The Coming Out
by Stephen Measure
“Mom, we need to talk,” Meghan said and she sat down at the kitchen table, facing her mother.
“Is it about your rainbow-colored ponytail?” her mother said, closing her cookbook and looking up at Meghan. “Yes, it does make you look ridiculous.”
“What?” Meghan said, pulling her ponytail over her shoulder and holding it up. “I think it sends a positive message.”
Her mother snorted. “Sure, the same message Muslims in Jerusalem received when they saw the large cross the crusaders charged behind.”
Meghan’s eyes narrowed in confusion. “I don’t …”
“Never mind,” her mother said, waving away the digression. “So what do we need to talk about?”
“Mom,” Meghan said, pausing for dramatic effect. “I’m a pansexual.”
Her mother stared at her.
Meghan reached across the table and grabbed her mother’s hand. “Mom, did you hear me? I said I’m a pansexual.”
“No, you’re not,” her mother said.
Meghan retreated back into her seat, shock evident across her face. “What do you mean? You can’t say that! I’m telling you I’m a pansexual. You can’t just say ‘No, you’re not’!”
Her mother leaned back in her chair and folded her arms. The two stared at one another.
“So, you say you’re a pansexual,” her mother finally said.
“No, I’m not just saying that. I am that. I am a pansexual!”
Her mother rolled her eyes. “Prove it,” she said.
Meghan stared at her mother.
“What? What do you mean, ‘prove it’?” she said. “What do you expect me to do, make out with both a girl and a guy right in front of you?”
“That wouldn’t prove you’re a pansexual. That’d just prove you’re a … someone who is making bad moral decisions.”
“I can’t believe you told me to prove it like it’s some kind of scientific experiment. I knew you wouldn’t accept it. I knew you wouldn’t accept me. You didn’t act that way when Michael told you he was becoming a Catholic priest!”
“Thank you,” her mother said. “Thank you for reminding me that both of my children have chosen to turn away from the religion I raised them in.”
“That’s not what I was saying,” Meghan said. “I was just pointing out that you were supportive of Michael, even though he left your church. So why can’t you be supportive of me?”
“Supportive?” her mother said. “Meghan, I cried every night for a week. I know he’s an adult and can make his own decisions, but I always hoped … anyway, and now you come to me and claim to be a pansexual …”
“See, that’s what I mean!” Meghan said. “You didn’t doubt Michael. You didn’t ask him to prove anything. You accepted his decision! You accepted him.”
Meghan’s mother examined her for a moment before replying. “You really don’t understand the difference, do you?”
Meghan shook her head. “All I want is for you to accept me.”
“But I do accept you. You are my daughter. Of course I accept you. And I accept Michael, both of you. And I accept your right to choose your own path. You are adults now. I’ll always hope of course … but you are adults and I accept that. But I don’t accept your truth claims, neither yours nor Michael’s. And, frankly, you don’t have the right to demand that I do.”
“All I want is for you to accept me for who I am, a pansexual.”
Her mother started to roll her eyes again but stopped halfway. “Okay, so what’s a pansexual, Meghan? And don’t give me someone else’s Twit Tok definition. Tell me what you think a pansexual is.”
“A pansexual is someone who is attracted to people regardless of their gender,” Meghan said.
“What do you mean, ‘and’? That’s it. I’m attracted to people regardless of their gender.”
“Yes, but if that is all it means to be a pansexual, then I don’t see what all the fuss is about, and I don’t see how it causes an issue with the morals I raised you to follow either. So you’re attracted to girls, too? So what? Ignore that attraction and go find a nice guy to marry.”
“No, you don’t understand,” Meghan said. “I’m attracted to all genders! I’m a pansexual! It’s who I am. You’re asking me to reject who I am.”
“Ah,” her mother said, “and now we come to the point. According to you, a pansexual is more than just someone who is attracted to both genders. There are truth claims you’re hiding in that word that you just expect me to accept.”
“I don’t understand what you mean.”
“You aren’t just saying that you’re attracted to girls. You’re saying that that attraction is who you are. That’s a truth claim. Can you prove it?”
“Yes, because I’m a pansexual. That’s the proof.”
“No, that’s circular reasoning. You’re saying that your attraction to girls is part of who you are because you are a pansexual, and the proof of that is that you are a pansexual. The only thing that proves is I should have taught you better critical thinking skills.”
“I can’t believe we’re arguing about this,” Meghan said, throwing up her arms. “All I want is for you to accept what I am!”
“I accept that you believe you’re a pansexual,” her mother said.
“No, I am a pansexual. I want you to accept that I am a pansexual.”
“I can’t accept that,” her mother said, “because what you’re really asking me to do is to accept the truth claims you’ve embedded in that term. And I don’t accept them. I think you’re wrong, Meghan. I love you, but I think you’re wrong.”
Meghan shook her finger at her mother. “See!” She said. “You aren’t showing me the respect you showed to Michael! You didn’t tell him that you didn’t believe he was a Catholic priest! You didn’t tell him, ‘I believe that you believe you’re a Catholic priest!’”
“Why would I say that? He is a Catholic priest. That’s what he chose to become.”
Meghan gaped at her Mom and shook her head. “You’re going to just sit there calmly and admit that you’re treating me differently than Michael. I can’t believe this.” She crossed her arms and glared.
