KINGSTON – Dana Speesler, who graduated from the University of Rhode Island in May, agreed to speak to The Jewish Voice about her experience coming out as a lesbian to her Jewish family. Excerpts follow:
Q. Tell me about your parents. What is your relationship with them?
A. I would say we have a decent relationship. They’re older than most parents and we aren’t too close.
Q. When did you decide to come out to your family?
A. I was 16 when I realized I wasn’t the “straightest,” but I didn’t come out as bisexual until I went to college. It was a couple of years after that that I came out as a lesbian. I was part of a Jewish youth group growing up and I actually learned a lot about myself when I was there. They were really accepting and welcoming people.
Q. How do you think being Jewish affected your experience?
A. I feel I was blessed by the fact that Judaism is more understanding in the matters of LGBT issues in the United States. I was raised a Conservative Jew, so it was more traditional teachings in Hebrew School and LGBT issues weren’t really talked about positvely or negatively.
Q. How did you decide to tell them and how did they react?
A. I thought it would be best to tell my parents seperately, so I did. I told my mom that I was bisexual and it got very awkward. She was in complete shock – but she wasn’t angry. She proceeded to ask me really bizarre questions. She asked me if I was ever going to tell her I was “fully gay.” As for my dad, I wrote him a note instead of saying it in person and he never asked me about it. He has other things to worry about. I’m actually thankful there weren’t any questions asked. My family just tells me, “Make sure you marry someone Jewish!”
Q. Have things changed since then?
A. They’ve become more accepting, but they still don’t ask questions. My mom automatically assumes I’m dating any female friend I bring home, even if we’re just friends. She has asked whether we should sleep in different rooms.
Q. How did your family act the first time you brought a girlfriend home? Did they accept her right away or was it difficult?
A. I told my mom, “Oh, I’m bringing my girlfriend for lunch.” She assumed I meant just a friend who was a girl, not a girl I was dating. I had to explain it to her and that was a little awkward. My mom tried too hard at first and it was sort of uncomfortable. But it got progessively better and she started treating her the same as my friends.
Q. Are you currently in a relationship? How does your family act around your current girlfriend?
A. Yes, I am, and it’s better than it was before. My dad actually warmed up to her. My mom makes him say “Hi” to her. We have real conversations now and they ask how she is all the time.
Q. How about with the rest of your family?
A. I have a small family – and they all happen to be very liberal. I have a really supportive aunt who found out [my sexuality] from Facebook and she sent me a message asking for advice for someone she knew who was struggling with coming out. My Nana talks about gay marriage all the time.
Q. Would you say that coming out to your family was a positive or negative experience?
A. More positive than negative … you hear the horror stories and mine was not like that. It’s easier after you come out and I didn’t want to keep being secretive.
Q. What was the most difficult thing about coming out?
A. Not knowing what was going to happen or whether it was going to be a positive or negative experience was difficult to deal with.
Q. Did you find any support from Jewish groups on campus?
A. I went to URI Hillel and they were always very supportive, regardless of anyone’s orientation, especially Amy Olson. They coordinate events with the LGBTQ [Center] all the time to show their support.
Q. Do you have any advice for young people thinking about coming out?
A. Be prepared for any situation. You never know what could happen and it could be the opposite of what you expect. Do it as soon as you need to but don’t get yourself kicked out of your house. Be aware of your situation because it is different for everyone.
Q. Do you have any advice for parents and relatives if their child comes out as LGBT?
A. Be supportive regardless of your beliefs. Remember that it’s not about you but your child. It’s not about how you personally feel. Reassure them that you still love them.
For more information: call the LGBTQ Center at 874-2894 or email Director Annie Russell (email@example.com).
Justin Willner (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a fifth-year journalism student at URI.