Get a girlfriend with a gender-neutral name (i.e: Jordan, Riley, Devyn, Sam, or Jamie). Next, call your parents and report that you are finally in a relationship. Their prayers have been answered. You will not be a lonely spinster—rejoice! Be prepared for questions about his major and his family. Answer them honestly—except when they ask if he’s Catholic— but instead of telling them that you met her in biology class tell them that you met each other in biology class. This allows you to have plausible deniability.
Then, months into your relationship and them hearing about how great it’s going, your parents will inevitably invite Jordan/Riley/Devin/Sam/Jamie over for a dinner of steak and potatoes, which they make anytime someone new comes into the house, someone who might not enjoy their usual pasteles or pernil. Bring Jordan/Riley/Devin/Sam/Jamie back home with you and walk straight to the kitchen where your mom is cutting up potatoes and your dad is seasoning the steak. When your mom realizes Jordan/Riley/Devin/Sam/Jamie is not who she was expecting, she almost cuts her hand by mistake. Introduce her as your girlfriend for the first time.
Send a text to your family group chat that is normally used for bragging about personal achievements— your sister’s promotion at the salon where she works or your dad passing his master technician certification— or asking each other to pick up more sofrito at the grocery store, or to make Thanksgiving plans. The last text in it was about you making the Dean’s list last semester. Your sister sent the eye roll emoji. Your mom sent the heart emoji. Your dad asked you who Dean is. Ignore his question and start a new text. Keep it simple ‘im gay.’
Mute the group message on your phone.
Call your mom while she’s at work, wrangling kindergarteners into lunch lines, too busy to notice your call. Call your dad while he’s rolled under a car, tinkering away at leaking pipes, his phone safely tucked away in his own car far away from the grease and machined edges of a mechanic’s life. When you are hundreds of miles away at school, leave a voicemail on their phone telling them that you can’t keep lying to them. That you hope they understand. That it’s not their fault. Ignore them when they try to call you and talk about it.
Come out after Mass. Not after the service where Father Alvarez reminds everyone that being gay is a sin and reads aloud from Leviticus, the passage that, when you were thirteen and kept staring at the red-haired girl in your art class, you highlighted and read every night before bed. The passage that you whispered to yourself in high school when your best friend tried to kiss you and even though you wanted to kiss her back, you pushed her away. No, wait until the Mass where they talk about how God created everyone perfectly in his image. Remind them about what Pope Francis said. Remind them how much they love Pope Francis, how they whooped when the white smoke billowed from the Sistine Chapel and they announced the newest servant of Christ. The first hispanic pope.
“Such a gentle man,” your mom said.
“So, Emma and I adopted a chihuahua together. And who knows, in the future if this really works out and she really is the right person for me, maybe we will adopt kids or something.”
Say this quickly, so they can’t interrupt you, and when that whole sentence tumbles out of your mouth take a forkful of rice. Scoop another. Fill your cheeks full of warm food and silence.
Your sister will continue to eat. Your dad will look at your mom who will be, as always, the first to respond.
“Are you telling us you’re gay?” She’ll say this in a tone that you have only ever heard her use when your sister was caught drinking with her friends in the backseat of her SUV when she was sixteen. Your sister cried that day, but you have to keep it together. Nod. Eat more rice. Your dad will remain quiet.
“How did you meet?” your sister will ask. Tell her later. For now, you’re silent.
“Are you sure it’s not just a phase? You never were rebellious as a teenager, maybe you’re making up for it now.” Your mom will get up, walk into the living room and come back with the green leather-bound Bible that is a constant presence on your coffee table and in your life. She will try to hand it to you. Pick up your glass and take a long gulp of water instead. She will put the Bible down beside you.
“Why didn’t you tell us before,” your dad will finally join in.
“She’s trying to break our hearts,” your mom will say. Smooth out your napkin. Rearrange your cutlery. Don’t try to explain what is.
“You guys are acting like real jerks,” your sister will say.
“She has to realize what she’s doing is wrong,” your mom will crumple her napkin in her hands. She will keep wringing it until tiny particles fall to the table like snow.
“We want grandkids, ones who look like us. Ones we can love,” your dad will say.
Let the rising voices of your parents float around you. Finish your dinner, cleaning your plate in the way that used to make your parents proud when you were a kid even though it doesn’t matter now. Stand up and take your dirty dishes into the kitchen, leaving the bible behind with your family.
Téa Franco is a writer who resides in Ohio. She has prose and poetry published in Barrelhouse Magazine, Barren Magazine, Foglifter Press, Perhappened, and others.
image: MM Kaufman