My name is Elliott Grace, and I am a homeschool alumni.
I am Non-Binary Trans, and this is my coming out.
This is probably one of the hardest things I’ve written up to this point.
I’m afraid to come out, to share this. I’m afraid of being questioned, being rejected, being told that I don’t qualify as trans. I’m afraid that people will try to correct me, argue that this is not who I am, that I am wrong and will eventually find out they were right.
Some of my close friends already know I consider myself trans, and sometimes I explain that I use “they/them” pronouns when I’m introduced to someone. It says “trans” on my facebook profile, but you only know that if you’ve looked for it, and it doesn’t explain what that means to me.
Because I don’t know what it means.
It would be nice if there was a quiz I could take, a checklist of things that grants me permission to use the term “trans” to describe myself and my gender. I wish I could give you a straightforward and approachable description of what it means to be non-binary. I wish I could explain everything it is and is not, and educate you so you’re better equipped when someone comes out to you.
But I’m not prepared to do any of these things, so I’m just going to come out. I’m going to tell you what it’s like to be the me who is trans.
. . .
Trans is thinking it’s normal to hate being a girl, because my parents were misogynistic and openly talked about the ways girls were bad.
Trans is assuming that I didn’t want to be a girl because it sucks to be a girl in christian fundamentalism, not because I’m trans.
Trans is missing the gender roles from my childhood, because when I followed them people approved of me.
Trans is not coming out to my parents because they stopped talking to me years ago.
Trans is hating my voice, and not watching recordings of myself so that I can forget what it sounds like. Trans is knowing that If I’m reminded what I sound like, I’ll likely end up trying avoid talking altogether.
Trans is the happy and safe feeling when a partner says to me, “you’re dashing” instead of “you look pretty.”
Trans is spending a couple years trying to figure out if I’m a guy.
Trans is needing to get permission from my boss to shave my head.
. . .
Trans is a client telling me I “stole a man’s haircut” and having to play nice when I want to tell him to fuck off.
Trans is cringing when someone refers to me as “ma’am.”
Trans is feeling guilty for not appreciating passing as a woman, when so many people wish they could.
Trans is waiting to change my name at work until I change jobs because I’m afraid it will be too hard.
Trans is wishing there was a box to check besides “male” or “female” when I have to fill out a form.
Trans is crying in the bathroom at the doctor’s office because the staff chided me for putting down the “wrong” name on my paperwork even though Elliott is my legal name.
Trans is my doctor asking what’s wrong, and when I tell him he says “you don’t look like an Elliott.”
Trans is when the bank says my husband Elliott is a signer on my account.
Trans is thinking I don’t deserve to ask people to change the way they talk about me.
Trans is debating whether I want to take hormones.
Trans is dating someone that wishes their body was more like mine, and feeling like I should be more grateful.
Trans is other trans people feeling threatened when I say that I’m not a man or a woman, because it will be harder for them to convince people being trans is valid if I don’t fit in the gender binary.
Trans is wishing I had a beard so people wouldn’t think I’m trying to measure up when I wear makeup.
Trans is when I feel like I’m in drag but so many people just see a girl in a dress.
Trans is people telling me I’m a trans guy, even when I tell them I’m not.
Trans is when my mail is addressed to “Mr. Elliott Harvey.”
Trans is other trans people telling me that I don’t qualify as trans because I don’t hate my body enough. Trans is wondering if they’re right, because what I hate most about my body is being disabled.
Trans is deciding I don’t want to take hormones right now, but being afraid people will tell me I’m not trans if I’m not on hormones.
Trans is answering to Elliott and then asking to be called Grace.
Trans is when people think I’m a boy, until they hear my voice.
Trans is people asking what my real name is.
Trans is not asking people to use they/them pronouns for me, because I don’t know how to handle it if they refuse.
Trans is going on a date with someone that assumes I was born a boy, and listening to them complain about how awful people who were born girls are.
Trans is when people assume I’m a trans woman and I don’t correct them, because at least they think I’m trans.
Trans is knowing that I will never pass as non binary, that people will always try to see me as either a man or a woman.
Trans is the joy I feel when someone says they didn’t know whether I was a boy or a girl.
Trans is coming out to the internet, but still feeling unsure about coming out to friends.
Editorial note: Amber Cantorna’s story is reprinted with permission. It was originally published as a Facebook note on December 26, 2015.
