‘Miss Savannah, I’m gay.’ I was told I was never really a Christian.’: Non-binary queer person urges ‘you still belong’

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“Growing up in a southern town in Yadkinville, NC, I was raised in a Christian background—bordering everything from Pentecostal, Evangelical and Southern Baptist—I experienced them all throughout my life. I was raised to dress in frilly dresses and patent leather shoes. I was considered a tomboy, active in any sport my parents would let me play.

While this so far explains so many other normal childhoods from cisgender hetero people, I never felt like a girl. I hated every second of any type of feminine clothing I was made to wear. Back then, the LGBT (there was no QIA+ terminology) community was spoken in hushed tones and I never knew a single out person. I just knew I was ‘different.’ I didn’t know why I looked at Lita Ford the way I did and coveted her cassette tape, but I knew it was wrong. I knew I dated boys because that was what was expected and all I wanted was to be loved and accepted like everyone else.

young person unhappy in an Ariel "Little Mermaid" shirt
Courtesy of Cole

I didn’t have the revelation I could be gay until I saw an episode of Top Chef when a woman shaved her head and was an open lesbian and then it just clicked. My hair, at age 20, was about shoulder length, the next day after viewing that episode, I had it cut extremely short. I came out 2 months later after a message was found on my MySpace page by a family member. I had left it open… I was outed on accident. She was never meant to see that message, and yet there we were, having a conversation I wasn’t prepared to have.

I came out 14 years ago, at 20 years old. I had just graduated college with my AA and was super active in church—played drums in the band, taught children (AWANAs), lead youth camps, even taught some women’s adult studies—but that changed. I can close my eyes and see myself standing in the church parking lot with someone from church, tears pouring from my eyes, ‘Miss Savannah, I’m a lesbian. I’m gay. I don’t think you’ll let me come back to church.’ I was correct. I was cornered not once, but twice, by people I loved and respected, and even told by one, who hurt me the most, I was never really a Christian. I can close my eyes and I’m transported back in time. I’ve always heard church hurt is the worst type of hurt, and I’m here to tell you that is 100% true. I’m now Agnostic.

two friends embracing
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My friends, who were also church people, reacted the same. One, my best friend, he played me the song by P!nk, ‘Who Knew.’ Even though I know P!nk would be furious knowing her song was used against someone within the community, I can’t listen to that song without hearing his hurtful words attached.  I haven’t talked to nor seen him in 14 years.

In a matter of 24 hours, I had come out and lost my ‘church family,’ my friends and my family, sans sister and dad. (My mom later came around and we have a healthy, honest, and open relationship today. The best we’ve had in my entire life.) I was virtually alone in that moment in time, despite the fact my sister and dad were there, the relationships were different to me. And I sheepishly backed away. That year I found solace in pills and the bottom of a bottle. There were no pleasantries except the fact I felt as free as I had ever been… and that was a paradox of emotions to navigate. That first Christmas Eve, I was treated horribly. A family member, who’s a huge self-proclaimed Christian, told me I was going to hell. My first year was, indeed, hell.

person in baseball cap holding wine glass, woman holding wine glass
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To say it was easier after that would be a lie. I moved to another state, from North Carolina to Virginia, a year later. A year after, I joined the army and moved to Missouri to escape an extremely toxic relationship. I know it isn’t discussed, but there is domestic abuse within the LGBTQIA+ community. Within 2 weeks of speaking to my recruiter and taking the necessary steps, I ran straight back into the closet under ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ as active duty in the Army. That was excruciatingly painful. About a month after I got word I was going to be deployed, I was severely injured. The one time I had made long-term plans for my life gone before I had even gotten started. Strike two, it seemed.

person in army uniform in group
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I wound up moving back home when I got out of the army, and again, found solace at the bottom of the bottle. Coming home felt like coming back with my tail tucked between my legs admitting defeat. That maybe the harmful words I would never fulfill my ‘calling in life’ were true, whatever that meant. Coming out was, by no means, easy for me. It was painful across many facets of my life. Looking back, navigating newfound freedom was liberating, but also scary without a healthy, solid support system. I know that now. Years of damage with family, friends, and those I considered close to me I’ve yet to this day repaired. Years of my early 20’s spent seeking answers at the bottom of bottles when instead I had the answers inside me all along.

family portrait
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I tell you that, to say this: I love me. I worked, through gritted teeth and tears, to be where I am now. I went to therapy. I cried, and yes, sometimes I threw tantrums because life wasn’t fair, but I arrived at a place that made me who I am, and I’m da*n proud of that. I’m a force, and I know that. I’m strong-willed, I’m a smart aleck, I wear my heart on my sleeve and I love with everything I have and then some, but it didn’t come easy; it came at a cost. It took years for me to realize that cost was not at my expense, but to the people I outgrew. I learned from many failed friendships and relationships. I am no saint. I was a hot-headed, stubborn punk for a while. I know that. But I did learn how to be a better person. I learned who I wanted to be from my own mistakes in addition to learning from people I had no intentions of becoming. I’m thankful now, for the lessons I’ve learned from the people who turned their backs on me. They taught me to appreciate myself. They taught me I don’t need anyone to ‘tolerate’ me; they taught me who I am is enough by telling me who I am wasn’t good enough for them.

person in arcade with peace sign
Courtesy of Cole

Coming out was the best thing I have ever done. It was definitely the hardest thing, but it was also the most rewarding. To those thinking of coming out, not every story will be like mine. But learn from me also—I had so many people in my corner but failed to see them because I was blinded by the hurt and the pain. I focused on the wrong things. Choose what you focus on; don’t lose sight of the positives in your life. I wish I could go back and share those same words with 20-year-old me.

Fast forward to me now, at (just a few weeks shy of) 34, a non-binary queer person living my best life; not because life has been easy, but because life has been hard and I woke up every day trying to see tomorrow. Fast forward to me now, with a Bookstagram account, where I have formed yet another group of family I love and adore, talking about books within the LGBTQIA+ community and beyond. A community that feels like home; and I’m here to remind you that home takes on many forms. Home is where you’re safe. And I know I am there. Books have always been my safe place, and when I came out, there weren’t that many options for fiction LGBTQIA+ books—there are so many now I can’t even keep up. What a beautiful way to explain my coming-out story. There’s so much more to me now than the pain that was there back then.

person looking at the camera
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I won’t tell you ‘it’ gets better. Why? Because sometimes, if I’m being completely transparent, it still hurts. That pain of losing people you loved, especially family, doesn’t go away. But YOU get better. YOU get to wake up and fall in love with a better version of yourself—a healthier, whole, full version of you that you have been destined to become. You get to be at peace, and that’s better than anything you will ever get to experience. I’m here to tell you that your days will be peaceful. The inner turmoil you feel right now will not last, and that is so worth the journey to coming home to yourself.

When you’re ready to come out, you will know it. And if you aren’t, or choose to never come out, you are still seen and celebrated within the LGBTQIA+  community. You still belong. I know how you feel and you are never alone. I see the battles raging inside and you never have to come out if you aren’t ready. You are never as alone as your mind makes you feel. One day you’ll be in my shoes giving advice to someone else on the other side.

One day you’ll be me wishing you would have focused on the love surrounding you, in the friends turned family, rather than those who walked away. I promise you.”

Courtesy of Cole

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Cole. You can follow their journey on Instagram and Facebook. Submit your own story hereand be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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