Her mother looked down at the table and drummed her fingers for a moment. Then she looked back up at Meghan. “You really don’t get it, do you?”
“I get that my mother doesn’t accept me for who I am,” Meghan said. “I get that you treat me like a second-class citizen.”
“Meghan,” her mother said, “what is a Catholic priest?”
“I’m not an idiot!” Meghan said. “You’re just sitting there, rolling your eyes and asking me stupid questions.”
Her mother held up her hands as a peace offering and gave a slight nod. “I admit that I’ve had a hard time taking some of what you said seriously, but I’m asking you a serious question here because I want to make a point. So tell me, what is a Catholic priest?”
“It’s a man that’s been ordained by the Catholic church,” Meghan said. “I guess he takes confessions and gives the sacrament and stuff like that.”
“And when Michael tells us that he’s a Catholic priest, what does he expect us to accept?”
“That he’s a Catholic priest! Just like I want you to accept that I’m a pansexual!”
“But put yourself in Michael’s shoes,” her mother said. “What does it mean to him to be a Catholic priest?”
“I don’t know,” Meghan said. “Why don’t you ask him?”
“I don’t need to ask him,” her mother said, “because I already have. You know Michael. He does what he does because he believes it’s right.”
“So now you’re saying that I don’t do things I think are right?”
Her mother held up her hand. “We’re talking about Michael here. Let me finish my point. Michael became a Catholic because he believes that religion is correct. He believes their truth claims. When he thinks of himself as a Catholic priest, he doesn’t think of himself like we think of him—because we’re not Catholics. But he is. He believes it. He believes he has been ordained with the priesthood of God, passed down through the Catholic church for centuries, all the way back to Peter. That’s a truth claim of the Catholic church. That’s a truth claim that Michael obviously believes.”
“So?” Meghan said. “What does that have to do with you not accepting me?”
“Meghan,” her mother said, “when Michael asks me to accept that he is a Catholic priest, does he expect me to accept all the truth claims about it that he has chosen to believe?”
“Exactly, and frankly he has never asked me to ‘accept’ that he is a Catholic priest. He told me he was converting to Catholicism and that he was becoming a priest. He wanted me to accept his choice, of course, but he didn’t use those words.”
“I don’t understand the difference.”
“The difference is the fence he allowed to be placed between us. Now sometimes the idea of a fence might seem negative, but think of the positive effect this has on our relationship. The fence separates our two yards, allowing us both to have our own. He, a Catholic, has his yard on his side of the fence. He can plant trees if he wants, or grass, or flowers, and he can do all that and still allow me, on my side of the fence, to tend my yard as I see fit. Don’t you see? The fence between us is the respect we show to each other that we acknowledge that both of us have the right to believe what we choose to believe.”
“But you don’t want him to stay Catholic. You want him to return to your church.”
“And I’m sure Michael would love for me to convert to Catholicism as well. That’s natural. We love each other; of course we would want the other to believe the same way we do about God and the meaning of life. But we also respect each other, so we give each other the ability to believe differently.”
“Then why don’t you show me that same respect?”
“Meghan, you have completely misread the situation. I am willing to show you that same respect. I told you, I accept that you believe you’re a pansexual. The problem here is that you aren’t willing to show me that same respect.”
“What are you talking about? I didn’t say you had to change your religion. I just asked you to accept that I’m a pansexual.”
“But the truth claims you’ve embedded into the word ‘pansexual’, the truth claims you are demanding I accept, are completely incompatible with my religion. I don’t believe that same-sex attraction is part of who you are. You feel it sure, just like I feel lots of wrong desires, just like everyone does. But that isn’t part of who we are.”
“But it is who I am. I’m a pansexual! You’re my mother and you’re supposed to accept who I am!”
Her mother raised her hands in exasperation. “And there it is. You don’t allow me the respect of a fence. You just march over into my yard and demand I let you rip up my grass so you can plant shrubs or trees or whatever you like in my yard. Well, you can’t do that, Meghan. You don’t have the right to do that. And frankly, I’m a little ashamed that I didn’t teach you better so that you could understand that.”
Meghan eyes stabbed at her mother. Silence filled the room.
“All I want,” Meghan said in a low voice, “is to know if you will accept me for who I am. I am a pansexual, Mother. Don’t you understand that I’m coming out to you? Don’t you understand how important this moment is for me? I’m asking for your support. I’m asking for your acceptance.”
Her mother sighed. “Meghan, I love you. You are my daughter, and I will always love you. But I don’t believe our attractions define who we are. So I don’t believe in pansexuality, not the way you believe in it. Just like I don’t believe in Catholicism, not the way Michael believes in it. But I still love Michael, and I still love you, and I always will. But when you believe differently about the meaning of life than someone that you love, it’s natural to always hope they will change their mind and come to agree with you. And I will always feel that way about you and about Michael. I’m your mother. I always will be.”
“That’s not good enough,” Meghan said, rising from her chair. “If you really loved me, then you would accept me for what I really am. You’re just a close-minded bigot. I’m ashamed you’re my mother.”
Meghan stormed out of the room, her rainbow ponytail trailing after her, the cape of a retreating crusader.
“I love you, Meghan!” her mother called after her. “I really do!”
The front door slammed
“Even when you’re being a selfish, immature brat …”
Update 09/06/2023: Fixed typos.