I grew up in a very religious household.
How many coming out stories begin with that line?
I’ve read a couple of articles in the past few days that made me decide to blog my coming out story. I always like to hear other peoples’ stories and experiences with realizing who they were as gay/lesbian/bisexual, because you can learn a lot about a person by hearing that story. Who we are now is very much affected by our past; our families, our friends, and our beliefs and ideals shape us very early on. Between reading Meg Sneed’s story in Echo and finding Boi From Troy (right as he’s about to bow out, dammit, I can’t believe it took me so long! He’s an amazing writer!), I figured it was about time to put any military aspirations behind me for now and move forward. Yes, I had been planning to closet myself again, and I suppose I still could after this, but if Obama keeps his promise, I shouldn’t have to.
We didn’t have much when I was a kid. My dad was in the US Navy, and right on the heels of Vietnam, support for the military wasn’t a popular thing. Dad left the Navy when I was about 8 or 9 and we moved some more; he’d get promotions once in a while that would require moving to another town. No matter where we lived, we always ended up back home in Texas, but we still moved around enough that I never really had time to make friends.
Mom pushed to get me involved in a church youth group as early as she could because she thought it would do me good. Unfortunately, it only did so much. I was always a tomboy. While my sister was playing with her dolls, I was bombing Barbie’s beach house from my side of the room with my collection of G.I. Joe figures. I didn’t like dresses or long hair; I wanted to be as tough as I possibly could be. Part of that stemmed from being constantly bullied at school, but there was something else there that everyone else had figured out, something I didn’t even recognize. I didn’t have crushes on boys the way the other girls at school did. I fell for the other girls in class. Of course, that wasn’t exactly normal, so I knew I could never walk up to one of them and tell them I thought they were cute; I was afraid of getting the beatdown of my life.
Then I started going to church. My abysmal grades (due to a complete lack of interest in doing homework) led my parents to make me repeat the 6th grade, and my second time around we started going to Grace Community Church in Houston. Even then it was a megachurch and I started getting involved quickly. It was about the only thing I did that really made my mother happy. Trouble was, I was getting bullied at church, too. Some of the kids I went to school with went to church with me, as did some of the kids in the neighborhood. So after youth group was over I was usually getting made fun of, pushed around and/or outright beat up. I tried to tell someone, but a lot of these kids had parents in the leadership of the church, so nothing really stopped. I first tried to commit suicide when I was only 12 years old.
I can’t imagine the hell my parents went through when I did that. Or, when two years later, I tried it again. I didn’t know who I was supposed to be, what I was supposed to do, or why I didn’t fit in. I felt like an outsider everywhere I went, including at home. My mother finally explained to me when I was 14 what “gay” and “lesbian” meant (that’s how sheltered I was as a kid), but I still didn’t quite get it. What did that mean? I had heard about same-sex relationships at church in a very negative connotation. It still didn’t explain to me why I wasn’t like everyone else. I wanted so badly to be liked, but I didn’t know how to make myself someone everyone would like. So I started trying to be someone else. I once told my classmates I was from Australia. I learned at an early age how to fake many foreign accents incredibly well. I was always discovered, though. It didn’t matter what stories I cooked up, I was always found out, and things got even worse. You’d think I’d have learned from all this.
We moved to Arizona when I was a senior in high school. By that time I’d been homeschooled for just over a year, so I was even more sheltered when we moved back to the city. I got my first job, graduated, and in the middle of it all got involved at another church. By this time I had come to understand homosexuality a lot more–mostly by reading articles in Christian magazines. Everything I read was very negative. I wouldn’t call it hateful, but there was a twist to be found in everything. I had decided that in no way, shape or form could I possibly be gay. I was a Christian. I had signed a promise card during the “True Love Waits” rally. I read the bible and studied it incessantly, even gone to bible school. I felt the Holy Spirit. There was no possibility that I could be gay.
