I Too Had A Closet

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I officially entered my closet around my 13th birthday. Unknowingly I probably entered even earlier. I saw signs and clues that my dad was different, that my family make up was breaking societal and religious rules. It was then that I began to understand what was unacceptable to others. I understood what we were supposed to look like: a picture of perfect normalcy. Quite the contrary, if most knew our truths in the late 1970s they would have seen us as rule breakers, even lawbreakers.

Stephanie -7th Grade Class Picture (1977)

Early on my closet was a lonely place. It was off to the side and dark. It was sometimes scary and for decades confusing – a place where wounds were raw and festered. I didn’t dare invite others in my closet space, not anyone. It was a sacred place for my utmost honest truth. These truths were sad and shameful and if others were aware of them, of the decor of my private space, I was sure to be judged and belittled.

The older I got, the more I sought refuge in said closet, the harder it was to come out — to be my authentic self. It was a place I found comfort but it was also limiting, providing little air to breathe. Often times I had to recycle what breathable space there was. And over time that air and my mindset became toxic. Over the long haul it made me sick, mentally and physically. Dark and sad thoughts of a life I wished could have been different often churned in my mind. How it felt to live in a society that didn’t respect my father for his sexuality haunted me for decades. Before long the closet also became a place reserved for hiding and harboring guilt, for the shame I felt. In the safe confines of my private space I took long looks at how to process these feelings.

The longer I spent hiding my fathers identity, what he represented, the harder it was to know what was reality. Instead of being open and honest I build layers of safety nets. Over time it became hard to know who I really was and how I was supposed to bloom into the person I was meant to be. I ached for clarity.

One thing was clear, with all the energy I was using to cover up my truths I was working against the life I was meant to live. Still, I didn’t know how to change societies beliefs.

So the closet was a place I continued to hide, from down-word looks, from the realities of HIV/AIDS, from the brokenness I feared others would uncover. Twenty years living in my well-insulated space I soon morphed into an adult and mother. With all the joys this brought, newfound concerns also developed. With more mature understanding of closets I was deeply saddened considering that my father had spent even more time than I had in his own form of closet. That he had hid away most of his life, carefully slipped in and out for safety. Then as my children grew and understood their grandfather was gay, therefore different, I worried they were building closets too. Albeit smaller they too sought refuge, stepped inside and took in limited air supply. I ached and wanted to make their closets disappear.

This is but a snapshot of what a closet within the LGBT community might look like, when we work to protect family and loved ones from hurt.

Rounding the bend at 52 years old this spring, I’m opting for a change. I am opening my closet, letting in fresh air, even sunshine. I am welcoming moist air to recycle the dank musty smell of old thinking, shame, and hiding. I am opting to breathe new life in to what has limited me. I am befriending new possibilities. A new day is dawning as I choose to forgive myself for hiding, for being ashamed for so long. A fresh scent of rose is entering as I release the heavy weight of my past. And though there are still some who might see my upbringing as less than, or tainted because my father was gay, I can’t wither away as they choose to be stuck in a mindset.

I realize this life was meant for a much bigger space, more vast then a small confining room, where clothes and shoes are kept. Where keepsakes, filed papers or cleaning supplies are left for storage. I am honoring myself because I deserve more. I honor my father because he was so much more than a gay man. We all deserve more, we’re meant to discover and express.

A closet is simply too limiting. To live even a portion of ones life in a closet makes it impossible to be who we were meant to be.

Stephanie Cenedella is a currently working on her memoir. You can follow her journey on herblog,Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Read what others have shared on our March topic:The Closet.

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  1. Rivkah,

    Thank you for the warm response. And yes, it’s never to late to find your true self and reap the benefits of doing so!

    Thank you for the encouragement to keep sharing!!

  2. Rivkah Freund says:

    Lots of loving hugs to Stephanie! I, too, was in the closet, deep inside a tiny closet, for the first 37 years of my life and I came out 25 years ago. Now, at 63, life is hard but also fabulous because I am being my true, authentic self! These coming out stories are sacred stories! Keep them coming!

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