My story is not all that unique. You’ve probably heard it a thousand times before but it is one that has shaped me in many ways and made me who I am today.
I was 16 years old and living in Boulder City, Nevada. Boulder City is a small town about 15 minutes from Las Vegas, and although it is close in proximity, the small-town vibe and atmosphere is very much alive there. The majority of BC residents are LDS (Mormon) and that included my family as well.
I had always been a little different, but only recently started to figure out and admit to myself that something was off and I told one of my really good friends that I think I might be gay. She happened to know someone at a different high school whose best friend was also gay so she set up a time when the four of us could go out to dinner and go see a show. From the minute I saw him I was hooked. He was Italian, dark hair, dark skin, piercing green eyes. He gave me butterflies in a way that girls never had before. I was nervous and anxious but he seemed so calm and at ease. He kissed me in the dark during the show and that was when my whole world changed. It was like a spark, a catalyst igniting and awakening something that had been there all along just waiting to be discovered, or rather admitted.
That night I kissed my first boyfriend and was never the same after that. Shortly after he came out to his family and they were amazingly accepting and supportive. I thought that if he could do it I could do it too. I was scared shitless. Conservative Mormons are usually not an ideal group to come out to (as I would discover later) and this being my family made it all the more daunting. I called my mom into my room one night and told her. She didn’t say much, she mostly just cried. And anyone who has seen their mother cry because of something they told her knows how each of her sobs rips through you, shredding you like knives. I felt like I had taken her heart and stomped on it but I also felt immensely better. She told me she loved me and then she went to bed. The next day I awoke to find that she had told my dad that night, and they kind of freaked out a little. They were worried that I was going to become a drag queen or want a sex change, that I was going to be some flamboyant, sex-crazed drug addict with diseases because that is the only image they have ever seen of the gay community. My parents have never seen “real” gay people, they only knew the stereotypes. My first boyfriend and I broke up shortly after that, as most high school relationships are short lived.
My parents set up counseling for me to go to. At the time I thought they were trying to change me; I realize now that they just didn’t know what to do or how to help me so they tried to find someone who could. However, they picked a Mormon Bishop as my counselor, so needless to say he was somewhat biased. He told me that God loved me, and that it was okay to be gay, I just couldn’t act on it and still be in line with the teachings of the church. He said that I would have to pick either being gay and reject God, or pick God, and remain celibate and alone for the rest of my life. What amazing options for a 16-year-old to choose from, huh? Eventually I stopped going and forged ahead. I didn’t know any gay people so I mostly had to figure things out on my own, with the help of my straight girl friends that have been immensely supportive of me in my mission of self-discovery. I have since been able to reconcile my faith to my sexuality by believing that God doesn’t make mistakes, he made me this way and has a plan for me and loves me absolutely.
For a while things were strained between my parents and me. Over time however it has gotten exponentially better. I have seen my 6-foot-4, 280-pound, loud burly dad cry and tell me how proud of me he is for having the courage to be who I am and to be honest about it to them. He told me he can’t imagine how scary it is for me, and he actually looks up to me for my courage. My dad looking up to me!! Imagine how awesome that felt! My mom and I have been able to talk about my relationships now, she has been there to see me excited about a new possibility, and been there to listen to me cry over breakups. She is still worried for me, she sees the world and how much intolerance there is for things outside the norm and she worries about me. Because of her, I will not become that stereotype that she fears. That’s the least I can do for her, to make sure she never has to see me that way, and be an example of how “normal” gay people can actually be.
I am now 21 years old; I have had a boyfriend over for Christmas dinner and just to hang out with my family. I never imagined that telling my family would turn out this good. If someone had told me 5 years ago it would be like this I don’t think I’d have believed them. But it is, it’s amazing. When you try to be two people you end up being even less than one whole person, living a double life robs you of so much happiness and joy, and you don’t notice it until you don’t have to anymore. The point of me telling my story is that it shows that coming out and being honest about who you are can be the best thing ever. It can be scary, yes, but ultimately seeing yourself for the beautiful person you are and embracing that truth can, indeed, set you free.