“My name is Addison Caldwell, and I’m from a small, conservative town, called Camden, TN. I go to school at the University of Knoxville in Tennessee, and I am currently in a relationship with my beautiful girlfriend, Madison Winningham, who lives in Florida.
I am 20, and she is 21. Social media, which is what actually brought us together, is one way that Madison and I have been able to assist others in their journey towards loving and accepting themselves.
Being religious and coming from an extremely religious family, ‘coming out’ wasn’t so easy – especially when I knew that it could possibly make or break me and my family. For a long time, I prayed over my situation and spent countless hours talking to God, which is something that I still do. I remember asking Him what I needed to do. I asked Him if this was real – if this was something that He wanted to happen. How could I possibly be so in love with someone that others thought I wasn’t supposed to marry? I even thought to myself ‘if I pray hard enough, I can fall out of love with Madison because I know this isn’t right – it can’t be.’
But then I realized something. I realized I could still be the same religious person that I’ve always been, and I could STILL love Madison with my whole heart. She’s human. We’re all human. She has the same loving heart that any other man would have. I realized that you don’t fall in love with the gender, but you fall in love with the person. I know its cliché, but I honestly believe that I was born this way.
I’ve always known this about myself deep down, but coming from a small town, I knew the consequences of reacting on this feeling. Why would I marry a man – someone that I could never love? I know that God loves me for who I am, regardless of who I want to be with. All of this was so conflicting because I knew what I wanted, and I knew that I loved Madison. I couldn’t just change who I am. Being in a society where people tell you that you can’t be both Christian and homosexual made me truly question these boundaries.
With love and support from Madison and my friends, I eventually got through this tough spot, and I stand strong on my beliefs. If I’m wrong, well then, I’m wrong. However, at least at the end of the day, I love myself. I’m honest with myself, and I’m honest with others. I also know and understand my personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and that’s something that no one else but He and I can comprehend and discuss. We, as Christians, are called to be a light for Christ, but how can we be a light if we hate ourselves and are unhappy with ourselves? We are called to love others, and that’s something that I firmly believe in.
Coming out to my family was hard. In the end, they found out through someone else and not me personally, which was devastating. Of course, I wanted to tell them myself. I wanted to do things a certain way and justify my feelings. However, I got a phone call from my dad one evening which resulted in the question: ‘Are you gay?’ I had so many thoughts running through my head when he asked me this question, but I obviously responded with ‘yes.’
Though some family members are supportive, there are some who aren’t, which is something that is extremely heartbreaking. I believe that people who truly love you want you to be happy and will stand by your side whether they support your decisions or not. Thankfully, my parents still love me regardless of who I love. Do they support me? No. Do they still love and accept me? Yes. And to me, that’s all that matters. I have two awesome grandparents and a little sister, who also support me and love me for who I am. If it wasn’t for them, I don’t know where I would be right now, because this has been such a long and strenuous journey for me.
I’m also extremely grateful that my parents still treat me the same. They talk to me every day and make an effort to be in my life. I know for some parents, this wouldn’t always be the easiest thing to do after finding out your son or daughter was gay. I’m extremely grateful that my parents understand my sexuality and love me as they always have.
As for my friends and numerous people on social media, I have luckily been able to say that they have been so supportive and loving. Even if people aren’t as accepting, which, don’t get me wrong, I’ve crossed paths with people who have said some pretty hateful things, it’s still so rewarding being able to love yourself and be proud of who you are.
As Pink said in a speech one time, ‘I don’t want there to be gay marriage, I just want there to be happy marriage and lasting marriage and healthy marriage. I look forward to a day when we don’t have to talk about it anymore, that’s far off. We all want to be loved and accepted and understood, and unfortunately the human race has not figured this out yet. What I mean by that is, we all bleed red, we all cry clear tears, we all put one foot in front of the other on this endless search for the meaning of life and love. It’s about love, it’s about who your heart tells you to love, straight or gay.’
I hope my story can inspire others who are struggling to love and accept themselves whether they are confused about their sexuality – lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, whatever and whoever they may be. I know how difficult it is, and I also know how awesome it is to truly love yourself. No matter how hard the journey is and no matter how hard it can get, just never lose sight and never give up, because in the end, the only thing you need is love. Love yourself and love others.”
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