Essays

Mutt and Jeff: A Coming Out Story

The mismatched duo Mutt and Jeff.

The mismatched duo Mutt and Jeff.

“You two look like Mutt and Jeff.”

I imagine this is the first thing my grandmother would say if she were still alive and got to meet my girlfriend, Julie.

Mutt and Jeff, published in the early 1900s, is regarded as the first popular daily comic strip. It featured a pair of mismatched friends and working class everymen. The duo — Mutt, tall and gangly, and Jeff, short and stubby — was a precursor to Laurel and Hardy, and the height discrepancy was both amusing and exacerbated when the pair stood side by side.

My grandmother would bring up Mutt and Jeff whenever she met one of my taller friends. Since I’m barely pushing five feet, and even lied to the DMV about my stature, this was just about everyone I knew. So I heard the Mutt and Jeff line often growing up.

Tall, blonde and beautiful, when she wears heels – and she often does, given the nature of her job as a ballroom dance instructor – I come right up to Julie’s breast line. It’s not a bad place to be, so I’m not complaining. When not in heels, she’s still a head taller than I am, and I’m able to easily nuzzle my face into her neck when she puts her arms around me. Again, I’m not complaining. But Julie says that I’m bad for her posture.

My grandmother never got to meet Julie. She never got to meet anyone I’ve dated.

When I first came out to my parents at 18, my mother suggested I not tell my grandparents.

So I didn’t.

Even after my grandmother offered sage advice about how I should marry a rich man. Even after I gushed to her about whomever my current “best friend” was. Even after she saw the pictures of the woefully small one-bedroom basement apartment I moved into with one of these “best friends” when I was 23.

The irony is, my grandparents encouraged my weekly attendance at Sunday mass and helped fund my Catholic school education.

An all-girls Catholic school education. Lesbian breeding ground.

A small school of about 200 students, my high school was set in a gorgeous, rambling old hotel, with winding underground tunnels and a bell tower, on a bucolic 200-acre campus cloistered from the outside, rundown ghetto by a quaint stone wall. All the girls, even the straight ones, dated girls.

It was like lesbian Harry Potter, minus the wizardry and charming accents.

I didn’t date anyone who actually identified as a lesbian until after I graduated from high school. At that point, I still hadn’t come out to any family members, just my friends.

A mutual friend introduced me to Donna at a college party. She was lying on the backseat of our friend’s car, drunk and stoned, her head hanging out the open door as she tried to force herself to vomit onto the street below.

At 18 and having pined after the same straight girl for three years, it’s safe to say at the time I had no idea what my type was. But I had a feeling that Donna was not it.

With her slender frame, short, spiky blond hair and emo couture, she looked more like a 12-year-old boy than anything else. Still, I dated her. If I was going to date a real lesbian, I might as well go all out.

Besides, why not give her a chance, I figured, not understanding at that young age that it wasn’t one lesbian fits all, and that the world didn’t operate on the principle of have vagina, will travel.

But life changed when I moved out of my parents’ house on Long Island and into the dorms of a local college less than an hour away from where I grew up. I dyed my hair various shades of blue, and, inadvertently, my hands as well, making it constantly seem as though I had just given a Smurf a handjob. I pierced things. Adopted a vegan lifestyle. Listened to obscure indie rock. Read Jack Kerouac, annoyed at first that I didn’t have a penis and would never be like him, but then quickly realized I didn’t need one to sleep with a lot of women, write inappropriate stories, and drink more than I should. And I dated Donna, though she smoked too much, did too many drugs, and wasn’t the brightest person I’d ever met.

Despite what people think, Long Island actually isn’t that long, and everything feels like it’s less than an hour away from everything else, even if in reality it’s farther. So I’d find my way home on weekends and still see my friends from school, still see Donna.

My parents didn’t formally know I was gay. But one look at Donna, I surmised, and they certainly would. I figured what I needed was a pre-emptive strike, though I resented the fact that I had to make a big to-do over my sexuality, when straight kids didn’t have to sit their parents down and say, after a deep breath to compose themselves, “Mom, Dad, I have to tell you something: I’m straight.”

One Sunday afternoon, before hopping in the shower, wearing nothing but a towel, I heard my mother walk down the hallway. I opened the bathroom door. Steam from the shower created a hazy shield around the doorframe. As she walked by, I snapped my fingers loudly, as though I had suddenly just thought of something I needed to tell her. Minutes before I had practiced this snap in my bedroom. It needed to be realistic, and seem spur of the moment, not like I’d been planning it all morning. And timing was everything.

After that snap heard around the world, with my mother’s full attention, I exclaimed, “Oh, Mom, before I forget to tell you, I have a girlfriend.” Without waiting for a response, I closed the bathroom door, locked it, and took my shower.
Outside the protection of the bathroom, I heard my mother’s muffled voice, “What did she just say?”

I managed to make it to my room without having to talk to her after my shower. I closed the door and got dressed.

My father came in an hour later, though. “So, does this mean you won’t ever move out?”

“I’m pretty sure it means I’ll be moving out sooner,” I said.

The ride back to my college was awkwardly quiet at first. Then my mother went down a list of everyone I knew, demanding to know whether or not they were gay. “What about Katie?”

“Straight, but I dated her.”

“I knew there was something going on with you two!” She turned to my father. “I always knew there was something going on with those two.”

“Christine?”

“Straight and I wanted to date her, but that didn’t happen.”

“Jess?”

“Nope. Jess is totally straight.”

“How about Jackie?”

I shrugged. “Jackie does what Jackie does.”

“How do you know so many gay people? I don’t think I even know one.”

“You probably know more than you think. They walk among you, sometimes unseen and undetected, kind of like ghosts.”

And we never spoke about it again, though only after she suggested I continue to keep this secret from my grandmother. This was fine by me because I never dated a woman who I felt was important enough to tell my grandmother about anyway.

Until now.

Julie and I have been together for three years.

She also isn’t my type. But I’ve since learned that types are overrated when the feeling is right.

We have a home together. She’s met my mother. She’s come to holiday meals and family gatherings. She and my mom like to tag team each other while teasing me mercilessly.

Our relationship is like nothing I’ve ever experienced.

But she never got to meet my grandmother, which is something I regret.

A few months ago, my aunt told me that not long before my grandmother passed away she asked my aunt, “Do you think Tiffany is gay?”

My aunt responded, “I have no idea. Does it matter?”

And my grandmother said, “Not at all. I just hope she knows that it wouldn’t bother me.”

So every chance I get, I tell Julie how much my grandmother would have liked her, how she would have been welcome into her home, despite my mother’s concerns about challenging my grandmother’s traditional Catholic ideals. And I always remind her that we’re just like Mutt and Jeff.

8 replies »

    • This is lovely, Tiffany. Your writing skill invited me into your story and kept me reading. I love the Mutt and Jeff analogy. It works on a few levels and evokes important thought. Thank you from

      Rita at Spirituality Without Borders

  1. Tiffany, wow. What a beautiful piece. As the mother of a young woman who waited till she was 21 to come out to me (nearly the rest of the world knew), I read it with special interest. You are funny and smart and you made me cry. Also, I now officially love your grandmother.

  2. I love this. My first boyfriend was also “not my type” but, at 19, the idea of finally dating another gay person trumped type. I’ve since learned, as you’ve stated, that types really aren’t as important as substance.
    Thank you for sharing.