I came out to the world in June. I guess they say “came out publicly,” but whatever. For a long time, I’ve struggled with the fact that I waited so long to be myself. I wanted to share a little bit of the reasoning behind the wait and share the truth about how it feels to hate yourself for being yourself.
I remember being young. Being young for me was a war; at home, I was the unwanted accessory to my mother – as she screamed that she wished I was dead, that she never would have gotten pregnant, that I ruined everything, I believed her. As I got older, those feelings turned into anger. Anger towards my situation (you can’t choose your family), anger towards my body (something that others deemed as the focal point of my humanity), anger towards the world in a more general sense. That anger seemed to subside whenever I was allowed to tag along with my friends to church services. At church, people saw me. They treated me like I was special; I now know that “special” may not have been how they saw me. Many people knew about portions of my home life: living significantly below the poverty line, the rocky past of my mother and her relationship with drugs, and the lack of direction, structure, and religion. While I thank these people for what they did for me every day (I wouldn’t have made it out without them), I always wanted people to love me just because they loved me. I thought that this could be found within the walls of the church.
In Texas and the southern region of the United States, 76% of adults identify as members of the Christian faith – and people wonder where the stereotype of the south comes from. I, like almost all of the people I knew in high school, were certified members of the forced baby Christians. Organizations like Fellowship of Christian Athletes and events such as Disciple Now dominated my high school, while Christian summer camps were what the kids now call “the move” in earlier school years.
With the tropes of southern Christianity comes, well, the ideologies of homosexual hell fire. From the time I was around 7 years old, I was told that “the gays” were disgusting, vile humans who were made by the devil to ruin the good Christian people on Earth. In Sunday school, I watched video tapes that preached on the “dangers” of “the gays” and how associating with a homosexual was a seeming gateway drug to sin. Every sermon, every moment, every revival (yes, I went to revivals and didn’t catch on fire) had a tinge of hatred for those in the LGBTQIA+ community.
I remember the first girl I had a crush on. She was absolutely stunning in my 6th grade mind and I would have done anything to get close to her. She was funny, genuine, and brought me joy that nothing in my life had before. As we got closer and closer, I realized that the feelings that I had for boys were the same feelings I was having for this girl. That night, I went home and cried. I cried, I prayed, I punished myself over and over again. I had convinced myself that hell was made specifically for people like me. Disgusting girls who felt romantic, emotional, and sexual attraction toward other girls.
I thought that maybe if I got baptized, my sins would go away. I wouldn’t feel attraction to that girl, or any other girls. I walked to the alter, weeping as I told the pastor that I had accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior – and I had! I did! Baptism would make me clean! As the cold water collided with my young body, I felt the weight of my feelings being shoved deeper and deeper into the space in my heart that would take years to get through.
In high school, many attractions to girls came and went. I stayed the same, in my Christian shame. How could God love someone like me? I was ashamed of the moments that I “slipped,” that my mind drifted to kissing boys.. and kissing girls… touching boys… touching girls… NO. I had to stop.
I have a gay cousin who I’ve always thought was honestly the shit. He has always been loud, kind, willing to hug, willing to dream, always has lived his truth.. members of my family (who I don’t really consider my family now) always made small, snarky comments about his body language, his tone, his flamboyancy, and saying that there was nothing to do but pray for him. I never prayed for him; I prayed to be like him.
Welcome to high school – a very small, conservative high school in which the people you’ve known your whole life start to change.. and get worse. We all experience the popular crowd, the athletic crowd, the band nerds (whaddddduuuuup), etc. In my high school, one of my classmates was outed by someone that they had experimented with. When I say it was a big deal, it was a BIG deal. I remember the whispers, the stares, the tears. If there are regrets in my life, it’s this: Heather, you deserved more. You deserved to be stood up for, you deserved love and protection. I was too scared to be who I was, thank you for being who I couldn’t.
My relationship with God has been tumultuous, to say the least. As I said before, people from church always felt an obligation to take care of me. I was the kid that always came to church with her friends parents, never dressed appropriately, never clean, never fed. I was a Christian woman’s wet dream – a project child. While some people were genuine, I know that for some, I was in the public relations department of Jesus Christ. The first time I tried to commit suicide, I held a knife to my wrists. I sat on the toilet seat, crying, door locked. I prayed and prayed and prayed that God would just take me away, he would just take me to somewhere I was loved, needed. But the words of every pastor I ever had clung to my lungs, choking me with the words “homosexuality is a sin. Homosexuals will burn in hell, forever. You are SICK. You need spiritual HELP. The DEVIL is your MASTER..” I brought the knife to my wrist; I knew the pain already, but physical pain could do nothing worse to me than what I felt then.
