Almost five years ago to the day, I came out to my twin sister while she was studying abroad in Italy. In a rambling group Facebook message, after a series of incomplete sentences and written stutters, I finally wrote, "I am attracted to girls, but I am not gay." Two best friends replied immediately with supportive messages. From my sister, I received…radio silence. Life doesn't stop while you're waiting for your sibling to message you back, so before long I was taking some dude to my sorority formal and that rambling message was just a memory.
Growing up in a family with eight siblings and being one of triplets (always one tallish brother to my right and one shortish sister to my left), it's easy to assume that my triplet sister and I would be closer than close.
And we were. I mean, we are close. Over the years, we've shared bedrooms, clothes, car keys, and a group of friends. What don't we share? Pretty much everything else. I inherited my dad's tight brown ringlets while Hayley gets her straight blonde locks from our mom. Friends might call me "down-to-earth, mellow, and overly sensitive," and she would be described as "bubbly, loud, and a tad high maintenance." While I spent time volunteering as an EMT, she once passed out into a bowl of spaghetti over the mere mention of blood. When we left home for college, I studied biology in the Midwest; Hayley went down south to pursue a degree in English. Despite never quite being able to see eye-to-eye, we've managed to stand loyally at each other's sides.
Fast-forward to the present day — a few relationships, sisterly shouting matches, and two college degrees later — and not much has changed. Somehow we are back to sharing a bedroom (if you can call two twin beds separated by a cheap Ikea armoire a bedroom). We are still sharing clothes (unwillingly) and a group of overlapping friends (more willingly). And we still have not discussed the time I came out of the closet to her and she had nothing to say.
As I'll be sleeping across from my sister for another year in this shoebox apartment, I decided to sit down over some sushi and finally have "the talk" we've been avoiding, because although my twin sister's acceptance means everything to me, I've never been sure that I've had it.
Sarah: So, remember that time I told you I liked girls?
Hayley: Well, I was trying to think back on it, on exactly how I felt. I know it was when I was abroad in Italy. You sent that Facebook message to me, Jess, and Carly.
S: Wait, let me dig that back up. [scrolls through iPhone]
H: But, I had a hunch you had been thinking about telling me the summer before because there is this one moment I remember very distinctly, when we were driving somewhere and we were listening to some song — and I don't know what it was! — but you said, "This song is a girl who is talking about her girlfriend."
S: I don't remember this! God, was it that Macklemore song?
H: No, it was before that. I don't know if I had a boyfriend at the time, but I asked you about your love life and there was this enormous pause. It was like you were about to say something — but then you never did.
S: I chickened out. I had forgotten all about that. OK, I found the Facebook message! Wow, this is way more embarrassing and poorly written than I remember. I guess being scared shitlesss will do that to you. Do you remember how you reacted when you read it?
H: I don't think I was that surprised — because it had been on my radar for a little bit.
S: So you weren't surprised!?
H: I mean, I was and I wasn't.
S: Well, OK. [laughs]
H: There was something shocking in it being all of a sudden a real thing, not just something I suspected.
S: It's funny because in high school I didn't think about it at all. It wasn't a thought until I went to college, and I don't really know why.
H: You never had anyone you were really interested in.
S: I had crushes, though. I had crushes in high school.
H: I don't think you even kissed a boy, though.
S: No, I didn't. Thank you for pointing that out.
H: From an outside perspective I saw you transform in an enormous way, from college to now. From not knowing at all, to realizing you liked women, to being in a closeted relationship, to where you are now — totally comfortable with who you are. It doesn't happen overnight for the person who is coming out, but I think what I want you to understand is that it doesn't happen overnight for the people you come out to either. There are people who are willing to accept things immediately, and that's great — I wish that could have been me also.
S: Do you think I expected too much of you too fast?
