“I grew up in what some would describe as an All-American family. It is not a description I particularly like as it suggests that to be considered an accepted family in America, you must look or be a certain way. Regardless, this was something I heard a lot in my years of growing up. Aside from not loving what the description represents, I can understand the message that people were trying to convey. To the outside world, I grew up in a family that may have seemed ‘picture perfect.’ My dad was a football player, my mom a cheerleader. They met in college, fell deeply in love, and are still together today…36 years and counting. They are an incredible example of the kind of marriage I always wanted to have.
My sister was, and still is, beautiful. She was a cheerleader and a dancer and always attracting what her classmates dubbed the most good-looking guys in school. She attended Purdue University where she joined a sorority and fell into one of the most fun groups of friends I have ever seen together. I was in high school when she went off to college and I used to envy their weekends full of frat parties and late-night hangs.
My little brother is a sports guru, having played baseball, basketball, and football growing up until deciding he would follow in my Dad’s footsteps and solely focus on football. He is an incredibly good-looking guy and was always attracting some of the most popular girls in school. He eventually walked on as a member of the football team at the University of New Mexico. My Dad is a collegiate football coach and has been for the entirety of our lives, while my Mom always worked out of our home in a number of different positions. Aside from working and taking care of us, she was an incredible athlete (still is!) and was always training for her next half or full marathon.
I did not fall very far from my family tree. I was also very active, having been a gymnast for the majority of my life while also dabbling in junior high sports in 7th and 8th grade. RIP to me trying to play basketball. I loved nothing more than spending time with my family or hanging out with my friends whenever possible. I was very social and considered myself to be well-liked throughout my years in school. Although I dated boys in Junior High and High School, I was never one to consider myself ‘boy crazy.’ I had one very significant boyfriend as a teenager which resulted in the only real heartbreak I would ever experience with a man. Outside of that relationship, I really preferred to spend time with my girlfriends and was not super concentrated on meeting my next love interest—the sole focus of many girls my age. Looking back, I truly believe this was because I was not as attracted to boys as the teenage girls around me. Although I was not aware of this aversion at the time, I can now see how my inherent truth may have played a role in my interaction with males as a young lady.
I went off to attend college at Texas A&M where my Dad was a member of the football team’s coaching staff. After my first year, I decided to rush a sorority as a sophomore with every intention of meeting a strong group of friends and attending all of those frat parties like my big sister who came before me. I was accepted into Alpha Chi Omega where I did meet some of my best friends, a number of who I am still friends with today. But rather than spending all of my time at frat parties scoping out Greek life’s most eligible bachelors as I’d imagined, I was instead spending all of my time with my AXO ‘big sis’ that I was assigned. While I thought sorority life was going to bring me an exorbitant amount of girl-talk movie nights and potentially my future husband, it instead brought me the most electric and confusing relationship I would have in my life to-date: my first same-gender relationship. This relationship would go on to serve as the inaugural step that catapulted me towards the long journey of discovering my sexuality as a lesbian woman.
My first lesbian love story lasted close to a year. It both shaped me and wrecked me. Our relationship was a complete secret, as both of us were still in the closet and simultaneously trying to figure out what this meant for us and our lives. While dating, I was living with four friends in a small little house on campus. I consistently had my girlfriend over to hang out and spend the night, although we were hiding under the guise of ‘best friends.’ My roommates began to become suspicious of the girl who was suddenly around more often than not.
They managed to log into my personal Facebook account and found romantic messages between me and the girl whom they thought was just my friend. With this new, juicy gossip in their possession, they made the unthinkable decision to copy and paste our private messages and share them with a number of mutual friends and strangers. One of the members of the thread whistle blew, which led to us finding out every LGBTQ+ person’s nightmare: we had been outed.
This resulted in one of the most challenging moments in my journey. It was devastating. I felt more emotions in that one second than I think I have ever felt in my life. My stomach dropped like a rock, there was a planet-sized lump in my throat. I wanted to scream, and I wanted to cry. I wanted to hide in my room for the rest of my life. I felt betrayed beyond what is measurable. Although it should not need to be said, allow me to remind anyone reading this: someone else’s relationship, or how they identify, is no one’s business but their own.
Suspecting that one of your friends might be gay is not the problem. I do not blame these people from my past for their curiosity about this girl that was suddenly the center of my universe. However, I fully blame them for all of the actions that ensued when they decided that they were going to out our secret. That they were going to go to all lengths to expose this relationship that they knew was ours, and only ours, to share. There were plenty of opportunities for them to stop and consider our feelings. To stop and weigh right from wrong. I urge you, if ever faced with such a decision, choose grace. Choose empathy. Do not steal someone’s chance to be the first to share their truth.
The crumbling of my first relationship with a woman shattered me. Although I had gone through breakups before, I had never experienced a love as intense as my first with a girl. This heartache led me to my strong desire to share what had been going on in my life with my mom. Breakups are hard enough as it is, so harboring that heartache alone can feel close to impossible. It was my senior year of college and I had decided to live at home that year. I was in an intense student-teacher program that required a lot of dedicated time to my studies, so when my mom suggested I live at home to save us some money, I decided it was likely a smart decision.
It was the spring of 2011 when my mom and I were watching Oprah together one night after dinner. It was just her and I, my Dad was working late and my brother asleep. As I said, I had been anxiously wanting to share my story with my mom and was desperately trying to find the right time to do so. My mom was my comfort, my home. I was craving the kind of warmth and safety that only a mom can offer, and so I was hoping I could muster the courage to come out to her sooner rather than later. Little did I know I would not have to do the hardest part because she would do it for me. That night, while on our big red couch in our cozy den, my mom turned to me and asked, ‘Kaila, are you gay?’