Then, in the quiet, I heard a sweet voice. When I say voice, it’s almost like a small breeze through your mind. A soft whisper that said “you aren’t done yet.” I felt God in that bathroom. I dropped the knife. I cleaned my tears. I left hell fire and brimstone God on the tile floor and never saw him again.
I have always loved people. I believe that when you grow up in toxicity, you have two avenues: bitter and better. I vowed my whole life to always be better – love better, live better, strive for better. Part of being better is loving people. I have always considered myself an ally – I could care less your gender, sexual preference, skin color, income, etc.. if you love me and love others, I see you. I love you. I believe in you.
Let’s go to college. College was, well, still is, a dream. Meeting and experiencing new people, people who are shy, people who are brave, people who are.. well, drunk A LOT. In college I met many, many members of the LGBTQIA+ community. Many of whom inspired me to become who I was. Wendy, you did so much for me as a friend, but more than that, a member of the community who understood me, allowed me to question, and loved me through it. Thank you.
So many of my kind friends shared their experiences with me, so many encouraged me to be myself. But, that was their lives. I could never come out, I could never date a woman. I wasn’t bisexual, I wasn’t allowed to be. I couldn’t. I had been force-fed the toxic narrative that gay people were unworthy of the pure love of God, I didn’t want to go to hell. I closed my mouth.
I dress up for my best friend Ali’s Woodstock themed birthday party. The aim? Intoxication. My other best friend had just gotten back from her stint of living in New Zealand and it was time to celebrate. I took a lot of tequila shots that night, I felt loose and free and.. well, me. Haley, my New Zealand gal and I sat on the edge of Ali’s bed when I look over at her and tell her “I think I’m bi.” She smiles and says, “I know.”
It’s April 2019. I’m in Washington, D.C. presenting a study on Tinder (y’all know I’m obsessed with the online dating dynamic, met my mans there). I have a dear friend who I went on a Readership trip with in 2013. We’ve always stayed somewhat in touch, but this trip brought back the nostalgia of traveling and of being young. I’ve noticed her in photos with a girl and decided to ask her about this mystery woman – turns out, it’s her girlfriend. I’m shocked, but so excited for her. You deserve all the love in the world, my friend.
I decide to be honest with myself and turn my Tinder preferences to explore men and women. I feel a soft breeze in my mind. I’m finally me.. well, online. I meet a girl during my presentation panel – she is wearing such a cool outfit. Her smile is killer. Wow, I really.. I’m entranced. She stays after the panel and talk forever. As my friend and I walk up to our hotel room, I realized that I’m actually, you know, IN TO this girl. I email her and ask her to grab a drink in the hotel lobby… a few Facebook clicks later, I realize she has a girlfriend. That’s okay. We grab drinks and I make a lifelong friend, who I tell the truth to. Nora, you’re a dream. Thank you for the love, laughter, friendship, and general angel quality.
I’ve always believed in the forgiving, loving, compassionate God. He has always been a part of my logic. I’ve read the bible three times over; I’ve read the intricacy of having faith, loving the “unlovable.” One of my friends that is also a part of the LQBTQIA+ community is the most devout, pure, beautiful Christian I have ever met. He made me believe in myself, he made me dream, he never pushed me to my truth, but silently cheered me along the way. He has always told me that God loves everyone – even he and I.
I come back to Texas. I feel the Christian guilt creepy up into my vocal chords. I tell Ali my truth. She says, “I know.”
I feel my feelings volcano inside of me. I want to tell the one person who matters the most to me – my brother. I sat in my car, I typed a long message that began with “I understand if you don’t love me anymore..” I hit send. I sat in my car waiting for an answer. I soon begin to have the worst panic attack I’ve ever had. The thought of losing my brother, the one person I could always go to, the person who gave me the most important things in my life – my nephews – I regretted sending the text. I felt as though I had lost everything. That night, a miracle decided to make his little appearance. Thanks for stealing my thunder, Quinn (just kidding, you’re the cutest). I met my brother at the hospital, he hugged me hard in the parking lot. I apologized. He said “I know.”
It’s June. It’s pride month. It’s Amarillo pride. My oldest friend and name twin, Tessa, head to pride. I feel like my heart could burst – there are so many people here who are just like me – and completely different than me! You see, Tessa and I were raised in the same town, with the same surroundings. Her parents took me to church. She and I learned about things together. She and I grew up together, grew apart, and came back together for this moment. I dress in rainbows and black. I am honest with myself and everyone else for the first time ever. I come out publicly.
I remember that God loves me and that he would never wish harm on his children. I dream of better days. I meet the person of my dreams.
I have been scared my whole life to be who I am. To love who I love. To feel the desires and affections I do. I’m not scared anymore.
I am bisexual. I am loved and so are you.