I will never forget the feelings I had when I first came out. I felt free. I felt scared to death. I felt excited. I felt as if elephants were doing cartwheels in my stomach. It might be surprising, but I didn’t come out until I was 30. Yes, 3-0! What took me so long? It all had to do with my religious upbringing.
Growing up in a small town, I was engulfed into the Christian religion like much of my family (my grandfather and uncle were even ministers!), and I did all the things that were expected of me. I went to youth group, where I learned that being gay was a sin, and as I got older, I attended regular church, was the president of the youth group, traveled overseas doing missionary work, and I even went to a Christian college where I earned a bachelor’s degree in Theology. I was on the path to becoming a youth minister, and although I acted happy, I wasn’t always happy, especially because I was continually burying any thought that I could be gay.
Burying my feelings was an everyday norm for me even when I didn’t realize that’s what I was doing. In middle school, all the other girls were boy-crazy. But not me, and I didn’t know why, but I did know the thought of getting physically close to a boy was absolutely EWWWW..! With all the girls in agreement about boys, I couldn’t help but ask myself, “what is wrong with me?” which led me to feel isolated and downright defective.
In college, I was actually dating a guy for a couple of years who was also my best friend, and we even began to talk about getting married (yeah, the whole time I felt sick to my stomach). I was grateful every day, though, that we didn’t have a physical relationship because we were “saving ourselves for marriage.” But one day, he suddenly broke up with me and immediately got a new girlfriend, and even though in my heart of hearts I didn’t want to be with him, the breakup really hurt me. This hurt drove me to become anorexic and bulimic, and this led to me developing an unhealthy perfectionist drive as I tried to be in control of my feelings and behavior. I felt like such a hypocrite because on the outside I acted like I had it all together, but behind closed doors, I couldn’t keep anything together.
I was on a downward and dark tailspin, and I kept continuing to cover up my feelings, which included deep burial of thoughts of being gay, which resulted in dark nights and suicidal feelings. I never learned to speak up and get support for my pain. Instead, I listened to others who said I wasn’t depressed and that I didn’t need help. Because I couldn’t find the voice to express my pain, I found other, very unhealthy, ways to scream. I would take half a bottle of Tylenol and find something sharp, like scissors, to scratch up my wrists so that others would notice my screams inside of my heart desperately trying to be heard. Dying wasn’t something I really wanted to do, but I was desperate for someone to see and hear me. Confusion, anger, and feelings of unworthiness filled my mind, heart, and soul.
Trying to get better for others hadn’t ever worked, but when I got to graduate school, I finally found myself able to take a hard look at my behaviors and mindset, and I started making healthier choices – all for myself, not because I felt I had to for others. It didn’t happen overnight; in fact, it took many years to get in total control of myself. However, I still knew that I had to keep digging within myself to heal myself and that this could only be done if I figured out, acknowledged, and faced the core issue causing my pain.
Then it happened: that moment where my life began to take a new path. I met Sue. We worked together as graduate assistants and quickly became inseparable. Initially, she had a girlfriend, but that relationship ended, and she needed a roommate. I had recently lost my living arrangements, so she invited me to live with her. Yes, at first, it was awkward because I had convinced myself that I wasn’t gay and she knew that, but I believed that there shouldn’t have been any problem with us living together. For two years, we roomed together, and there were moments where things became intimate between us, which confused me so much. Even though I was no longer that young girl in youth group being told that being gay would send me to Hell, those thoughts still swam in my head, and I had such a difficult time dealing with those thoughts while at the same time realizing that I felt something for her that I had never felt for anyone.
When our graduate program ended, we moved to separate towns, but we knew in our hearts that our friendship couldn’t end, so we met up every weekend to visit and to have our dogs play (they had grown quite accustomed to each other!). Two more years passed, and I moved to her town, and we were in a relationship – a physically loving relationship. But I just couldn’t accept that I was gay. I struggled with guilt, especially because I was trying to “pray the gay away” for her (that’s what my religion had taught me to do). Because I couldn’t accept my truth and allow us to embrace our love for each other openly and freely, it affected Sue so much that she became clinically depressed.
One day, she couldn’t take it anymore, and when she trudged herself away from a therapy session, she said to me, “We have tried to pray the gay away, but it hasn’t worked. I am gay and am in love with you, and I can’t stay here and pretend that I’m not.” This was my turning point.
It scared me to death that she might leave, and my fear of losing her was significantly greater than the teachings of my religion, greater than my fear of how the world treated gay people, and greater than my fear of how my family, friends, and peers would treat me.