H: I think a little bit. Obviously some of this is on me. I could have held back a little more and taken time to think it over internally. Being twins and being sisters, the great thing is that we can have the biggest fight of our lives one night and two hours later everything can be completely rosy. As if it never happened. We don't always necessarily treat each other with the same amount of respect as friends would. Knowing that we will always be there for one another — we abuse that love a bit.
S:The only person I've said "fuck you" to — and really meant it — was you. Probably because when we hurt each other, it hurts more? The feelings are amplified.
H: I think that happened in the coming out process. As sisters, you can say really mean and nasty things to each other in the heat of the moment and it's OK — it will be OK. When it's something like this, when it's about who you are, everyone has to take a step back and realize that even a relationship between sisters isn't unbreakable. It can be hurt, so you can't take it for granted or assume you'll always be forgiven.
S: You're right. By the time I came out, I had already been struggling with these feelings for a while and done my own "research" — I binge-watched — The L Word and googled a bunch of things. So when you reacted and said some offensive things — not meaning to — I overreacted as if [to say], "How could you say that?!" I wasn't patient with you. You hadn't had the chance to go do your own research yet.
H: Initially, it was a lot to wrap my arms around, and it sounds like it was initially a lot for you to wrap your arms around as well. Also, we were 19 — we were young and stupid.
S: [looks back to iPhone] But you just never responded! Carly and Jess both sent back these long messages right away.
H: I didn't? Damn. Nothing against Carly or anyone else — maybe Carly is just more accepting than me — but if it was HER sister, would it be a little bit different?
S: For me I had to seriously think, Is my sister homophobic?
H: I think I was. Yes. Or maybe a better way to say it I was just a little confused and scared about what this meant exactly. That would be a softer way of putting it.
S: Because it was me? You weren't outwardly homophobic to people on the street.
H: It's not like I wanted to feel that way. I know what's right. I know what's wrong. I know what you're supposed to do and how you're supposed to feel and act. It's really easy to say, "It's OK to be gay" just like I can say, "You should recycle." It's easy to superficially support what's good and what's right and what you're supposed to do, but then all of a sudden when it's not something that's vague and far away and a general moral principle, but when it's someone who is directly related to you, someone you've always thought as one way and now you have to think of as another, that can be hard.
S: Why, though? Why wasn't it OK for me?
H: I think it has something to do with never really having any experience with anyone coming out, not friends, not any acquaintances, let alone my twin sister. And I think it's also partly the town we grew up in — conservative and very traditional — and I remember thinking, I don't want to tell people that my twin is gay.
S: You thought that?
S: Have you ever had to say it before?
H: It's fine now — this many years later, yes, I can say it. But actually, it's usually just implied when I tell people your job title. For a little bit, things weren't too great between us. I remember feeling angry about the need to celebrate it. I remember feeling mad at one point. Why is this something we have to jump up and down about and be thrilled about? That was pretty immature of me. It should be a celebration of you being open and honest.
Another tough part was that you told me, but you didn't tell the rest of the family for quite some time. It was a slow process, it wasn't all at once, so I felt a bit burdened by the new truth. I felt weird knowing, and I wanted people to know. That was tricky.
S: Right. I told you, but probably a good year went by — we were both at school and life was going on, we were busy — before I was even doing anything or having real experiences with anyone. Life wasn't going to stop for us to have this conversation, and because of that we were never on the same page.
H: There was never a calm moment or setting we could talk about it. We never spoke about it unless we were fighting about it.
S: There was one incident I'll never forget, when we went out to a bar and a woman hit on our friend — it became this big joke of the night. Ha Ha, that lesbian was hitting on so-and-so. On the drive home you let slip a comment, like, "Why didn't you try anything with her?" That drive ended with us both screaming at each other in the parked car — alcohol-induced, I'm sure — because you didn't seem to understand that I wasn't attracted to every single girl who walks by.
H: That was bad, I remember that. I remember feeling really angry and frustrated, and that wasn't a space to have a healthy conversation about anything.
S: What were you thinking that night?