I was 27 when I had finally mustered every last bit of courage to have “the talk” with my family. I had been pondering, planning and praying for months. My heart weighed heavy and anxiety took my mind down every possible outcome. I knew, as the daughter of a Focus on the Family executive, the results of my truth could be devastating. But I had reached the point where living a lie was worse than whatever lay on the other side of truth. After much counsel, preparation and prayer, I felt the time had come to tell my truth. So on April 14th, 2012 I invited both my parents and brother over and we all took a seat in the living room of my split-level apartment. I told them the journey I had been on over the past several years and then, spoke the 3 short words that would forever alter my future…
* * * * *
Though I was born in Kalispell, Montana, by my third birthday we had moved to Glendora, California where my dad had accepted a job offer at Focus on the Family. When the company then relocated to Colorado Springs in 1991, my family did as well and that is the town where I grew up.
With the values and teachings of Dr. Dobson at the core of our family’s foundation, my parents decided to home-school both my brother and I from start to finish. They made daily devotions and cultivating a relationship with God a priority from a very young age. With programs like AWANA, we memorized Scripture frequently both in the program and as a family. A typical girl, I grew up playing with American Girl dolls and having frequent tea parties. I believed that my knight in shining armor would come for me, if only I would wait for him. At my thirteenth birthday, I even had a “Purity Ceremony” in which I signed a vow to stay chaste until marriage and was given a ring that was to be worn on my finger until it was someday replaced by a wedding band. I had been taught all these grandiose ideas of what love and traditional marriage were supposed to look like and innocently embraced them all as truths.
My mom came from a musical family, so (almost from the womb) she trained us as well, investing a lot of time into fostering our musical talents. We frequently sang at retirement homes and for Christian schools; we did full concerts at smaller churches and were always ready to perform for visiting family and guests. I was very blessed to be given 13 years of classical piano training as well. By the time I was 14, I was touring Europe with a youth choir and soon after, with the Young Continentals. Performing was a huge part of my life, and I thrived on it. As a very high-achieving perfectionist, I constantly put pressure on myself to rise to the top.
However, not all of that pressure came from within. As I moved more into my teen years, I began to feel the outside pressure of upholding my family’s reputation as well. As the daughter of a man who held a high profile position at Focus and whose work was known and loved around the world, being his daughter caused me to feel the weight of maintaining the appearance of that “perfect Focus family.” Friends would often comment to me how lucky I was, but behind the mask of perfection, I found myself struggling with depression and anxiety coupled with a need to keep all those struggles hidden behind a facade.
By the time I reached my early 20s, I still had never dated a guy. I admit at times I thought maybe there was something wrong with me, but mostly I just believed what I had been taught: if you prepared yourself spiritually and wait sexually, the right man will come along at the right time. The fact that I might be gay really never crossed my radar. I truly believed that God was just shielding me from the heartache of high school romances like the ones my friends were having, and that somehow the first man I would meet and seriously date would just magically be “the one.”
But at the age of 23, things in my life took a drastic turn when I suddenly found myself falling in love with my roommate…who was a woman. What started as a simple friendship, over time morphed into what was clearly becoming more than friends. I was so aghast the first time we kissed, I wasn’t even sure what was happening. My head was spinning, in more ways than one as I tried to figure out this mysterious attraction. Though I didn’t know it at the time, that experience ended up being the beginning of a deeper wrestling, the beginning of searching and eventually, the beginning of coming out.
I knew I couldn’t just sweep this “problem” under the rug, but I was terrified. I was terrified that in studying and digging deeper, I might find what I had been taught all my life to be true: God disapproved of homosexuality and, therefore, He disapproved of me. Focus on the Family teaches that marriage is strictly between one man and one woman and I was equally as terrified that in digging deeper I might find that belief to be false. Because if God did indeed make me this way, I would become part of a minority that is stigmatized, especially in Christian circles, and that too would be life-altering. So either way, my life would never be the same.
But, as I sat one night with my journal in hand, heartbroken over the loss of my first love and all together confused as to how and why it all happened to begin with, I gathered my courage and told God I was ready to start walking the difficult road ahead. I prayed, studied and researched for months allowing everything I had believed up to that point to be re-examined. I talked to people on similar journeys and, in doing so, found those who were both completely in love with their same-sex spouse and also completely in love with God, without any conflict between the two. That was when I began to realize that there didn’t have to be a dichotomy between my faith and sexuality, as I had been led to believe. Finally, after a long and difficult climb, the Scriptures in question settled in my heart, I found the answers I needed and knew that in God’s eyes, I was not only accepted but also loved for exactly how He made me.
The odds were high, however, that my family would not feel the same. Anxiety, panic attacks and nightmares swelled as I approached the day where telling them my truth would disappoint and break the illusion of that “perfect Focus family”. As I mustered every ounce of strength I had on that chilly April day, I looked my family in the eyes and said those three small, but life-altering words, “I am gay.” With my exposed heart hanging in the air, I awaited their response. To my deep dismay, the only response that came out of my dad’s mouth was, “I have nothing to say to you right now,” and he walked out the door.
