How Finding My Queer Voice Led Me to Myself
First and foremost I want to preface this by saying these are my own experiences. In no way am I aiming to discredit another life journey, background, or religious practice.
I know that my story is not unique. Many of us are indoctrinated into belief systems that carve out where our self-doubt will manifest before we even exist. Hell, before we are even born people have decided a lot for us. Historically, children are not taught autonomy but are required to answer a lot of their own questions.
How can you learn what you prefer, much less master how to please yourself, when you are taught from the start that nothing about you is inherently yours to keep?
Growing up evangelical, the first story I was taught was Adam and Eve. In rudimentary terms: Eve was tempted. Eve was bad for having and acting upon her curiosity. Eve provoked Adam. All generations are officially damned now that the “original sin” has been committed. This story, and many more like it, are all rooted in shame. More specifically, rooted in a woman’s shame (Yes, even in binary). We would learn in Bible studies how God made man/woman and nothing in between. We were taught that we were to live a life that would honor our future husbands. I was taught that freedom and personal choices were only acceptable if they were within the realm of these heteronormative societal expectations.
Most would agree that this is a bit much for a child to be responsible for. I felt like an accessory that was only shown to people when and if I was reflecting the shiniest, most favorable attributes of my parents.
I never felt like I fit in. I realized I was different than everyone around me when I started having vastly different goals than other girls my age. My friends would daydream about their fathers giving them away to another man one day. I never wanted that. I could not figure out what was wrong with me. I was never “boy crazy”. I never had crushes. I did, however, have women I noticed I was attracted to, either because I looked up to them or because I wanted to be with them.
I was told that gay people need to repent or they were going to hell. It was all way too much pressure and I ended up closing myself off to anything future or sexuality-related. The only way to survive was to narrow down my options and discard a lot of my own feelings.
It is also worth noting that once puberty hit- I was bigger than all my peers. I was navigating toxic diet culture from a very young age which added to this shame.
The only representation I had as a young woman navigating her sexuality was Ellen.[i] I would watch her in the evenings- just to get a glimpse of what something else looked like- how her life even worked. My dad would enter the room, change the channel and tell me she was a disgusting person for being gay and for being a liberal. At this age, I could not figure out what aspect he despised more. His disgust was then followed by a “love the sinner, hate the sin” speech. Apparently, this would somehow make him seem nicer and more godly.
I saw how the public treated gay people. They were either the funny token or the troubled neighbor. Always adjacent to the protagonist-, but never the main character. For all the queer folks out there- I know. This does not give us a lot to work with. Every time I tried to explore it felt like another door was closed. This stifled many of my own gifts. Do not worry- I find them in the end.
I was excited to start college because I knew I would have some freedom to truly find out who I was. I attended Shorter College- nestled in a small conservative town. At this point, I began exploring my true interests and desires. The college is a liberal arts school and at the time was open-minded. I experienced a lot of religious trauma but was alongside many like-minded individuals and felt like I could be more myself. About two years in, a Baptist convention released a new lifestyle statement that faculty had to sign and stand by.[ii] An entire section read “I reject as acceptable all sexual activity not in agreement with the Bible, including but not limited to, premarital sex, adultery, and homosexuality.” As this document was released they started placing homophobic reading materials in their libraries and hosting “pray the gay away” events. I transferred as soon as I could.
After that experience- I wanted desperately to find out what worked for me. What suited me. I tried so many things recklessly because I did not know how to explore safely. I ended up being an easy target to be groomed by abusers and dated absolutely anyone. I did not understand my own autonomy. I wanted to belong somewhere so badly. I used to blame myself for this but now I know that none of it was my fault.
In case you need a reminder, too: It was not and is not your fault.
I found out that where I belonged was with myself.
I learned that in order to be myself I could not remain passive. I could not follow the normals I was encouraged to participate in. I began my own research and gained a lot of knowledge about intersectionality. My story is not unique to me because society is deeply rooted in white supremacy and Christianity has been used as a tool to oppress all minority groups. This is when I found feminism- a huge turning point in my own empowerment story.
I learned that I never needed a savior. I never needed a hero. I am my own. I surrounded myself with people who helped me remain authentic. My chosen family encourages me to be the person the kid version of me needed to see and look up to.
And to my wife- thank you for letting me find myself. You have always seen me.
I have all that I need and I always have. It took me a longer time than most to feel settled with my queer identity. Instead of being bitter about the lost opportunities, I lean into telling my story.
I woke up one day and decided to start sharing my queer, fat, and mentally ill self. It was not serving me or anyone else to stay quiet or complacent. Peacekeeping was no longer appealing to me and I replaced it with representation and the uplifting of others.
Hear me when I say- I still have really, really hard days when it comes to shame and my traumas. I can end up in a spin cycle spiral of thoughts and negativity I cannot shake. A huge part of my healing is knowing that these blips do not last forever and to take it easy on myself. I deserve gentleness.
I want anyone reading this now to know that there is no timeline. It is never too late to give yourself the childhood you wish you had.
I see you. You are right where you need to be. You are perfectly, uniquely your own. You always have been.
[i] I started watching Ellen’s talk show in 2003 when it first started airing. I did not even know about her coming out story until much later even though she came out in 1997. Probably because it was hidden by my parents. It’s also fair to note that Ellen didn’t offer a broad range of representation and I definitely do not stand for her behaviors now. However, she is all a lot of us had because hardly anyone else was in the public eye.
[ii] The Georgia Baptist Convention is a state wide organization but I think others in the south have a similar ones and they all work together. This particular organization’s mission was to sweep into universities to “clean them up”.