, I would never come out to Nonna. I hoped, perhaps morbidly, that she’d die before she could ever attend my wedding.”

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