Some people understand their sexuality/gender when they’re young and in elementary. Others realize it when they are in middle school, and they fall for some attractive person, and it hits them. This was not the case for me. Some would say I was a bit of a late bloomer in terms of realizing my gayness, despite all the obvious warning signs.
I was raised by a single mom in eastern Oregon. When I was younger, I would attend church and occasionally activity days. The only times I ever really missed church or church related activities were for sports, mostly football at the time. As a young child at elementary age, I always had short hair and dressed like a boy. At this time, I would have sworn that I was just a boy trapped in a girl’s body.
Later on, when I hit middle school and moved to Utah, I started to notice that all of my friends had started to develop crushes and all of that tween chaos. Boys, however, never caught my attention. All the other girls my age were so excited to date and get into relationships, but that was the last thing I wanted. Dating and getting a boyfriend was never appealing to me, and I didn’t mind sharing that. One of my friends even made the comment that I’ll either end up as a single cat lady, or a lesbian. She was right.
It wasn’t until I was a 15-year-old sophomore that I got my first crush, or at least recognized it. My best friend, who I had exposed more about my life to than anyone, suddenly made my heart race. Unfortunately, I had also promised her that when I finally got a crush, she would be the first to know.
From age 15 to my now current age of 16, I have recognized my gayness, struggled with hiding my feelings, and eventually, coming out.
Having been raised LDS and with my Aunt’s experience coming out, I was scared to come out to anyone. I have never cared much about what others think of me, but I also felt like I could potentially be in trouble. The fear of being kicked out kept me bound, but hiding it was tearing me apart from the inside.
It wasn’t until a fast and testimony meeting when I finally got the courage to tell my mom. A lady in my ward had come out to the ward over the pulpit, and I approached her after sacrament meeting. We talked later that day, and that helped me work through my fears and I ended up coming out to my mom that same night. Until that Sunday, the only person I had talked to was my aunt.
During this time, I struggled with my faith. I wasn’t sure where I fit into the plan and got to a low point.
The struggle of finding out where I fit is still going.
Honestly. I’m not sure where I’ll be a year from now when it comes to religion. However, at the time, I was still very faithful to the church, and my bishop was the fourth person I told. My experience telling him was very positive. He was supportive and made sure that I understood that there is nothing wrong with being gay and having relationships.
The rest of the school year I spent slowly coming out to a few of my friends (and listening to Tegan and Sara religiously). On the last day of school, I came out completely to everyone. A couple of my friends also came out to me as well. Overall, it was a good experience. Though I was not expecting a couple of my friends to attempt setting me up on my first date.
Since I turned 16, I have been openly out to everyone about being a lesbian. I’m out at church, school, home, and everywhere else. I have been going to Encircle almost every Wednesday and have started going to Rainbow Mutual recently. Dating and relationships have also become a thing in my life.
I’m very comfortable with identifying as gay/lesbian. Despite my knowledge of my sexuality, I’m still unsure about my gender. Like I said previously, I’m very androgynous and wear pretty much only men’s clothing. Being referred to as a male is not uncommon nor uncomfortable for me. Honestly-- if I had a dollar for every time I have been asked my gender or been referred to as a male, I would be a millionaire. I still identify as my assigned female gender because that is also comfortable for me. The journey of figuring out my gender will take me a little more time.
My biggest advice for anyone is to just be you. Wear what makes you feel comfortable and confident. Hold onto who you know you are and what you know is true about you. If you do that, then everything will fall into place eventually.
Also know you don’t have to put yourself in a box. I’m gay. I’m also unsure about my gender. Both are valid. You don’t have to understand everything all at once.
Just be you.
From a 16-year-old lesbian in Provo, I wish you luck and, even more, the confidence to be you! Know you are not alone.
UTAH | AGE 15
Looking back, it’s hard to remember just how terrifying it was. Living my double-life and masquerading as the straight person, I knew I wasn’t was pulling me apart from the inside. I didn’t know whom I could trust, and every interaction left me feeling even emptier than I was before.
One night, just before my twelfth Christmas, I found a note on my pillow. “I know you’re gay,” my mom wrote. My heart was beating at a pace where the individual beats were going too fast to even separate. “And that’s okay,” read the next line. My heart melted. That letter, and the one my dad wrote shortly after, changed my life. My parents turned into my noble protectors.