To this day, I’m sure she could feel the burden on my shoulders. She somehow knew I needed her to ask me so we could open the door for the sharing to begin. From there, I began to spill my heart. I told her everything that had been happening in my life the past two years, from falling in love with a woman, to being outed by my roommates, to experiencing the deepest heartbreak I had known to date. And my mother listened. She did not interrupt. She did not insert her feelings or her worries. She listened and she assured me how much she loves me and supports me. She handled it in a way that has since shaped my life and continues to shape my life every single day.
Parents, please hear me. If your LGBTQ+ child comes to you to share their truth, celebrate them. Decide right now how you will react and do not waver. My mom constantly shares about how she had a millisecond to decide how she would react in one of the most monumental moments of both of our lives. She describes being acutely aware that for the rest of our days, we would both remember exactly how the next few minutes played out. And she was right. I can still remember exactly what was said and exactly how I felt. Ten years later, and I am still shouting about the gratitude I have for my mom for being exactly what I needed at that moment; a soft place to land. The choice is yours to either reject your child or throw confetti for them; do not look back on that moment and wish you’d done it differently. Shape your child’s heart, do not break it.
Following my coming out to my mom, I shared with my sister; my very best friend. She followed my mom’s lead and could not have been more supportive or warm. And although I had shared my truth with two of the most important people in my life, my journey was just beginning. I moved to Dallas for my first big-girl job. I dated both men and women as I was still unsure of who I was. And after experimentally dating both genders in real-time for the first few years of being on my own, it became very apparent to me that I was a lesbian. As I became more and more comfortable with my identity, I began to come out to more and more people. My brother, my colleagues, and friends who I had not shared with. But still, I had not told my Dad.
My mom had always promised me she would allow me the space and time to tell my dad when I was ready. She harbored my secret in her heart for a number of years before I was comfortable enough to share with her other half. My Dad was the hardest for me to come out to. Not because I believed he would be hateful or unloving, but because of the deep adoration that I have for him. I was somehow afraid that coming out to him would make him love me less. Looking back on those feelings, I could not have been more off base. I could not muster the strength to call and spit out the words, so I wrote to him. I get my love of writing from my Dad; he is incredible with words. So, I knew this was a language he would appreciate and understand. Immediately following me sending him an electronic letter, he called me. He wanted me to hear it from him directly that he loved me and supported me no matter what. He followed our phone conversation up with a letter of his own that was full of words that still give me goosebumps to this day. I want to share with you my favorite part. It reads this:
‘For you this is a blessing and therefore it is to me as well. Because YOU are happy. All I want for you is good health, happiness, and the knowledge that you are loved each and every minute of every hour of every day. Period.’
I still have this letter and keep it in a special place where it will stay for the rest of my days. Telling my Dad was the final gate I needed to walk through to be on my path to living truthfully. Sharing this with him would be the final puzzle piece. With his words of acceptance and sentiments of affirmation that his love for me would not waver, he set my heart free to be exactly who I am today and ultimately gave me the courage to live my life fully and honestly.
Since coming out to my dad, my life has fallen into place in a way I never dreamed possible as an LGBTQ+ youth. In 2016, I started dating the woman who would go on to become my wife. She is truly the other half of my heart. My mom zipped up my long lace dress on my wedding day while my sister spritzed my curls with hair spray. My Dad locked arms with me and walked me down the aisle towards the woman who won my soul—a moment I thought would only be one I dreamt of. My brother danced his heart out on the squared-off dance floor and I kissed my wife under a canopy made up of our best friends and family holding silver sparklers.
I am the author of a blog that aims to bring education and awareness to LGBTQ+ inclusivity and share in the joys and struggles that come with being a lesbian woman. I was even honored with a Gracie award this past year from The Alliance for Women in Media Organization for my writing, something that my young self would have never thought possible. Do I still face challenges due to my sexuality? No doubt. The coming out saga is a continuous one, for we live in a society that is bred to believe that everyone is CIS and straight. I am constantly forced to come out to new colleagues, strangers, friends of family, new friends, and the list goes on.
I occasionally deal with homophobia on the internet on my social media channels. But overwhelmingly, I am surrounded in my little corner of the world with people I would consider unwavering allies. I feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude to share this life with a family who loves me deeply, friends who support me fully, and a mindset that chooses to see the good. I view every unplanned coming out as a chance to educate someone new. I have seen firsthand that every display of homophobia is canceled out by an act of fierce support. Because in the end, I believe with every fiber in my being that love will always win.
To those who know their truth but are not yet ready to share, take your time. Your identity is yours and yours alone. Walk the path that feels most comfortable to you. To those who have shared their truth and were met with hate caused by fear, stand tall. There is a whole world of people out there dying to be your chosen family. Fight like hell to find them. To parents worried that their child might be LGBTQ+, listen up. This is advice directly from my mom, the mother of an LGBTQ+ child. ‘The most prominent thing that I have discovered on my journey since the day my child told me she is gay is that I wasted my time ‘mourning’ anything.‘ It is quite simple, you have no reason to mourn. Your child desperately needs your love and support. You have the power to change the trajectory of their life, for better or worse. Worry less, love them more.
I would not change the details of my life for anything. I am so proud to be a woman who is madly in love with another woman. I cannot wait to have children with her, to adventure with her, to sit on the couch with her, and to grow old with her. Just as the majority of humanity, we simply want to live a full life with an abundance of joy. My hope is that we are on our way to witnessing a world in which the majority of people recognize this. Only then will we truly see each other as equal.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Kaila Strickland of Dallas, Texas. You can follow her journey on Instagram, Facebook, and her blog. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.
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