On the heels of National Coming Out Day, one of America’s famous families opened up about their emotional coming out story — one that sadly serves as something of a cautionary tale.
On Red Table Talk: The Estefans, Gloria Estefan, her sister-in-law Lili Estefan, and her daughter Emily Estefan engage in the kind of difficult conversations that the Pinkett-Smith clan made famous on their iteration of the show. On Wednesday’s episode, Emily shared the story of her coming out, and the deep hurt she still feels from it.
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At 21 years old, Emily was still “testing the waters” with her parents, afraid of how they might react. She said:
“I was having conversations in my head, trying to figure out, who am I, what is this, where do I fit. I was learning that I preferred women. … I felt ashamed.”
While the music icon was already embraced by the LGBTQ+ community, and as Lili put it, “one of the most open-minded people,” Emily admitted she “didn’t feel that” from her mother. She explained:
“I was like, ‘Hey, I’m in love with this girl.’ The first thing you said was, ‘If you tell your grandma and she dies, her blood is on your hands.’”
Oof. Not the best reaction, gurl.
Through tears, Emily continued:
“I just wasn’t ready for that. Because I understand my grandma was old, but it made me feel like whatever it is, okay, hide it. It’s not okay. So that’s where my hurt started. I’m never going to forget that.”
Somewhat defensively, the Conga singer claimed her daughter was “remembering things a different way.” In narration, the artist detailed her “complicated” relationship with her mother Gloria Fajardo, which included a two year period of estrangement. Gloria called her “controlling and set in her ways,” sharing:
“I was trying to protect both my ailing mother from any shock that could affect her health and Emily from anything that could harm their relationship.”
To Emily, she clarified:
“What I told you was, when you’re going to tell your grandma, why don’t you first introduce her to your girlfriend or your friend, have her get to know her a little. Because abuela has ulcerative colitis, an emotional disease. She almost died in 2007. Every time she would get upset, it was like, ‘uh oh.’”
Hmm, that doesn’t seem so much like denial that she said that but defense of the problematic response.
The 25-year-old acknowledged that her mother was “coming from love, from protection,” and brought up her own close relationship with Fajardo. But for Emily, it seemed her family was prioritizing her grandmother’s feelings over her own, when she needed protection too. And while Gloria thought her daughter was strong enough to handle the deception, in reality, Emily was “falling apart” and even suicidal.
Forced to hide her relationship with partner Gemeny Hernandez, she recalled:
“Then it became, oh well don’t hold Gem’s hand in public, what if abuela’s friend’s there and she’s gonna take a picture? And from my perspective, I can’t go to dinner and put my arm around my girlfriend without you saying, ‘You might as well put a sign around your neck.’”
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Gloria tried to justify her actions, but Emily laid down the law:
“No way, shape or form should you ever tell your daughter, ‘Why you gotta walk in here with your arm around your girlfriend and put a sign around your neck?’ No! You don’t say that.”
Absolutely! You tell ’em!
Thankfully, Emily has forgiven her mom and the pair have worked through their hurt in therapy. But this story is a really good example of what NOT to do when a loved one comes out. It wasn’t Emily’s responsibility to manage her grandmother’s potentially homophobic reaction to the news. And because of Gloria’s fears about what might happen, Emily never got to share her full truth with Fajardo before she passed on, something she still regrets to this day.
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Mom, I love this photo of us. Our setting: unknown, we simply display in front of a white wall. The cloth covering our bodies does not even resemble any article of clothing I can recognize. It merely covers us, keeping the attention on these two humans that just met in the physical world, but spent months sharing blood, and lives sharing lessons. Your body, still inflamed as a trophy of birth, but protecting and holding me in your arms with the strength and fury of a medieval army… yet coupled with the smile of a newly opened flower. The world has seen a million photos of my mom. Extravagant outfits that turn heads, pumping energy through thousands of people on stage, receiving awards upon awards. But the photo you see above… THAT is a photo of Gloria Estefan. A mother, who will stop at nothing for her children. A woman, built to protect and serve the ones she loves and is always at the front line. And a soul who was put on this earth to make it a little easier for so many of us, even though she had it a little harder. I love you mom. Thank you for YOU. And thank you to all the mothers and mother figures out there who serve as silent warriors for us all.
This was a SUPER intense and emotional Red Table Talk, but it’s really incredible to see these women be so open and honest about a painful time in their family’s life. We appreciate the Estefans for sharing their story with the world.
Ch-ch-check out more of their conversation (below):
[Image via WENN, Nikki Nelson & Johnny Louis]