For 27 years, I danced in the dark. I didn’t know there was another way. I had long relegated myself to hiding in shadows for fear that my true identity would be revealed. Yet I was no Diana Prince keeping her Wonder Woman identity from the world. I thought myself a villain for all the lies I’d told.
Growing up in a conservative Southern Baptist family, no one spoke of homosexuality. No one spoke of it as a sin because no one spoke of it at all. I remember being ten years old watching Friends, the episode where Carol and Susan get married. It was the first time I’d seen two women fall in love and tie the knot. I asked my mother about it. She simply said I wasn’t allowed to watch Friends anymore. I lied to my mother to watch Ellen at a friend’s house during her infamous “Puppy” episode. I was fascinated by women loving women and I couldn’t explain why. I just knew that it wasn’t something to talk about. And in my family if we didn’t talk about something, then that something must have been wrong or immoral or a sin. I didn’t want to burn in the hell my Gran spoke of. I wanted to be a “good girl” and so I pushed my wonderings to the attic of my mind where I was sure no one could find them.
I’d kept other secrets there, too, secrets so traumatic that I locked those rooms with a key. In one of those rooms was a little girl being molested by a member of her family. The lesson that little girl learned at such a tender age was that her body wasn’t hers. Her safe bubble could be burst at any moment the attacker chose to make her his prey. And so to be the good girl, she made sure there were extra locks on that door. Locks that would only be opened with intense therapy later in her life.
I started to notice girls when I was in sixth grade, but boys were the ones who noticed me. I didn’t particularly care for them, but liking them, or pretending to, was acceptable. I didn’t trust them, or the men they’d grow into. However, when I got my very first boyfriend, my mother giggled and asked if we’d held hands yet. She thought it was the cutest thing in the world. Even then, I wondered why it was okay to have a boyfriend at 11, but not okay to watch a TV show. Ever the obedient daughter, I went along with my mother.
Once, when I was walking laps on the track with a close friend, a bully named Brianna yelled, “Are you a dirty lesbian? I bet you’re a lesbian.” I was left speechless in her wake: How did she know my secret fear? My friend told her to go away, bother someone else, but I was shaken.
I had many boyfriends in middle school. They’d fight over me. I knew the boys weren’t noticing me; they were noticing biology. I developed earlier than other girls. The popular girls would bully me whenever a boy that one of them liked liked me more. At one point, the bullying was so severe that a rumor began that I’d had breast implants, that I stuffed my chest with tissues, and that I shoved all of this into a push-up bra. I cried daily. I would’ve died if the popular girls knew I had a crush on more than one of them and that I couldn’t have cared less about their junior high romances. However, their taunting convinced me to remain in the dark. My lies only piled higher.
High school brought a reprieve. My best friend from middle school went to the same high school as I did and introduced me to her friends. They became my friends, too. There were openly gay students. Until then, I’d never come across an openly queer person in my life (I led a sheltered life). I flocked to their circle, fascinated by their ferocity to be who they were, damning the world and its consequences. I still dated guys. I was rarely without a boyfriend, if only for appearances sake. However, by senior year, I still hadn’t had sex with anyone. I’d barely French kissed. I got called a prude, a nun, a preacher’s kid (which was simply inaccurate. I was a preacher’s granddaughter. If you’re going to be rude, get it straight). I was called the opposite because of how I dressed. A mean girl once asked me if I was going to be a stripper when I grew up. My crew of friends, the LGBTQ+ crowd, were there every step of the way, encouraging me to be who I didn’t know I was supposed to be. They saw me before I ever saw myself.
I remember losing my virginity to my prom date and immediately regretting it. I wasn’t in love. I was fucking to prove a point. I wanted to prove my body was mine once more, after so many years of the bullying and the teasing and the nightmares, though the abuse had ceased years before. I sunk deeper into the abyss of lies. As I grew older, I’d have long term relationships, but rarely had sex. My lack of a sex drive killed most of those relationships. Until one day, I met my future husband. He was a different kind of man. I trusted him, whereas in the past, my distrust of men had been as blinding as a bright light. After a couple of years together, I became pregnant. I got married – that’s what good Southern girls do when they’re knocked up.
After my son was born, my world was shaken. I felt a love, the purest love you can possibly have, like your very first high, only this time, I flew higher in love with this tiny human I’d brought into the world. There was one issue: one day he’d grow up and see me for who I was. Who did I want to be for my son? Outside of my own home, marriage equality was only a few years away and rainbow flags flew defiantly next to the Confederate ones in my tiny home state. Was I ready to shed the shame I carried from my past? Was I ready to come out?
By then, my marriage was over thanks to my husband’s cheating. I remember sitting in a big, cozy chair in the living room, staring at my phone, with the knowledge that my marriage had ended washing over me like a summer rainstorm. I stared at the screen, willing it to give me the courage to say out loud the words I’d hidden in the night. Of course my marriage was over. Years earlier, I’d confided to my then husband that I thought I might be gay, but he’d steered me towards thinking I was bisexual. I blamed myself for his infidelity. I couldn’t give him what he wanted and he sought solace elsewhere.
I never got to officially come out. After our breakup, my ex-husband told my mother I was gay. The lesbian cat was out of the bag. I was incensed that he’d taken away my choice to announce my sexuality on my own terms. But in his own twisted way, he did me a favor. In her own way, my mother still struggles, but she loves and accepts me (didn’t see that one coming? Neither did I.)
My love for my son gave me the strength I needed to live my authentic life. I had to let part of the old me die, so that the truest parts of me could live. Unburdened by the pain of the past, I could live in the light. I’d go on to find true love, inspire my sister to come out, too, and teach my child about all the kinds of love that exist. I was finally free.
On April 26, we celebrate lesbians. We aspire to challenge the stereotypes and societal judgements we face. We also encourage lesbians who are still hidden in the closet to come join a family that will always love and support them.
From my heart to yours, I will celebrate your story with you. If you’re not ready to come out, it’s okay, I’ve been there. Simply know that today, we want you to feel the collective love and affirmation we’re sending your way. And for those who’ve come out, thank you for walking so I could run.