From that moment on, things went from bad to worse. In a follow up conversation we had at my parent’s house several weeks later, they compared me to murderers and pedophiles, told me I was selfish for doing this to the family without thinking about the impact it would have on them and asked me to turn in my keys to my childhood home. Over time, because of their unwavering belief in Focus on the Family’s teaching and interpretation of the Scriptures on this issue, I was quietly pushed aside and shunned from the family. Only in my worst nightmares were the consequences as drastic as what they proved to be in real life. I lost not only my immediate family, but also my relatives, my church, many of my friends, and essentially, even my hometown. Because of the toxicity I felt living in a city where it seemed my every move was being watched by some degrading eye, I ended up moving to Denver. Even though almost four years have passed, I still feel anxiety every time I drive to Colorado Springs. Unfortunately, though many of my loved ones claimed to have unconditional love, what I discovered is that their love actually came with strings attached.
My world felt as though it were spiraling out of control. I’d never felt so lost or alone in all my life. Consistent nightmares and self injury reared its ugly head in my life once again and for the first time ever, I truly could not see the light at the end of the tunnel. Suicide became a viable option in my mind.
Over the coming months, there were several key people who invested in me and added value to my life and in turn, rescued me from that dark place I was in. I don’t remember an exact turning point when I decided I wanted to live, but about 10 months after coming out, the tides had turned and I was sharing my life story at community hour at the Denver church I was attending. Though I didn’t know it at the time, that day was the day I met the woman who would one day become my wife.
I didn’t pay her much attention at first, but she noticed me from the start. After several months of intentional pursuit on her part, we started dating. We both quickly knew that each other was “the one” and about a year and a half after we met, we were married.
Somehow along the way as my relationship with her solidified, my relationship with my parents became even more bleak. When we got engaged, my parents realized this wasn’t just a phase that would pass and the gavel came down. We cut all ties.
Not having any family at my wedding was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to go through, and yet, it was still the best day of my life. In front of the people who stood by me when it mattered the most, I got to consecrate my love to my wife in a sacred covenant before God. In that moment, all the labels washed away and I was able to be fully myself, completely in love with my wife and also completely in love with God. It was the perfect day.
We’ve been married a year and a half now and our journey continues forward. There are still bumps in the road and hard days where I miss my family. The truth is, I still cherish my family values just as much today as I did growing up, but I’ve just had to learn to re-focus my family. I truly have so much to be grateful for. God has given me beauty for ashes and is continuing to be true to His promise and make all things new and beautiful in His time.
By Amber Cantorna Speaker/Writer Beyond: Renew Your Faith, Restore Your Hope, Reclaim Your Love
HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Achsah” is a pseudonym.
I remember attending a wedding. I was maybe eight or ten at the time and the pastor’s oldest daughter was marrying a young man in the congregation. The only real detail I can conjure up is that they made it a point to let everyone know that the couple had saved their first kiss for the wedding.
As I sat watching this first kiss, I remember thinking that it was a beautiful thing and decided to save my first kiss for the marriage altar.
I grew up in a church that was affiliated with Joshua Harris’s church. His books were at our little bookstore, in our homes, and taught like gospel truth. Couple that with my parent’s odd obsession with Vision Forum Ministries, and you have a young girl that knows nothing other than courtship.
When I was about seventeen, my mom realized that I was old enough for the boys to come after me. Or something like that. So, she bought three brand-new copies of I Kissed Dating Goodbye. She kept one, gave one to me, and one to my younger sister. For a few weeks, we would meet in the living room and discuss a chapter. I don’t remember much about the book, looking back. I remember that my younger sister hated everything about it and tried to push back against it all. But I was the example. I had to be the one that agreed with everything my parents believed.
Besides, it sounded good. My younger sister liked guys. But they terrified me. I didn’t want to have to try and navigate a relationship with one of them. Courtship promised a formula that would keep everything in neat little boxes. If I didn’t have sex and saved my first kiss for marriage and made sure to cover up then I would not get my heart broken. If I let my parents lead our relationship, then I would have the perfect marriage. And I wanted it. My life plan consisted of children and my world revolving around them, and, by default, that included a husband. But a man in the picture was just a minor detail in the grand scheme of things.
Well, then I fell in love with my best friend. Suddenly, all of the songs made sense.
