Every year, I take NJ Transit back to my hometown for Thanksgiving. For years, that train ride was spent thinking about where I was in life and mentally preparing for the onslaught of questions from the family: “How’s the writing? Are you making any money? Who are you dating?” Kill me.
To my family’s defense, these are pretty standard questions. They just hit a nerve. We tend to be sensitive to those things we’re not comfortable with ourselves. It’s like writing and filmmaking — the comments and criticisms I find myself defensive about are the ones that I either agree with or haven’t quite reconciled within myself. When we stand confidently in ourselves, vision, and authenticity, there’s less preoccupation about what others think.
Back when I hadn’t come out, going home meant fielding dating questions; dodging any that might give away I was dating a woman. What a waste of mental energy. Between that and the years of waiting tables hoping the writing would work out, I was a ball of anxiety and shame. I didn’t want anyone to ask me anything — I was wildly insecure, with no pride.
I think about this idea of “pride” a lot. With Pride celebrations and parades, the word “pride” carries weight. It entails feeling good about who we are and what we are capable of giving this world, and that requires leaning into our authenticity. Tapping into that authenticity requires looking inwards, and really asking, “Who am I, what makes me happy, what can I offer this world?”
Having to come out was one of life’s greatest gifts. Being forced to turn inwards and honestly ask myself how I wanted my life to unfold was an opportunity, not a hindrance, for me. Coming home for holidays often brings anxiety because our past self, confronts our current self. Where we’ve come from meets where we’re going, and expectations meet reality. It’s an existential crisis and anxiety bubbles to the surface. All these preconceived notions we hold on to weigh us down from who we’re capable of becoming.
I did not come out on Thanksgiving, though I wish I had. It would have saved me a lot of time and wasted energy. I came out to family and friends one by one — it was more an apology and less a declaration. I was apologizing for not living up to expectations, largely my own. I anticipated I wouldn’t be tolerated before giving anyone the chance. But here’s the thing, tolerance comes when people have the courage to be seen and authentic. What seems different and distant becomes familiar. And often, when something hits close to home, tolerance expands.
My grandfather marched in an anti-LGBTQ marriage rally before finding out his favorite granddaughter was gay. No, I am not his favorite granddaughter. Yes, I’m bitter about it. I was the second granddaughter to come out, followed by my younger cousin. I have middle-queer-cousin-syndrome. Now, the man who marched in an anti-LGBTQ rally ended up walking my eldest cousin down the aisle, towards her beautiful wife.
Can old dogs learn new tricks? I don’t know if everyone’s capable of such a 180, but I know my highly opinionated, wildly stubborn grandfather was, which gives me faith in the power of association, visibility, and empathy. When something hits close to home, our hearts are naturally more receptive and compassionate. With my debut film, Lez Bomb, I wanted to make something both familiar and new. By putting a queer twist on a dysfunctional family holiday film, I tried to create a broad, relatable comedy with a modern twist. I hope the familiarity of it will invite in those who might not gravitate towards the narrative.
Last year, my cousins, their partners, my wife and I joined my entire family at the Thanksgiving dinner. Six lesbians around the table. My father raised a glass, “Happy Lez Giving.” By sharing our stories and coming out, we bridge that gap between those who’ve come out and those who’ve given us a hand stepping out. And with each gap bridged, the capacity to understand extends. This holiday season let’s talk less and listen more.
JENNA LAURENZO is the writer/director/star of Lez Bomb, currently in theaters and on demand.