Tapestry

She didn't want to come out to her grandmother. Getting engaged made it harder.

Erica Lenti hoped she could hide her sexual identity from her grandmother until Lenti either married or her grandmother died. Getting engaged meant she couldn’t hide it for much longer
Erica Lenti's decision to not tell her grandmother that she's gay has made it hard for her to be close with her girlfriend during family gatherings. (Submitted by Erica Lenti)

Every year, Erica Lenti heads to her mom's house for Christmas dinner. And every year, she brings her partner, Arielle Piat-Sauve. 

When they arrive, they're welcomed as a couple by Lenti's entire family — except by Lenti's 80-year-old Italian nonna. 

Lenti's grandmother didn't know she's gay, and for years, Lenti chose not to tell her.

"We kind of head down the stairs, greet my grandmother, give her a kiss on each cheek," Lenti said, recalling last year's dinner.

"And then she says, 'Oh you two girls look like two sisters!'" 

And for years, that was Lenti's strategy.  Lenti carefully watched to make sure they didn't sit too close to each other at family gatherings and hoped her grandmother wouldn't find out they weren't just roommates.

Why I won't come out to my grandmother | This Happened To Me

2 years ago
7:36
This Happened to Me is a new video series from CBC Radio that explores the turning points in our lives — the moments that changed everything. In this episode, Erica Lenti explains why she's not coming out to her Italian grandmother. 7:36

Her partner didn't enjoy the choice, especially rankling at being called sisters, but understood why it had to be this way.

For Lenti, this was a decision made from love. She wanted to maintain an important relationship, regardless of her personal cost, in the hopes that it would keep the tight-knit family together. 

And even if she wanted to tell her grandmother, she never quite knew how to approach the subject. 

"She has always understood marriage as something between a man and a woman," Lenti said. 

When Tapestry first ran this story in 2019, Lenti expected to hide her sexual identity as long as possible from  her grandmother.  

However, in the middle of Ontario's second lockdown, Piat-Sauve proposed to Lenti. And that changed everything.

The big Italian family

Lenti is part of a big Italian family and grew up living across the street from her grandmother, who is originally from Calabria. Lenti remembers her grandmother occasionally bursting out the door with a pot of burning food, smoke billowing around her. 

"She's very kind of chaotic in her methods and she's very loud, but she is very adorable," said Lenti. "She's a punchy kind of woman."

That's not always a positive. 

A key moment that informed Lenti's decision to hide her identity, occurred when a family friend came out as gay. That woman's mother disowned her, and Lenti's nonna said she approved of the mother's decision.

Lenti and her fiancée Arielle live together with their one-eyed dog in Toronto. (Submitted by Erica Lenti )

Lenti doesn't consider staying in the closet as a necessarily sad decision. She feels the ability to make that choice, is in itself, a kind of freedom and empowerment.  

She has friends from the Middle East and Asia who aren't fully out to their parents, but don't feel limited by this arrangement.

"Instead of letting the closet limit us, perhaps we put limitations on what we believe the closet is," said Lenti.

"I've taken some solace in knowing that there are other people like that and that there's another way to see it."

Pandemic proposal

That was in 2019. But in late November, Lenti discovered a ring in a box in which she'd been keeping souvenirs from the past year. Piat-Sauve took her aside and told her to get dressed because their families were waiting downstairs from their Toronto apartment. 

"We had sort of talked about getting engaged this year, I'd also bought her a ring already, too, which is like the most lesbian thing ever, I think," said Lenti. 

"And so it was just like a really lovely moment, at the end of the year that has been so long and exhausting."

But not long after the euphoria faded, Lenti began to dread what would have to come next. She'd probably have to tell her grandmother she was engaged.

Partly that's out of practicality — it would be hard to hide a large Italian (and Jewish on her fiance's side) wedding from her nonna. But her mother encouraged her. If ever she was going to come out to her grandmother, now seemed like the moment to do it. 

We both started crying. It was a moment that I never expected to have.- Erica Lenti

Her mom acted as intermediary, delivering the news to nonna in person. Lenti was at home, folding laundry when her mother called with an update. When she answered the phone, the laundry fell from her hands. 

It had gone well. Nonna would be behind her, whenever the couple chose to make their vows. 

"We both started crying. It was a moment that I never expected to have," said Lenti.  

"I had amped myself up so much to deal with this simultaneous experience of immense joy and being with the person I love. And the immense heartbreak of not being able to celebrate that love with someone who's so important in my life."

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

now