A while back, I “unfriended” one of my dearest cousins. I didn’t do it in a fit of anger. Instead, I purposefully walked away and thoroughly considered the situation before making the decision to symbolically “unfriend” her on Facebook and to break off contact in real life.
Before I get into the specifics of the situation and the reasons for my decision, allow me to explain why this decision was such a huge deal to me, since, after all, people are constantly “unfriending” each other on Facebook over various personal or political disagreements.
This cousin (let’s call her “Emma”, since her real name is rather distinctive) was my earliest friend. As soon as we both could walk and talk, we were inseparable whenever we would see each other.
This friendship was a REALLY big deal to me, because I have always been (and still am) an outsider. I am not the life of the party…not by a long shot. Nope, I am the one in the corner, away from the group, checking out the host’s book collection or petting the dog.
The same was true when I was a child. I wasn’t the one hanging upside down on the monkey bars screaming like a banshee; I was the socially awkward one sitting on the bench by herself on the sidelines with a book…and a thesaurus. Think: Brick in the TV show The Middle as a girl.
Emma was my complete opposite. She was extroverted, reckless, popular, funny, friendly, uncomplicated, constantly laughing…inexplicably happy. She talked to strangers. She ran with scissors. She didn’t contemplate the myriad horrors of the world in an endless mental loop as I did; in fact, she seemed blissfully unaware of the existence of a dark side. She was sunshine.
We lived a couple of hours away from each other, but her family visited often and stayed at Emma’s grandmother’s house for long holidays and extended portions of the summer. It was just an accepted fact that I would be staying there for as long as they did.
Even as we grew into teenagers and young adults, we remained very close. Back in the days before email and Facebook and texting, we wrote letters, almost every day. Hers about her social life; mine about the books I read or random thoughts I had.
But then things changed.
In her early twenties, Emma fell in love with, and quickly married, a much older man; he was her professor.
At first, things seemed okay, although her letters, calls, and visits (understandably) dwindled. He seemed open-minded at that time, and seemingly accepted me as a lesbian.
But: then he got cancer and, despite doing all the requisite medical treatments (surgery, radiation, chemo), he mysteriously attributed his remission solely to God.
To make a long story short, he became a right-wing, Bible-thumpin’, layin’-of-hands, speaking-in-tongues Holy Roller, and she stood by her man.
I watched as she gradually changed from the carefree, vivacious girl I once knew, who laughed approximately 75% of the time (and was on the verge of laughter the remaining 25% of the time), to an increasingly gray, joyless, sanctimonious, conservative person.
Somehow we managed to remain at least superficially friendly, even as we gradually grew further apart in every way imaginable. At family reunions and holidays, we would still greet each other with enthusiasm and genuine affection. Occasionally, despite time and circumstances, I would still catch a fleeting glimpse of the girl I once knew.
Although I knew that their ever-growing religious beliefs and conservative politics were 100% against everything I am and all that I believe in, I willfully swallowed my worry and growing anger. I chose to be in denial, because, after all, she was my most beloved cousin.
As I discussed in a previous post, I underwent a metamorphosis following a health scare and started shedding the parts of my life that no longer fit. My long-term friendship with Emma turned out to be, sadly, a casualty of that process.
One day, I logged onto Facebook to see the following post on Emma’s wall:
“I will never support gay marriage. If you choose to live that lifestyle, I will be your friend, and I still love you, but know that I will never support your lifestyle or recognize your relationships. God made marriage to be a holy bond between a man and a woman…blah blah blah…yada yada yada…”
I won’t belabor the point of how painful this was to read, or the obvious problems with her “logic”, because I trust that my readers are smart enough to see why someone who doesn’t recognize, understand, or support me or my relationship is not, and can never be, my true friend.
My point of this post is: homophobia appears in many forms, and it appears not only in the angry faces of protesters or in the hateful rhetoric of a right-wing sermon.
Sometimes, homophobia shows up in the smiling faces of your lifelong friends. Sometimes, it shows up in the words of someone proclaiming to love you. Sometimes, it appears in the off-hand comment of a coworker. Sometimes, it shows up in the misguided words and retweets/likes of our so-called “allies”. Sometimes, it even stares back at us from the mirror on the bathroom wall.
As for Emma, I will always remember and cherish the pure and simple friendship we shared before it was tainted. I hope to meet her one day in Rumi’s field:
“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I’ll meet you there” ~ Rumi
Edited to Add: Please see my sweetie’s companion piece: “Lesbian: No One Is With Her”