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October 8, 2010

Like Mother, (Not) Like Daughter

How does a ripped-jeans-wearing, makeup-hating tomboy come out to her beauty queen of a mom?

stephanie and her mother

The author and her mother's school portraits. "Next to my mom, I felt like a toothless troll."

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Stephanie Fairyington

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I was 28 when I decided to tell my mom that I liked women, especially one named Mary, my new girlfriend in New York City. My father had just died, and I didn’t want to keep the secret anymore. But I would have to reveal it in a letter. There was no other way.

For one thing, I feared her wrath. My mother already had plenty of issues with my life choices: my sloppy clothes, slouchy posture, shaggy hair, and lowly standard of living in a city too expensive for my paycheck. But more than anything, I was afraid of disappointing her, which, from my first moment of consciousness, on March 3, 1976, I felt destined to do.

My mom was a towering, Type-A perfectionist who cultivated her good looks at pricey hair salons and mani-pedi parlors. She jonesed for product like a junkie, and could rattle off the pros and cons of the latest facelift or injectible in mind-numbing detail. My dad, a soft-spoken civil engineer from Buenos Aires, had always been happy to give her center stage, lavishing her with the things she loved most: golf, diamonds, and a beautiful home in San Diego.

I, of course, was a tattered-boot-wearing, jean-slumming urbanite who hated dresses and all things girly. In high school, I wore old-man trousers, beat-up wingtips, and no makeup (despite my supersized zits). I had braces and a perm that made me look like a poodle. I’d spend my lunch hour hunched over books in the library, occasionally chatting with misfits like me: drama geeks, deadheads, homesick ESL students. But while high school was my nightmare, it had been my mom’s triumph. She held the various honors of "biggest flirt," "best sense of humor," and "best figure" over the years, and was in the running for prom queen her senior year in 1968. There’s a photo of her in a sweet, short-sleeve, just-above-the-knee dress with a red-velvet ribbon in her hair, radiating a Marcia Brady smile that seems to say: "Yes, I’m pretty. I’m popular. Life is fabulous." And for her, life in sunny southern California was fabulous: She surfed in Mission Bay, partied with the cool kids, and dated a handsome array of guys — Eddie, David, Jerry, Chris — including the boy who was voted best-looking in her class.

Next to my mom, I felt like a toothless troll.

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