Slowly but surely, I started to tell people my dark secret. Opening the closet door and starting to poke my head out was such a glorious breath of fresh air. But even as I was starting to come out to the rest of my loved ones, my foot was still lodged in the door, desperately and anxiously preventing myself from stepping out any further. And for a long time, that’s where I stayed. I was far out enough to see the wonderfully fabulous LGBTQ+ community dancing and playing under a beautiful rainbow in the sky. But I couldn’t join them. I wouldn’t let myself join them. Because as much as I wanted to, I was too afraid to leave my uncomfortable safety, and so there I remained, hiding in the shadows.
To this day, I’m not exactly sure what the turning point was. Perhaps I unconsciously noticed a shift in the dynamic of my locale, or maybe I just got fed-up with where I was at. I suspect it was the latter. But no matter the cause, the effects were felt to my core. It was a change to my otherwise stagnant world. I thought the hearts of my loved ones were static, but they were changing and growing alongside me.
My parents, being the wonderfully fantastic people that they are, had a brilliant idea: monthly get-togethers for LGBTQ+ kids all around Utah called “Rainbow Mutual”. I was sold, and that’s what we did. Every month since then, for nearly two years by now, we’ve brought together so many colorful kids every month and given them a place to be themselves. Some kids tell me that it has changed their lives; most of all, I think it changed mine.
After doing Rainbow Mutual, I’ve learned to look outside myself. I’ve learned that my queer journey isn’t just my own–It’s about the people that I’ve met and the hearts that I’ve changed. Of course, there isn’t a “gay agenda,” but I’ve still discovered my personal mission: to change hearts and make the world a better place for people like me.
UTAH | AGE 17
Hi, I’m Ally, and I’m a 17-year-old lesbian from Utah. At the time I’m writing this, it is my two-year coming out anniversary to my mom. Looking back on that day is so interesting for me, because although my mom was super supportive as I knew she would be, I was an anxious mess. I had only realized I was gay six months before I came out to her, and I definitely wasn’t comfortable with myself.
Most other LGBTQ+ people I’ve spoken to have waited much longer before coming out to anyone, but I didn’t feel like that was an option for me.
I’ve always been super close with my mom. My dad passed away when I was a baby, and I’m an only child, so it’s always been just her and I. I felt like I was lying to her by not telling her something that was such a big part of me.
As I mentioned earlier, she supported me completely. I honestly couldn’t have asked for a better reaction from her. Having her know what I was dealing with took so much weight off my shoulders.
I found out about Project Contrast through Instagram last year. Shortly after finding out about it, I discovered that there was an event happening in Salt Lake City to display the new series. At that point, I had never been to an event for anything lgbtq+ related, so I knew I needed to go. Being lgbtq+ in Utah can feel so isolating but being there was like a breath of fresh air. Everyone there was so amazing and supportive. I went to the event alone but left with friends that I still talk to today.
While at the event, I found out about an organization called Encircle. Encircle is a resource center for lgbtq+ people and their families. It’s also become a second home for me. I’m there at least once a week either for support groups, or just to hang out. The staff there is amazing and the youth that attend have become some of my closest friends. If there are any supportive lgbtq+ centers in your area, I highly recommend going. Yes, it can be intimidating at first, but you might just find a wonderful group of people.
Now, two years after coming out, I feel so much better about myself. Being surrounded by people in the community has helped me greatly. I know I’ve still got a ways to go, but I’m so genuinely excited about my future.
When I was 12 years old I started to question my sexuality. I had just turned 13 when I began questioning my gender. At first I didn’t know of any terms to describe myself, but by using the internet I was able to find out more words that fit. The internet is one of the most common ways that LGBTQ+ people can explore, find terms, and connect with one another quickly. It even helped me to find myself.
As I settled on the labels asexual, panromantic, and fluxfluid – a combination of genderflux and gender fluid – I found myself fearful of being found out. One of the most common things that comes with being LGBTQ+ is fear. So I came out, first with my sexuality and later with my gender. However, I’m not out yet at school and face the fear of being outed every day. It can be difficult and frightening to go to a school where I can’t be who I am, but being LGBTQ+ has let me meet new and amazing people and given me the opportunity to participate in Project Contrast.
So, for those who are struggling with being who you are: you are who you are. And being LGBTQ+ is part of you. If someone doesn’t accept that and you can cut them out of your life, then the sooner the better because you don’t deserve that type of negativity and hurt. And remember, there will be always be someone who will help you and accept you. It doesn’t matter how long your journey takes, or when you start it, or what labels you choose. Identity is a difficult thing for all of us. Sometimes being a minority will affect that.
You deserve to be respected and to have the tools to discover who you are, like I did. With these tools you can learn how being LGBTQ+ affects you and your relationship with the world. So, while you may be afraid and frightened, take your time on your journey and don’t be afraid to ask for help from other LGBTQ+ people.