The skies were bluer. I walked on clouds. Everything made sense. But me falling for a girl was so confusing. There was no formula for this new development. I wasn’t able to talk to my parents about it. My heart, it seemed, was not something I could hold on to. It gave itself away before I knew what was going on. And it wasn’t only that. I never knew what attraction was. Or consent. Or that I would actually want to engage in sexual activities. Honestly, the thought had never occurred to me.
My wife and I began dating the month after she came out to me, which prompted me to come out to myself. By then, I knew I would spend the rest of my life with this woman and that it would be good and full of happiness.
Neither of our parents were thrilled. I remember my dad saying that if I had only talked to him about what was going on, he could have talked me out of it.
We moved shortly after that.
In the year-and-a-half since we married and moved across the country, I have been slowly extracting myself from the conservative mindset. As I am trying to figure out how to be a wife, I am realizing how much I don’t know. I have found that instead of wanting me to be self-sacrificing for our family, my wife wants to pamper me and ensure my happiness. I found that instead of demanding my respect, my partner gives me hers. I found that instead of worrying about lines and how far is too far, my wife and I have been able to communicate our thoughts, concerns, worries, and desires. Previous crushes were supposed to be a big deal; part of my wife’s heart was supposed to be missing. But past crushes didn’t take something from her; they gave her something.
To me, courtship was about putting on a mask and conforming to a list of rules. It was giving someone else complete reign in my life. When we stripped away those rules and took off the masks, I found that I could finally breathe. I understand the concern our parents had when they decided to raise us with courtship in mind.
HA note: E shared this open letter with HA and said, “I wanted to offer a contribution to the Siblings series regarding what I can only call emotional incest.”
Dear Big Sister,
You were my first and often my only friend. In the early days of our lives it was just you and me. Homeschooling was new in our community, there were few other children for us to play with and we lived in the country with acres of woods and pastures all to ourselves. We built castles in the trees, picked mulberries behind the house, blazed trails through the weeds, gathered up our skirts and waded through creeks, climbed, fell, scraped, bruised, laughed, ran, and lived together. We were dinosaurs, runaways, horses, lions, detectives, unicorns, secret agents. We were always together, every day, every hour.
Sometimes I wonder if that togetherness is what hurt you. Sometimes I wonder if that’s why you never learned to let go.
We grew up. Still, we were together. Grandpa said that we were amazing because we never fought. That was not completely true, but fights were rare. We were very different people but sometimes I think we forgot that. Our personailties, our interests, our feelings were different, but people rarely saw that. We were still “the girls” we still mostly went to the same activities and were in the same places. Now we had more opportunities and friends to be with, but still, apart from a few hours each week, we were always together. Always, always together.
And then you went to college. Yes, it was hard for me at first. You had always been there. Now you rarely called, you rarely came home, you had new friends and a new life. But I adapted, I had my own friends and I developed my own interests and I learned to be with myself. Two years later, I went across the country to my own college and I realized I was happy for you that you had your own life, that I had my own life, that we could be apart and still be close. It was okay. We didn’t have to be together all the time. Right?
Isn’t that right?
I don’t know when your grip on me started to tighten. I can’t put my finger on when you changed or if you had always been this way. It seemed to start slowly. I would call you and you would be angry with me for not calling you sooner. I was confused; we were both busy with our own lives. If you had wanted to talk why hadn’t you called? How was I to know that you were expecting me to call more often? You brushed my confusion aside, demanded an apology. I gave it. I was sorry. I hadn’t meant to hurt you.
But it didn’t end there. It happened again. And again. And then it started to spread. When I would come home, you would demand my time. Talking to anyone else, spending time with anyone else made you angry. You needed to be included in absolutely everything. Time with just friends, personal outings, none of that was allowed. My dates with my boyfriend even became a point of contention… you wanted to be invited along. Again and again, apologies were demanded. I was being callous, cruel, insulting for living a life that didn’t involve you at every second. That wasn’t how it was supposed to be.
I was confused, but I apologized. I was an unsocialized homeschooled dweeb. What did I know about social etiquette? Surely I was in the wrong.
Soon, you were angry with me for even having a phone conversation with my significant other without conferencing you in. You were angry with me for inviting you to an outing with friends because I hadn’t allowed you to pick the activity. You were angry with me for accepting invitations to social events from friends that hadn’t included you. You were angry with me for not hanging up on my significant other immediately when you decided you wanted to go do something with me. And you were always, always angry with me for initiating contact with you by email or over the phone because it was never soon enough, it was never good enough, it was never the specific way that you had wanted me to contact you.
And you demanded your apologies over and over. And I tried to explain myself over and over, but nothing would satisfy you. So I would abase myself, I would apologize, I would wonder why I could never do things right.
Sister, I love you, but we are not the same person. Our lives are separate. Our personalities are separate. We are not two isolated, lonely homeschooled children anymore.