It was a long journey and it wasn’t easy, but I got help. I went to therapy, and Sue supported me as I struggled with the questions I was facing. I had gone to therapy in the past, before grad school, but then I had been going for others, not for myself. This time, I did it for me. I was searching for my authentic voice. I became invested in my self-worth and faced my fears so I could move forward into a happy and healthy life. So much of my upbringing had been focused around salvation that now I found myself searching for my own salvation. That question of, “am I going to Hell?” continued to float in my mind, which brought up residue feelings of suicidal thoughts. But I was getting stronger and finding coping skills to stop those suicidal feelings and give me back my own power.
Through my search that homosexuality didn’t end in Hell, I had conversations with a supportive pastor and took a class on homosexuality and the Bible. I also read a book called Is the Homosexual Your Neighbor and found hope in a different interpretation of the scriptures that was affirming and not what I had been taught all these long years. Then one night at church, the congregation began singing “It is Well With My Soul,” and I started uncontrollably crying. I felt my heart split open and healing enter. I was GAY….. and I didn’t know how I would handle it, but I knew it was my truth. There was still a journey in front of me to live with my sexuality and not feel the shame and unworthiness that surrounded me in society, in my home church, and in my family, and it hasn’t been easy….but oh… it has been worth it!
Today, I’m living authentically, speaking my truth, and walking my talk. Coming out has opened my life up in amazing ways. I am LEGALLY married to my soulmate; Sue never left, and we have built an amazing life together. There is a deep respect and love we have for each other, and I have transformed my pain and shame into authentic power. Homophobic statements, losing friends and family, and not being hired for jobs still happen, but that doesn’t deter me from living my truth. I AM created from love, and I choose compassion and love as my guiding values. I know that I AM worthy of being seen, heard, valued, respected, and having equal rights. I will ALWAYS STAND for equality and compassion.
To you, our youth: don’t give in, don’t give up. As the It Gets Better Project states, IT GETS BETTER! Know that you are worthy. Know that you are uniquely you. Stay connected to people who reinforce this for you. Don’t allow the misinformed to take you out of your future. Lead with LUV for yourself! You matter and you can make it!
I know that is what you are called in high school even though you prefer the nickname Midge. And I know you struggle with telling people how you really feel. The negative messages you have received have shut you down from ever speaking your truth. So you say, “I’m fine,” and you feel guilty when you do have an angry outburst or get overly emotional.
I want you to know that you’re learning to shut yourself off so you don’t feel the pain. Part of your struggle is that you’re trying to fit into a straight world instead of embracing your own sexual orientation. You’ve never been given permission to explore your authentic self, which isn’t like everyone else – that you are in fact, gay.
This will be a painful journey for you emotionally, physically, and spiritually. I know you feel scared to even think about it because you have been taught that being gay is a sin and that you would be an abomination to God. With these teachings, of course, you’ve been unable to accept that part of you. However, acceptance from yourself will come, and you’ll realize your authentic self.
In the years to come, you will use all this pain and confusion in amazing ways. You’ll develop a sense of empathy that will connect you to the pain of others who are heading down the same path you are on. You’ll be able to reach out and catch them before they’re swallowed up by their pain. You’ll be a beacon of light and hope to those who feel lost and feel like giving up.
I also want you to know that your sensitivity and your ability to be truthful in how you feel will save your life and will save the lives of many others. You will learn to reach out for help, speak your truth, and then you’ll teach others to do the same.
I know you feel fat, ugly, invisible, and unworthy. The messages you’ve received about your body and your worthiness are not true. The people you love can’t love you the way you DESERVE to be loved. They’ve done the best they could, and even though it wasn’t enough, it was all they knew and all they could do.
When you smile, others are drawn to you. Your laughter will be remembered and recognized years and years later by people you’ll meet because it resonated with them, and they held onto the sound of your laugh as a comfort. Your ability to connect to the wounded will be your legacy.
Although you may have difficult struggles ahead and feel lost in darkness, and you may push people away who love you for who you are, please know that you will be able to pull yourself up and out of that darkness and start over because a special light will connect you to your divine calling.
All of your pain and talents will be called into purpose. And through your journey of self-discovery, you’ll realize that you are a fighter and there’s a reason why you’re here.
Michele, you are enough. You have always been enough and you have always been worthy. All of the challenges and mishaps are lessons, course corrections, and just being human. You’ll never be perfect, but you’ll always find an ability to expand in amazing and spiritual ways. A creator of your understanding will be found, and you’ll embrace your own divinity while owning your worthiness. You may go through some hurt, but you’ll get to your healing and there will be a transformation of your pain into authentic, positive power.
Here is my gift to you … You are loved. You are worthy. You matter in the world. You always have been and you always will be.
I’ll meet you at the end of our journey. I know you’ll make it. There are great things for you in your lifetime.
Contributed by Licensed Professional Counselor, Midge Noble