'I Was Always Different, Always Other'

Last year while speaking to a group of high school students, I was asked if 20 years ago, I thought my life would be like this. Now, I'm sure we all know the answer to this -- no, of course not. My life if nothing like I thought it would be; it is way better.

A little over 20 years ago, I came out. Well, actually I was never in. I had no idea that I was a lesbian. It never occurred to me. I attribute it to the fact that I was a black girl who had grown up in predominantly white neighborhoods. I was always different, always other. My mother had taught me that being myself was good enough. So, I didn't worry about the thoughts, feelings and dreams that I had as a child. I didn't question whether something was wrong with me. I was just myself.

My blackness was what I thought made me different than my friends. I thought it was my blackness that made it difficult to date in high school. In college, I spent time with a lot more black people. I was still awkward. It wasn't until I moved to New York City and started working at Essence Magazine that I begin to start feeling less "other." I thought maybe I was just a "late bloomer." I finally had a handsome boyfriend. It wasn't the perfect relationship, but what is right?

So, when my first girlfriend kissed me at a party, I was blown away. I swear I heard angels singing and saw a light shining, because a burden I didn't even know I was carrying had suddenly been lifted. There I was, being kissed by another woman, and I wasn't freaking out -- I had secretly been hoping it would happen.

This was a revelation! I'm a lesbian?! How did I miss this all of these years? I went to therapy. I wasn't freaked out about being a lesbian. I was freaked out that I had been so clueless for so many years. How could I have missed that? That's when I came up with my theory of "otherness."

So, I did a ton of research. I read books like Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers. I watched films like The Celluloid Closet, which lead me to watch The Children's Hour" (poor Shirley Maclaine). My girlfried took me to lesbian bars. I got to witness lesbians in their own environment. I was fascinated. I joined a "welcoming and affirming" church. I kept trying to figure out what it meant to be a lesbian.

Then, I figured it out. I was still myself, Robyn. I am still my parents' daughter. I still love shopping and champagne. I am also a lesbian. Being a lesbian didn't change anything about me other than who I love. Except it changed everything about me at the same time. I found myself part of a community in a way that I had never felt before. I was part of this group of people that all had their own stories, their own paths and their own unique looks. Yet, because of our queerness, our "otherness," we are all part of the same community -- family, if you will. When I figured this out, I was finally able to relax back into being myself. I felt both comforted and liberated at the same time. The best part was, there were a whole lot of people part of this family.

The summer of my coming out, I went to P-town for the first time and found out how liberating it feels to see your family walking down the street holding hands and being queer in public, only to return to NYC in time to see the whole gay world, it seemed, descend on the city for Gay Games. Then, to top off my giant coming out cake, I got to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising during my first Pride. I learned about rainbows and pink triangles. I learned that there are parties and giant parades to celebrate being queer. It was kind of like finally getting on the guest list of the best party in the world.

Now, having returned from New York City Pride 20+ years since my first one, a lot has changed in the world and within myself over that time. I have watched as we went from never mentioning the words "gay," "lesbian," "trans" or "queer" in public to seeing shows about lesbians win Emmy's and Tony's; seen transgender women on the covers of Time and Vanity Fair ; watched a supermodel and Hannah Montana come out at bisexual and now, thanks to SCOTUS, the whole queer country can get married. I went from having 10% of my friends being queer to 75% being queer and at least 10% of those friends being transgender. My life has become a richer and much more wonderful life because of my "otherness." After coming out, I found some incredible mentors/guides to help me understand my journey to help me find my voice. I met people that helped me reconcile my understanding of self and where I fit in.

Hi, I'm Robyn Vie Carpenter-Brisco. I am a woman of color, a wife, a daughter, a sister, a writer, a teacher and a lesbian.