When I came out as gay to you, I had hoped to find an ally. I knew our parents would not accept it, but you had long been questioning the morals of our upbringing. I hoped that I could trust you. And at first, you seemed open, accepting, welcoming. You encouraged me, you told me that you would protect my secret.
I wonder if it was your jealousy and your possessiveness that led you to change your mind. When you changed, it was sudden and vicious. Your possession of me escalated as you found an ultimate enemy in my same-sex partner. You tried everything to prevent me from spending time with her or even mentioning her around you. Open hostility, passive-aggressive behavior, the cold shoulder, emotional manipulation, shouting, lying, poisoning friends and family against me, and spiritual abuse were your tactics. At the time, I thought it was about morality and homosexuality. I no longer think it was.
I think, in your opposition to my same-sex relationship, you found what you believed to be a moral high-ground and a justification for your possessive, destructive behavior. Suddenly, your controlling tendencies were applauded and supported by your family and the community around you. Even today, you say that homosexuality “isn’t that big of a deal.” At first that confused me. It seemed like a complete reversal of your opinion. But no, I don’t think this was ever really about me being gay. It wasn’t about me at all. I think it is about you and how you never learned to let go.
But Sister, I finally learned to be wise. I finally realized that our relationship was not normal, not healthy, and not my fault. I stopped apologizing. I stopped abasing myself. I stopped playing your game. And oh, how angry that made you. Every phone call, every attempt to talk to you, to have a relationship resulted in shouting, anger, and emotional abuse. You lashed out at me when I drove across state lines to see your Masters degree graduation because I did not agree to stay overnight at your apartment. You lashed out at me when I invited you to my wedding, not because you were opposed to the gender of my partner, but because I had not previously demonstrated enough devotion to you for you to want to attend.
You are the reason that there is only silence between us now.
I don’t know what made you the way you are. I don’t know if it could have been different. I don’t know if you would have been healthier and happier if we had been able to grow up with a little more separation and distance between us. I can only speculate.
But I want you to know, I’m not that lonely, dependent little girl anymore, who was attached to your hip, who followed you everywhere, who was always with you.
I love you, Sister. But we can’t be together anymore.
Being bisexual is freedom, and it is invisibility.
I flip-flop between calling myself bisexual and pansexual. Bi is the word everyone knows. Pansexual doesn’t leave anyone out. And you see, I don’t care what your gender or lack thereof is. I’m attracted to people, not genders or genitals.
That doesn’t mean I’m attracted to every single person. It doesn’t mean I have crushes on everyone I hang out with. It doesn’t mean I’ll go home with just anyone. All it means is that I could potentially be with a person who lies anywhere on or off the gender spectrum.
To be quite honest, I didn’t know pansexuality even existed up until very recently. When I was a fundamentalist, the “being gay is a choice” narrative sort of made sense to me. I mean, everyone had the ability to be attracted to everyone, right? I read a Christian modesty book which claimed that everyone is “drawn to the female form” because it is just objectively beautiful. So I figured I must be straight because I knew I was in fact attracted to men, and any pleasure I found in female beauty was artistic, it had nothing at all to do with sexuality. Besides, all the Christian dating books had a tiny appendix tucked in the back that warned of the dangers of predatory college lesbians. So, I knew lesbianism existed but all of my associations were totally negative.
Even when I was less naïve, even when I started thinking people were born homosexual and that most gays and lesbians (like most straight people) were not predators, I still didn’t realize that bisexuality actually existed. “Bicurious” was a term I was aware of, but I thought it was a descriptor of an in-between phase, a transition between heterosexuality and homosexuality. So therefore, since I was definitely attracted to men, I couldn’t possibly be a lesbian. Simple as that. There was no other option. Monosexism was all I knew.
And that is what I mean when I say bisexuality is invisibility.
We get erased a lot. The biggest problem is what I term “Schrodinger’s bisexual” which is that a person is perceived as either straight or gay depending on who they’re in a relationship with. I’m dating a man right now, therefore everybody assumes I’m straight. You can’t typically determine bisexuality by just one interaction with a person, by one specific point in time. It doesn’t help that a lot of people talk about bisexuals as though they are “switching” between heterosexuality and homosexuality.
Of course as a woman especially I am sometimes permitted the total opposite of erasure, and that is performance. Men like the idea of a bisexual woman because their first thought is often of having a threeway. One night in a bar, a girl kissed me, and immediately a man walked up from across the room and said, “Mind if I join in?” Visions of a porn-worthy fuckfest dancing in his head, no doubt. Later, I tried to say something to a friend about how frustrating it is that no one thinks you’re bi unless you’ve actually had a homosexual experience, and he just jokingly spun a scenario where I and another woman would have sex and he would film it.