H: I think that's when I was dying to tell someone. It was a secret for me to keep at that point as well. I know it's a process of when you're ready to tell people — now it just seems to be such a part of who you are. It isn't a big deal anymore. It was frustrating to me that I knew and nobody else knew — I didn't want to know if nobody else did.
S: And there was another incident, much later when I was out to the entire family, we were at some bar and I was dancing with a girl — who was openly bi — and I guess we started to dance a little "too close for comfort." You came over and yelled at me to stop. I had never been so angry with you, because by that point I thought we had made some progress, and that was a huge step back. You seemed so embarrassed by me while, of course, there were heterosexual couples all over the dance floor probably sticking their tongues down each other's throats.
H: I think I felt uncomfortable. Maybe it was the space we were in. It wasn't a gay bar and we were with a lot of friends but they all knew, I think, so it shouldn't have been weird. I was probably drunk and not realizing how harsh I was being. It was also maybe the first time I'd been in a situation like that with you, but that's not an excuse. I am sorry about that.
S: I think we've tried to talk about this before: The feeling I get when I go to a gay bar is refreshing because it's a queer space — I'm not second-guessing any of my actions — and I think maybe you've never experienced that because any bar you go to will be a normal and safe space for you. You made me feel like what I was doing was "dirty" or "wrong" when I was being pretty innocent on the dance floor.
H: Guys and girls make out on the dance floor all the time and It. Is. Disgusting.
S: Exactly! [looks back to Facebook message] What's funny is that I'm so insecure about the entire thing when I was coming out. [reads aloud] "As far as my feelings go, I'm still attracted to guys. I still have crushes on them and feel attracted to them all the time. It's just that for every guy I'm attracted to there is probably also a girl I'm attracted to."
I was so adamant about not being gay, which of course isn't the case anymore. I was terrified of the label and all the stereotypes that came along with it.
H: It's interesting you seemed so terrified of that.
S: When I look back and read this, it seems like I'm just begging to be normal and keep that sense of normalcy. I even say it a few times: "It's still me. It's still the same Sarah." I didn't want anything to change. In my mind it felt like once I sent that message, everything was going to change. My friends would never think of me the same and there would be no going back. What a silly thought, right? Because everything has changed, it seems, personally for me, but I'm so much more myself now. When I came out to the rest of the family, Dad said he already knew.
H: Mom suspected too.
S: Did you ever have conversations about it? It's a big family — I know we all talk about everything.
H: We had one conversation about it. I came home one day, and I feel like someone just said it: "Do you think Sarah's gay?"
S: Before I told them?
H: It was the summer before, when you began to dress a little differently, I think. Before that moment it had not once crossed my mind. Not once. After someone said it out loud, I had to sit down. It was like a slap in the face. Two minutes later, it all just made sense. Thank god you're not straight, because then we would be competing for boys and I would lose.
S: [laughs] You would not. Thanks.
H: But in reality it's just accepting a truth. It's quite literally who you are. And, for the record, there is no doubt in my mind that you will end up with a woman.
S: I remember when Mom came to visit me at school, after I had come out to her in an email, she asked me if I really could see myself spending the rest of my life with a woman and I said yes. I feel weird ruling anyone out; I tend to think of love as love and not worry about gender.
H: I would put money on it. Another tricky thing about you ending up with a woman or dating a woman is that…I'm your twin sister and there is a little bit of "this person is going to replace me."
S: I wondered about that.
H: I've definitely had jealousy. I was jealous of your ex and maybe that's why I didn't like her. You're such a sensitive and caring person — you're a giver. You give too much sometimes. I feel threatened I'll be replaced.
S: For me, I never saw that! I just want you to like this person and get along with them. Out of everyone in my life, I craved your approval and support the most. You are not going to be replaced. Not happening. So if I dated a guy, you wouldn't feel that way?
H: For some reason with a guy it feels different. It's very confusing — the girl thing.