UTAH | AGE 17
I came out as bisexual in the sixth grade after I realized I liked boys and girls. At this point in my life, I was starting to grow and discover myself and realize what I wanted to be. Often time I looked in the mirror and felt constantly unhappy with my appearance. First, I thought it was my weight, so I fluctuated between skinny and not-so-skinny,
I noticed I still felt unhappy with how I looked. I cut my hair and then tried growing it out and dyeing it, only to still dislike the way my hair looked in the end (eventually shaving it). As the time went on, I started to present myself more androgynous, and at times people even confused me for a boy and I liked that and didn’t realize why. I had known about transgender people at this point in my life, but I didn’t realize that what I was feeling wasn’t what everyone feels like as they go through their teenage years. I had thought to myself, “yeah, I want to be a boy, but since I wasn’t born a boy there’s no point in trying to change it.” I realized that the uncomfortable and unhappy feeling was me experiencing dysphoria.
I never wanted to admit that I felt different and uncomfortable until it go so bad it affected my mental health, physical health, and more. I hated my body and the way I looked so much. I’d hurt myself, often feeling angry that I couldn’t present the way I felt inside. After a year long struggle with denying who I was, I realized in 2014 I was transgender. Around this time, I also realized I was actually pansexual which I think definitely fits me better. My gender has fluctuated throughout the years, and I have identified many different ways. In 2014, I first came out as gender fluid. This was the easiest to explain to everyone, because they all thought this was a phase I would grow out of. The next few years, I started to identify as a trans boy and wanted to present more masculine. It was very hard to look masculine at this point in my life. I always felt very feminine and it made me uncomfortable. Following the trend of “boys can’t be feminine” It tried to be as masculine as possible because if I wanted to wear a dress, then everyone basically would tell me that the way I identified wasn’t real. I presented strictly masculine, scared to be misgendered, and seem like I was lying to myself the whole time.
Now, I feel more comfortable as the years have passed and I can proudly dress the way I want too; sometimes wearing feminine clothes and makeup, and sometimes wearing more masculine clothes and a binder. I still experience body dysphoria, but I plan to start testosterone in the following months to help me present and look the way I fell inside. I can proudly identify as a trans boy today and present the way want to.
No cause is too lost.
July 2010 is when my story begins. That’s the month my family and I packed our bags and moved from the wonderful city of Irvine, California to Springville, Utah. It was quite the change for me. Even though we moved just two states away, it felt like a whole different country. Everything was different. I remember being so nervous the first day of fourth grade, my heart pounded with each step I took. My assigned seat was next to one of the cutest guys in my grade; let’s say his name is Michael. I remember dropping my pencil, and Michael, being the cute gentleman that he was, picked it up for me and gave me that classic charming smile. I skipped on home that day with the biggest grin on my face. I couldn’t wait to tell my brother. My older brother was my idol. I worshipped the very ground he walked on, and I wanted to be just like him in every way. Well, he talked about girls all the time, so of course I was super excited to tell him all about Michael. I couldn’t wait to show him that I was cool too. But when I did tell him, he looked confused instead of happy. He then said these words that I still remember to this day: “Wait… you like a boy? That’s not normal. Boys are supposed to like girls.” And that was the last time I would ever talk to my brother about boys.
The next few years would be the hardest of my life. As a kid, of course I had self-confidence, I was a kid. But as I got older, my self-image shattered. I was bullied at school every day. I had no friends. I was just that weird “gay” new kid that nobody liked. I didn’t even know what gay meant at the time.
My situation at home wasn’t much better. My family was under immense financial stress. My parents would pray every day for enough money to just buy groceries. My father was under constant pressure to provide for his family. He felt like he was failing as the head of the household. So naturally, he had no time for patience. I grew up absolutely terrified of him. Being around him was like walking on eggshells, even the slightest stumble would cause the whole carton to break.
My older brother wasn’t much better. The day I told him about Michael was the day he decided to make it his mission to torment me every second he could. He told me I was an ugly, fat, waste of life that was just a burden to this family and to this world. He told me that everyone would be happier if I were gone. And I believed him. He was my idol after all.
I distinctly remember one time in primary school at church, my leaders taught a lesson about families and how they can be together forever. That honestly scared me. My family scared me. After the lesson the leaders went around the room and asked the question “Does your family love you?” And of course, every child said “yes.” But when it came to my turn, I was puzzled. I didn’t know. I knew that they should, but it surely didn’t seem like it. So I said “I don’t know.” My leaders laughed, thinking I was just being a smartass. But I wasn’t joking, I legitimately did not know if my family loved me.