This goes back to the overarching issue of female sexuality being owned by men. If we are not having sex with them, we must at least be performing for their gaze. That’s why most threesome porn is FFM. That’s why a lot of men think that bisexual women exist to have threesomes with them, and that lesbian women could be “cured” by their magical dicks. And that is all such bullshit. My sexuality, whatever it is, is mine.
But the seemingly fluid pansexual approach is in fact deemed everybody’s property. More than anyone else’s, my sort of sexuality is approached with doubt. Everyone makes assumptions and gets to speculate about the causes and motivations behind my sexuality (no, I am not just “greedy” and I am not going to try to fuck you. No I am not disease-ridden or commitment-phobic. No I’m not going to cheat on my partner).
It’s a reminder to everyone of how truly queer-phobic our society still is.
We’ll (grudgingly, gradually) accept gay people as long as they want to be just like straight people. We might potentially on a good day accept one or two trans people, as long as they have had whatever surgery we deem “necessary” for them to pass as cis. But anyone who is genderqueer, agender, or pansexual is met with flat-out denial of their self-identification. “You’re lying.” “You’re confused.” “You just want attention.”
Do I though? No more than anyone else. I hate the fact that being honest about myself means I’ll get extra attention. But we haven’t reached a truly all-point-on-the-spectrum accepting utopia yet. In fact we’re pretty far from it.
So what’s it like being pansexual?
I’m not exactly sure. I’ve never been anything else. What’s sexuality like for all of you out there who are monosexual?
It was truly liberating, though, admitting it to myself. It was truly liberating learning that pansexuality exists. I used to fight my attraction to women, not so much because I thought it was “sinful” (because yes the story of my sexuality is also concurrent, though not especially related, to my deconversion) as because I thought if I gave in to it I would have to get rid of my attraction to men.
When I understood that it is possible, acceptable, and even (for me) normal to be attracted to all types of people, it came as a great relief.
For the first time, I was no longer trying to fit my sexuality into any mold that society had built for it. I could like what and who I liked, without feeling guilty or needing to repress anything.
Due to circumstances and the timing of me finally coming out to myself, I have never had sex with anyone but men. It’s not really a point of bitterness for me, I don’t have to experience sex with all types of people to know my orientation (much like virgins often know their own orientations before ever having sex of any kind). Right now I’m happily in a relationship and I don’t see that changing any time soon. If I die never having had sex with anyone but men, I won’t feel like I was robbed, and I will still be pansexual.
Of course there is a lot of work to be done, to make this world a better and more accepting place for those who are not heterosexual or cisgender. But “they” are right: coming out is the first step. Coming out to yourself, to embrace freedom, and coming out to everyone else, to combat invisibility.
I Don’t Want To Be The Girl Who Ruined Her Parents’ Lives: Deborah
HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Deborah” is a pseudonym.
I am really sad tonight.
I feel like I can’t stay in the closet anymore, but coming out is going to be so freaking painful. It already hurts so much, but at the same time, I can’t live this way forever. I love my life and I love women and I want the world to know that.
My heart breaks because I feel that my parents and their friends will never know that. They will never get it or understand. There have been so many people who weren’t even gay who my family judged very harshly simply for living the life they dreamed instead of the one their parents (or sometimes mine) had chosen for them. Even when they made something of their lives and enjoyed what they had made, we still judged them. If anything went wrong, it had to be a “consequence” of their “poor” choices.
I feel that I will be viewed the same way they were. I can pretty much count on it. By coming out, these people who I want so desperately to understand how incredibly happy I am with who I am and my life, will only despise me and think my life is crappy even more than they already do.
How can I even deal with the pain of my parents’ broken hearts and possible loss of their only source of income and their dreams for the future? They minister to a group that is mostly very, very conservative Christian homeschoolers. They lead the charge in the whole geographical area against gay rights and for America to “once again become a Christian nation and follow God’s laws”. (Which, for those of you who don’t know, includes literally taking people like me and stoning us to death.) It isn’t a joke, and they don’t take it figuratively or think that this changed at all when Jesus died. While I know my parents would not physically harm me, I know they still believe this way. They have always said that if one of their children didn’t follow “God’s desires” for said child’s life that they would leave the ministry.
It is just so, so much pain and anguish. I don’t want to be “the girl who ruined her parents’ lives just so she could ruin her own” to the whole home-school community in the area. I wish I could make them see the truth of how much my life sucks less since I am honest with others and myself about who I love.
