My name is Jawann McBeth, I’m from Ewing, New Jersey.
When I was 5 years old, my mom got to this point in the Bible. I remember I was Leviticus 18:22 where it said, “Thou shall not lie with another man; it’s a sin.”
And I remember stopping my mom and being like, “Why can’t two men lie together?”
After she collected herself her response was just, “It’s a sin. If you do it, you’re going to go to Hell. So don’t do it. Man and woman, that’s how it’s always been and that’s how it’s supposed to be.”
About 11 years later, I turned 16 and prior to that I had been trying to get into this program. It was called Princeton University Preparatory Program where they take a bunch of students that really excel academically but don’t really have the finances to get into any kind of college. One of the classes I remember taking was Personal Development. The prompt was just “Tell us about you. Everything about you.” And I took that a bit too far because I told everything about me including that I apparently liked both women and men, and I came out as bisexual in my paper.
After the paper was read, it got passed around. It was a good thing mainly because there was so much support, you could tell, so taking that, I decided that I was going to bring my paper home and I was going to show my grandmother. I gave my grandmother the paper and I was like, “Hey, Maw Maw, I got a really good grade on this and I think you should read it. I’m going to go get some Chinese food, I’ll be back and let me know what you think when I come back.”
So she like waves and is like, “Alright, okay, whatever” and I set it on the table.
I get my food and walking back home, I’m shivering and sweating and I get home, I open the door. I see my grandmother still in the kitchen and she’s like, “Do you have something to tell me?”
I’m like, I couldn’t actually say anything back and she’s like, “You hear me talking to you? Are you gay? You’re gay, right?”
And I’m like, “No, I’m not, I like women too.” Which was a complete lie. But I felt that if I came out as bisexual it would be less of a blow. My grandmother clearly saw right through that and was like, “You’re gay.”
I could see this inner happiness actually coming from my turmoil. She was just like, “I’m going to tell everyone about you. I’m going to call your mom, I’m going to tell your mom, I’m going to tell your brother, I can’t wait.”
She was actually enjoying my pain. So my mom comes over, she’s already suspicious, she doesn’t know what’s going on. She sits down in the living room, I sit down, my grandmother sits down and she just like crosses her arms and she’s like, “Jawann, don’t you have something to tell her?”
So she’s tormenting, like coaxing it out of me. “Well, Mom, I like women and I like men too.”
And she just burst into tears because she obviously saw right through that and I’m sure she flashbacked to when I was 5. My mom was like, “Are you sure? What do you mean? You can’t be gay.” She was like, “You’re going to go to Hell.”
That was her first reaction. My grandmother gets up and she’s like, “Alright, Lee, well you can go now. I’m going to make him tell his brother as well so I’ll give you a call later. We’ll talk about this. I can’t wait to tell everyone else.”
I knew the next person that was going to come home was my grandfather. He comes home at 6:00 on the dot. My grandmother calls me back: “You’re grandfather is home, you’ve got to tell him too. He’s like, “Well, what do you have to tell me? What is it?”
And I go, “Well, I think I like men too. And I like women.”
He was just like, “Well, you’re going through a phase. You’re not a sissy. Back in my day, we didn’t, we didn’t have sissies, we didn’t play with the sissies.”
He completely dismissed it like I didn’t exist, like that part of me didn’t exist.
I didn’t know what else to think. I’m waiting for my brother to get home. I know he’s going to be the last person I’m going to have to face through this day of just complete regret. Here he comes through the door and my brother is there and he’s looking at me weirdly. I didn’t have the same playful look in my eyes that I typically do whenever we interact. She’s like, “Alright, Jawann, what do you have to tell him? What do you have to tell your brother?”
And at this point I was just already drained, I couldn’t put up a fight anymore. I was just like, “I like women and men. I’m bisexual.”
And he just sat there and after a really, really long pause, my grandmother asks him, “So are you…is that it? Are you, don’t you have something to say to him? Are you upset? What do you feel right now?”
And he’s like, “He likes men too, okay. Is that it? I’m going to go upstairs now.”
My brother’s obviously set out because it was just what I needed. It was someone who just couldn’t care less. Still accepted me for who I was, for who I liked, and really it didn’t phase him at all.
My grandmother, all I can say is she just was never going to understand and there was nothing I could do to change that so I just came to terms with it. And I didn’t try and change her, I didn’t try to bring her into my world because there was no room for her.
It was my senior year, I believe, I asked my mom for boots that have a little heel on them. It was for Halloween actually. And I wanted to be Beyonce for Halloween. And my mom didn’t necessarily know what…she didn’t really know at all, but I was just like, “Mom, just let me borrow your shoes…no, let me borrow those, the black ones.”
And she was like, “Okay…alright.”
And she gave them to me. It’s just that level of support. Everything has been nothing but support from my brother, from my mom. They’re my family.