Ideas of dating guys, much less having sex with guys, were nonexistent. I knew I was supposed to marry some good Christian guy and live happily ever after, but I still hadn’t had that “feeling.” Listening to the other girls in the youth group, I started wondering if I was normal, but I pushed those questions out of my mind. I figured if I ignored it it’d just go away and I could be normal. I started playing in Christian rock bands and going on tours. Remember my propensity to tell stories? This was where I told another one. After being sent to an oncologist to check two grossly swollen lymph nodes, I started telling everyone I might have cancer. The attention I got was like a drug. When I found out it was just mononucleosis, what I should have done was share that joy with everyone. Instead, I told them I had cancer. This is one of those things that I still feel guilt over. It’s a funny thing…when you tell such a grand story like this while asking God publicly to hold you accountable, inevitably He will. And He did. This was about ten years ago, in 1998. To this day I remember how hurt and disappointed everyone was when they found out, and I wish more than anything that I could take it back.
Shortly after 9/11, I lost my long-held job at a major bank and went to work as an officer for the State of Arizona. This was the big turning point. Somewhere in the beginning, I slowly started to realize that I was in love with a female supervisor. I dismissed it at first, and I tried hard to just focus on work, but it kept eating away at me until I could no longer ignore it. I was 24 years old when I suddenly realized something that I had tried my whole life to ignore: I might be gay. It scared the hell out of me.
The depression slowly built over a couple of months, and I threw myself into work to try to keep myself busy enough to forget about it. There were weeks when I’d do nearly eighty hours. I was trying to change what couldn’t be changed, something everyone else already knew but I had yet to accept. One night in November of 2002, I sat in my room with my gun for many hours, debating whether or not to finally quit screwing around and just kill myself. One of the things I argued was that if I really was gay, if I killed myself before I could consummate it, I wouldn’t go to hell. God might still love me yet. As we all know, I’m still here. I checked myself into a hospital and gave my gun to a fellow officer to avoid doing something permanently stupid in a moment of weakness.
It took me two months just to tell my family that I thought I might be gay. When I finally did, my brother and sister weren’t surprised in the least. My dad didn’t appear surprised; he appeared to be nonplussed about the whole thing. My mother got very emotional. She asked me, “what did I do so wrong that you would do this to me?” I told her what I honestly believed: it wasn’t about her, she’d done the best she could, that I had to figure this out on my own. I spent six months in the deepest depression of my life, studying scripture and poring over essay after essay written by both sides, those who believed homosexuality to be a mortal sin and those who believed it was much ado about nothing.
I still have my problems, just like anyone else in this world. I carry a lot of guilt over the horribly selfish things I did when I was younger. I always will. My friends now will tell you I’m one of the people they trust the most because I’ve genuinely earned it. A few of my old bandmates from ten years ago are still in my life, and they’ll tell you I’m a completely different person. Their forgiveness means more than anything to me. My father’s forgiveness means even more. Being able to really figure out who I am and being able to be okay with it made a difference that nobody could have predicted for me. Work is still my drug, though. When I can’t put in overtime, I give all of my free time to volunteering or studying. It’s my way of shutting out my issues. I’ll never be perfect, but I can damn sure try.
For me, like Meg, coming out is a sort of quiet activism. Those who oppose certain gay rights can see me and what kind of person I am and are more likely to change their minds when they get to know me than they are by seeing a protest on the street. Some people have. I like to think that’s a credit to who I’ve become as I’ve grown. I’m still a believer, though I bristle at being called religious. I believe that the single most important thing I can do as a lesbian in American society is to simply live well and treat others with respect and dignity, even if I disagree with them. That will turn more heads and hearts than any sign I could ever carry, any slogan I could chant, or any shirt I could wear.
Studies now show that families that refuse to accept gay children push an inordinate number of them toward severe depression, drug use, alcoholism and other very negative lifestyle choices. Sometimes I wonder where the hell this stuff was when I was a kid, but part of me understands that everything I did and everything I experienced had an impact on who I’d become. Sometimes past hurt can be more powerful than anything else. Coming clean can heal wounds you never knew you had.