On the other hand, even if coming out goes as badly as it possibly can, there will be at least one child from a family who hears about me and – maybe not right away, but someday – will take heart that there is a way out. They will know that living their dreams, being who they are, and loving passionately is possible and the way to go. I’m sure of it. When I find out that I helped them, this pain I feel right now will have done some good. I know it will all be worth it.
I’ve never talked about this explicitly publicly – I’m open about it to people who ask, and I don’t hide it, but I’ve never really felt the need to come out and say it (because honestly, it’s no one’s business).
The reason I’m coming out with it now, is because I embrace it – I’m proud of it even, and it would come out eventually, so why not?
I’m bisexual. It took me a long time to admit to myself due years of repressing my sexuality growing up, years of feeling guilty because I wasn’t completely straight – but I embrace it now, I love this about me, and it’s so freeing to be open about it.
The other reason I haven’t mentioned it was because I was afraid of the fallout with family. I’m not anymore, because it doesn’t matter. I’m not a different person just because I’m bi (I’ve always been bi) – but this doesn’t mean that I flirt or drool over every female I encounter, just like I don’t do that with every male that I encounter. Just because I’m not 100% straight doesn’t mean that I’m on the prowl or uncommitted to my husband (because he’s my favorite person. period.).
Actually the openness about it has been beneficial to our relationship – because hiding part of yourself from your spouse or significant other is never a good thing.
So here I am – I am the same, I haven’t changed (except for getting a tattoo) – I’m just not hiding anymore.
When I first sat down to write this piece, I had never really asked myself what role I thought that homeschooling played in my life with regard to my sexuality. I knew what role I felt Christianity has played, but in my experience homeschooling isn’t synonymous with Christianity of any type, even conservative fundamentalism. And as I have created a virtual pile of crumpled up attempts to put my thoughts into words, I’ve been confronted over and over again with the fact that my homeschooling experience is, just like everyone else’s on this site, unique to me.
In our family, homeschooling was a way of structuring our studies; the overall way we were brought up had more to do with our faith than with our choice in educational styles. I know that if we hadn’t homeschooled, we probably would have been at church almost as often, I would have been just as introverted and nerdy, and many of my issues with faith and sexuality still would have manifest themselves in my life.
In other words, I realized that I can’t blame “homeschooling” or even “the homeschooling movement” for the majority of my struggle in coming to accept and love the person that I am. What I can (and want to) do is explore the ways that my experience as a homeschooler accentuated that struggle. In the end, I hope that this piece will outline some of the challenges homeschooling brings for people like me that identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or trans*. (* Why the asterick?)
I didn’t know what “homosexual” meant until I hit puberty around age 13. But once I was informed of its meaning, I distinctly remember a thought crossing my mind: “That’s what I am.” At the time I didn’t fully comprehend the implications of that realization, but I knew that it wasn’t a good thing.
In many ways, I grew up a stereotypical “gay boy,” interested in cooking and reading and playing house with all of the girls in the neighborhood. I studied ballet and loved theatre and choir. I designed my dream house in my head and loved interior decorating shows like Trading Spaces. I played with dolls and stuffed animals. All of the “signs” were there, but really the only thing that mattered is that I never once looked at one of my female friends and developed a sudden case of the butterflies. Instead, I crushed on the boys at Scout meetings or youth group or children’s choir.
To their eternal credit, my parents never stifled my creativity or my passions. I remember several lectures about my limp wrists and walking like a man (no hip-swaying), but those were more about external appearances and protecting me from the comments that they heard far more than I did. And despite having a father who was in the military, I was never subjected to parental chats about “manliness,” because my parents were far more concerned with my character than any external trappings.
But from the moment I learned what “homosexual” meant, I knew that I would never truly be the person they wanted me to be, because I knew that I was inherently flawed. And as is often the case with things like this, once I knew what the word meant, I began noticing it everywhere. But in the conservative Christian circles (including homeschooling support groups) I was a part of, it was rarely something I heard in its entirety. Instead, it was like something just out of the corner of my eye, a fleeting shadow in the midst of a conversation. It was that-sin-which-must-not-be-named.
Even though nobody wanted to be the one to say it, it came up over and over in conversation, often in the form of discussions about “manliness” and masculinity. What was and wasn’t appropriate for men to do, how men should dress, how men should behave. I was once asked, in high school, to have a discussion with two younger boys about their “effeminate behavior” and remind them that it was how “the homosexuals” behave. And it was in moments like that, when the shadowy topic stepped squarely into my field of vision, that the fear was the strongest.