S: It's easy to say gender doesn't matter, but there is a reason we didn't invite the boy twin to this discussion, right? There is something about the bond between sisters, women, whatever — it can be very strong, and I understand you not wanting me to have that with anyone else.
H: You were super insistent that you were bi, in the beginning at least.
S: Right, and of course that's the common stereotype, which I'm guilty of fitting — that people use bi as a stepping stool. I think it happens because it's just a way to soften the blow and make it a little less scary? A ton of people identify as bisexual. I'm not sure where I land anymore, and it's clear I'm still learning more about myself every day. I tend to follow a spectrum instead of labels. So on that spectrum between gay and straight, I'm about 85 to 90% gay. And you, on the other hand, are 100% straight.
S: That was difficult for me to comprehend. What do you mean you've never considered kissing a girl? You're not curious? You're not even a little bit fluid? That seems crazy to me. So, you would never kiss a girl?
H: I don't even think I would do it drunkenly at a bar. Nope.
S: We are on opposite ends of the spectrum.
H: It's all just chemistry. You can't control who you are attracted to. That was also something hard for me to understand. I maybe assumed you liked every girl. Also, you can't compare the two environments you were in before and after college. You went from a bubble in Connecticut to a bubble in Ohio, then you finally started living in New York City. That helped you a lot.
S: Right. In college and high school, I didn't know any gay women. Zero. None to my knowledge, anyway. There were tons of gay men and they were completely accepted, for the most part. I was in a sorority, which also made things tough. There was just that constant fear of people seeing me differently, which is laughable because all my sorority sisters that I'm close with know, accept, and couldn't care less about it all. It was my own fear that kept me from telling them earlier, and I'll always regret that.
H: Every girl has gay guy friends. But...
S: Nobody was in the market for a lesbian BFF.
H: I never thought about it before, but I'm sure New York helped me too. I too had gay guy friends in college. I never thought twice about it. I was never around gay women; I had nothing to compare or relate to.
S: Finally in New York City, I had so many queer women visible to me and I had positive role models. I had just been so desperate for anyone that reflected what I was feeling. I was still trying to "prove something" to you — "Look at this successful woman! She is gay! She exists!" — I don't know why I felt the need to prove that this wasn't just me.
H: You were in a closeted relationship for a little bit, which was a double-edged sword.
S: It validated me. Look, this person who I respect and admire likes girls too! This isn't such a crazy thing. I was still in that mode of pushing away the thought of dating someone who fit the gay stereotype. I still had a long way to go in terms of being comfortable with myself.
H: You lost a lot of weight.
S: I was extremely stressed out. It was my first long-term relationship, and that feeling of finally being loved and having someone giving me that "I'm worthy of love" feeling helped me get over my own insecurities and a little bit of self-hate going on. I was more confident. I'm grateful for that first relationship, even though it was so hard, simply because I learned so much about myself by going through it.
H: To me, the most interesting thing about this entire thing is that it didn't really change anything. Do you think our relationship would be any different if you were straight? This is just who you were all along and now it feels natural. You were just coming to realize who you were fully. You are still you.
S: So, all this fighting was for nothing.
H: Looking back on how you came out, is there anything you wish you had done differently?
S: Coming out is a different process for everyone. As much as I wish I could have done it differently, I was so scared and insecure. I was clueless on so many levels — just like you — and had a lot to learn about myself. The amount of insecurity I had, I don't think I could have done it any other way. I guess I didn't really leap out of the closet; I kinda shuffled out one foot at a time.
H: Space for calm conversation would have been good. [asks waiter for the check]
S: It's funny — because you're my twin I think, She should understand. But why would you understand? Because we were born on the same day? [laughs] You don't have to get it.
H: To me, that's the problem with the concept of "coming out" — the idea that it's a onetime action. TA-DA, I came out and now everyone knows and it's going to be accepted and let's all just move on. In reality, coming out is a layered process, filled with steps forward and backwards. I think we are both going through it a little bit, still.
S: [glances at restaurant bill] Oh, holy shit.