One late night at the end of her sophomore year of college, Jackie sat in her parked car and made a phone call that would forever change the course of her life. An attractive sorority girl with almond eyes and delicate dimples, she was the product of a charmed Boise, Idaho, upbringing: a father who worked in finance, a privateschool education, a pool in the backyard, all the advantages that an upper-middle-class suburban childhood can provide – along with all the expectations attendant to that privilege.
“There was a standard to meet,” Jackie says. “And I had met that standard my whole life. I was a straight-A student, the president of every club, I was in every sport. I remember my first day of college, my parents came with me to register for classes, and they sat down with my adviser and said, ‘So, what’s the best way to get her into law school?'”
Jackie just followed her parents’ lead understanding implicitly that discipline and structure went hand in hand with her family’s devout Catholic beliefs. She attended Mass three times a week, volunteered as an altar server and was the fourth generation of her family to attend her Catholic school; her grandfather had helped tile the cathedral. “My junior year of high school, my parents thought it was weird that I’d never had a boyfriend,” she says, “so I knew I was supposed to get one. And I did. It was all just a rational thought process. None of it was emotionally involved.”
After graduating, Jackie attended nearby University of Idaho, where she rushed a sorority at her parents’ prompting. She chose a triple major of which they approved. “I remember walking out of the sorority house to go to Walmart or something, and I stopped at the door and thought to myself, ‘Should I tell someone I’m leaving?'” she says. “It was the first time in my life where I could just go somewhere and be my own person.”
In fact, it took the freedom of college for Jackie to even realize who her “own person” was. “Growing up, I knew that I felt different, but when you grow up Catholic, you don’t really know gay is an option,” she says. “I grew up in a household that said ‘fag’ a lot. We called people ‘fags,’ or things were ‘faggy.'” Her only sex-ed class was taught by a priest, and all she remembers him saying is, “‘Don’t masturbate and don’t be gay.’ I didn’t know what those words meant, so I just hoped to God that I wasn’t doing either of them.”
When Jackie got to college, the “typical gay sorority encounters” she found herself having didn’t seem to qualify as anything more than youthful exploration; she thought all girls drunkenly made out with their best friends. By her sophomore year, she was dating a fraternity brother but was also increasingly turned on by a friend she worked with at the campus women’s center. “I was just playing it off as ‘So maybe I’m just gay for you – I mean, I don’t have to tell my boyfriend’ kind of thing,” she says. “I knew what I wanted, but it was never something I ever envisioned that I could have on a public level.” And yet, as her friendship with this woman turned physical and their relationship grew more serious, Jackie saw her future shrinking before her: a heterosexual marriage, children, church and the knowledge that all of it was based on a lie. “I honestly thought my whole life I was just going to be an undercover gay,” she says, shaking her head in disbelief.
For better or worse, that plan was never to be. Toward the end of her sophomore year, Jackie got a text message from one of her sorority sisters who said she’d been seen kissing another girl, after which certain sisters started making it clear that they were not comfortable around Jackie. (“You’re living in the same house together,” she says, “and, of course, to close-minded people, if somebody’s gay, that means you’re automatically interested in all 80 of them.”) Eventually, she went before her chapter’s executive board and became the first sorority girl at her college to ever come out, at which point she realized that if she didn’t tell her parents, someone else would. “I was convinced somebody was going to blast it on Facebook.”
So while Jackie hoped for the best, she knew the call she was making had the potential to not end well. “You can’t hate me after I say this,” she pleaded when, alarmed to be receiving a call in the middle of the night, her mom picked up the phone.
“Oh, my God, you’re pregnant” was her mom’s first response, before running through a litany of parental fears. “Are you in jail? Did you get expelled? Are you in trouble? What happened? What did you do?” Suddenly her mom’s silence matched Jackie’s own. “Oh, my God,” she murmured in disbelief. “Are you gay?”
“Yeah,” Jackie forced herself to say.
After what felt like an eternity, her mom finally responded. “I don’t know what we could have done for God to have given us a fag as a child,” she said before hanging up.
As soon as the line went dead, Jackie began sobbing. Still, she convinced herself that her parents would come around and accept her, despite what they perceived to be her flaw. As planned, she drove to Canada to celebrate her birthday with friends. When her debit card didn’t work on the second day of the trip, she figured it was because she was in another country. Once back in the States, however, she got a call from her older brother. “He said, ‘Mom and Dad don’t want to talk to you, but I’m supposed to tell you what’s going to happen,'” Jackie recalls. “And he’s like, ‘All your cards are going to be shut off, and Mom and Dad want you to take the car and drop it off at this specific location. Your phone’s going to last for this much longer. They don’t want you coming to the house, and you’re not to contact them. You’re not going to get any money from them. Nothing. And if you don’t return the car, they’re going to report it stolen.’ And I’m just bawling. I hung up on him because I couldn’t handle it.” Her brother was so firm, so matter-of-fact, it was as if they already weren’t family.