I often equate growing up gay to growing up in a warzone, where bombs fall all around you day after day after day. Eventually the abject terror you feel when one lands nearby fades into a constant clenching in your stomach that you don’t even realize, because while you can’t entirely relax, you can’t afford to run at full alert at all times. I saw and heard so many gay people attacked and condemned by the people I grew up with that my stomach was perpetually clenched, terrified that their rhetoric and doctrine would be used to attack me if they ever found out.
I did everything I could to try and “fix” myself, including looking into electroshock therapy, though thankfully I had to have a parent’s consent and there was no way I wanted to tell my parents. Eventually, after a failed attempt to turn myself straight by dating my then-best-friend (a woman) in college, I reached the end of my rope.
I fell into a deep depression, was suicidal on multiple occasions, and through it all was desperately trying to reconcile my faith (and thus the large majority of my friends and family) with my sexuality. Eventually, through the grace of God and the support of my parents, I came out of the closet. It was not a firm step; it was more of a feeble stumble. But it was a freeing experience, and one that was filled with a peace and understanding that I have come to know as the peace of God.
Since then, my faith has become stronger, but my human relationships have drastically changed. Many of the people I knew when I was growing up are people that I voluntarily disconnected from when I came out, terrified of how they would react. After all, I knew people who verbally and publicly advocated the death penalty for people who identified as gay. And I stopped teaching in the homeschooling community (I was a debate coach), because I was scared that the incorrect but prevalent rhetoric I heard so often in that specific community linking child molesters to homosexuality would be used to try and accuse me of hurting the students I worked with. Thankfully in the time since, I have found people, both former homeschoolers and non, to support me in my faith and my sexuality
So which pieces of my struggle are related to growing up in a conservative Christian environment and which are related to being homeschooled? This distinction is important to me because, again, the form of academic education I received was, in many ways separate from the spiritual education I received, and I think that many of my struggles would have taken place even if I had been public schooled. But there are some differences.
1. Homeschooling allowed for a more insulated environment. While my faith and my academic structure were separate, the support groups and social activities we engaged in as a family were almost exclusively groups that were conservative Christians and homeschoolers. While there is always the potential for cliques in public or private school environments, you are exposed to a wider array of students and of teachers, simply because of the sheer numbers. As a homeschooler, I interacted with the same group a lot and had fewer opportunities to meet and interact with different people.
2. Homeschooling’s smaller social circles meant that word traveled fast. While this is true in any contained environment, the lack of anonymity that might be possible in a larger educational environment mean that it was much harder to justify having conversations about topics that made people uncomfortable, such as sex and sexuality. For this reason, any and all sexual topics were taboo and “dirty.” This created a significantly sex-negative environment that still has repercussions for me today.
3. Homeschooling’s all-encompassing nature gives little reprieve. While my parents always endeavored to teach us to think first and foremost, the constant presence of both family and other homeschoolers meant that you had little time away from those influences. This was positive in some ways, but as a result could leave you with little opportunity to process and deal with issues related to those people you were around for so many hours of the day. This is, perhaps, one of the greatest drawbacks I see to homeschooling, and the precise reason that so many parents I knew chose to homeschool: tight, constant control over their children’s lives and educational experiences.
4. The homeschooling environment was so repressed in so many ways that my “eccentricities” often went unremarked on by many of the people I interacted with. Perhaps my parents received more concerned comments, but the contained environment in which I grew up in many ways explicitly rewarded my “sensitive” nature while implicitly criticizing my “manhood” and “manliness.”
Many of the other parts of homeschooling that I might connect to my struggle to reconcile my faith and my sexuality are, in my opinion, more strongly linked to conservative Christianity, so I’ve left them out for now.
In the end, would not being homeschooled have made my coming out easier? I don’t know. In some ways, I think so, in that I would not have felt so insulated and tied to a relatively small number of people who collectively made it known that my sexual orientation was unacceptable. My parents have been so incredibly supportive and loving during my coming out process, but I sometimes struggle to differentiate between the things they specifically taught me at home and what the homeschooling community as a whole contributed to my development.
This is why I am so grateful for efforts like H.A. The isolation and insulation created by homeschooling is so powerful that it can be dangerously enticing to parents who hope that their children will live in a certain way. If the potential for that isolation is not balanced in some way, either from inside or outside of that community, the results can be disastrous.
That is the reason I felt it was important to both write this story down and put my name on it: because I know that there are hundreds and thousands of homeschooling youth struggling with the same questions I did. They are probably feeling isolated and insulated and alone, just like I did. They are likely severely distressed at the thought that they have to choose between the (relatively few) people in their lives that they interact with regularly and being true and honest to who they are.
It is for them that I hope my story (and those of the other H.A. contributors) can help raise the questions that need to be asked to help make homeschooling a better environment for all.