by Michaella Rose Soria
I came out to my mother the year I turned eighteen.
Surprise! I would have said, but I had a feeling she’d already known. Coming out was only just a formality, really—my girlfriend and I were half a year into our relationship, and we had already broken the news to her parents five months prior (to which they responded in their progressive, graceful ways: “Cool!”) until it was my side of the family that was left. I decided to do it on New Year’s. I wanted my mom to know from me, but she was away at a day party and I felt like I couldn’t wait.
So I texted her.
Texting her the first few lines, I remembered the first time I asked my mom if I could cut my hair short. She had just picked me up from school, and I couldn’t have been older than sixteen. Two of my friends had gotten theirs cut, and I remembered pulling the strands around my fingers, my hair like heavy chains bunched up at the top, and I had dug my shoes into the car mat and asked.
“No,” my mom said flatly.
It was deflating, and I could have just let it slide, but my mom had a short pixie and it felt a little hypocritical of her to have told me this so I had said, a bit more brashly, “But why not?” and then the car had slowed at the stoplight, and my mom stared straight ahead and her arms were rigid and she said my name in the way parents do, low and threatening and all-knowing.
“Because I will be upset,” she said, and we drove away.
I never knew the actual boundaries I had with my mother. In my childhood I had spoken to her the way someone would walk around broken glass. She had a fiery temper and I had been at the receiving end of her outbursts. When we fought it was always about my shortcomings. About my grades, my behavior, my attitude. Maybe it was the stress of being a single mother, juggling between caring for me and finding her own footing in life. When I was in grade school she would be gone for long bouts of time, leaving me with my grandmother, and I never really felt like I had to be sad about it because I didn’t remember a time where she had stayed.
I wasn’t sure what my mother was hiding from me, or what she was running away from. I only knew she was different. I had gotten bits and pieces of her during my years growing up. Her hair was always short; no longer than a pixie bob. She had always shopped at the men’s section, had more than three piercings on each ear. My titas and titos, her friends—they looked no less different. I didn’t see my mother as strange, but a part of me felt she was ashamed of showing that side of her to our family.
But I couldn’t get why my mom wouldn’t let me do this single thing, this stupid haircut. I would borrow my mom’s clothes until she was getting me less of the blouses and more of the polos. I started tying my hair. I ignored makeup. I made friends with people who dressed like me in school. My transformation must have gotten to her, so she would tolerate me only to an extent: my hair lay on the fringes of her boundaries. Cutting it meant anarchy, a clear-cut symbol of disobedience and disrespect.
I finished the text with some minutes to spare before noon, sending the message without much of a proofread. My heart was beating too fast. I could only think of that conversation in the car, years ago, and the way my mother looked at me.
It was evening when she returned. My mom opened the door to my room, and I expected the worst, but she came to my side and took me in her arms as if I was a small child again, whispering I know, I know, I love you, I know, and she hugged me with a tenderness I hadn’t felt in years.
“I thought I was making you like this,” my mom said, “And I hated myself for it.” “Why?” I didn’t know it then, but I was crying.
“The things I went through… I didn’t want you to go through it, too.”
And then the pieces were starting to fit in. Fear masked by disappointment, a turmoil she didn’t know how to deal with, terrified of her daughter falling into a pit she had only started climbing out of. It made sense then, I think, that when I came out to my mother, she came out to me, too.