Years passed, and I began to hate myself even more than my brother hated me. I hated myself for being gay and having these “corrupt” feelings. I hated my body. So I began to starve myself and self-harm. I would avoid mirrors like the plague, because I just couldn’t bear to see my disgusting face. Instead of swimming, I would sit on the beach chairs because I didn’t dare take off my shirt.
And if all of that wasn’t bad enough, I had an entire organization telling me I was a mistake: My religion. I belonged to the LDS church at the time. Although I was very religious and believed in God with all of my heart, I hated church with a passion. I felt so invisible and unloved there. People pretended to put up with me, but I knew they actually hated me. Every Sunday I would come home and feel sick to my stomach, like I had eaten really, really expired food. I would try and make up some excuse as to why I couldn’t go to church, and sometimes it worked. But mostly it didn’t. My parents would force me to go. They said they were doing it for my own good, but nothing about church felt good.
I remember the Sunday after gay marriage was legalized. Every talk and lesson seemed to be about how the world is becoming corrupt, and how gay people are corrupting it. I couldn’t understand. How on earth is love corrupt? How is caring for someone so deeply that you want to spend the rest of your life with them a sin? Because even though I was very religious, this was also the time I was discovering that I was attracted to boys. It felt disgusting to hear so many people say so many horrible things about people like me who just wanted to love. But if god wanted it so, then we would have to follow, no matter how hard it was. The thought of eternal damnation scared me. I wanted to go to heaven. So I would get on my knees every night with tears streaming down my face, and pray for me to be normal. Pray for my horrible, sinful feelings to leave. Pray for the pain to stop. But it never did. I would then collapse onto my bed and sob myself to sleep while thinking about how I wish I were not alive. At 10 years old, I was anorexic, self-harming, suicidal, hated, insecure, invisible, alone. Nobody seemed to care. This continued on for over a year, and I think the only reason I am alive today is because I didn’t have access to something that would painlessly end my life.
After years and years of fighting, my parents finally allowed me to stay home on Sundays. I haven’t been back to church since. Being free from the church is honestly one of the most refreshing feelings. I still have to deal with very religious people every day (because I swear like 80% of Springville is Mormon), but at least I’m free on Sunday. At least I don’t have to walk into a building every week that makes me feel like an unloved mistake. I was very religious once upon a time. But I chose myself over an organization that wants me to change. I chose my happiness and refused to believe that leading a loving life would grant me eternal suffering in the next.
That convinced me to come out. Being in the closet was one of the worst feelings in the world. I felt like an invisible hand was slowly closing around my throat. I had to wear a mask every day of my life. I was absolutely miserable, but I was terrified of being “gay” and of telling others that I was, because for all my life being gay was such a horrible thing. Everybody used the word as an insult, so it must be a bad thing... Right? Wrong. I began to let go of years of torture, darkness, and hate, and slowly learned that it was okay to be gay. I started to accept myself for who I was. I came out freshman year by telling my friends that I had a crush on a boy, because I was too afraid to say the words, “I am gay.” But eventually, gay became something wonderful to me. It was who I was. I used to be so terrified of everything. I felt so invisible. But coming out changed all of that. Don’t get me wrong, it was the scariest thing I’ve ever done. But now nothing can stop me! I feel so free. I don’t have to hide myself anymore. I CAN BE ME!! And that is the most important thing I could ever be.
Later on during my sophomore year, I joined my high school’s color guard team on a whim. My best friend wanted to audition, and I thought, “why the heck not go with her?” I honestly didn’t know what to expect. But I was greeted with was the most amazing group of loving and talented people, who accepted me for me. I was immediately family and color guard became my safe place. It was the one place I could truly and undeniably be me. I’ve never felt such a positively amazing feeling before. I developed such wonderful friendships and fell completely in love with the sport. The decision to just go out and do something just to do it ended up being the best decision I have ever made.
There is no such thing as a cause too lost.
4 years ago I was at rock bottom. I hated myself. I had no friends and barely a family. I starved and harmed myself. I had no hope and absolutely no will to live. I was a complete lost cause... Except I wasn’t. I am a work in progress; there are some scars that might never heal. But I’m only headed one way: Up. I’m learning to love myself, even the scars and the ugly sides. Because being me and loving me is the single most important thing I could ever do. I am so incredibly lucky to have the most wonderful friends and amazing boyfriend to support me through everything life throws at me. I am reconnecting with my family and making amends. I’m learning to love my body, no matter the shape and to screw everyone that cannot accept me for me. I absolutely love living. 4 years ago I didn’t think those words would ever come out of my mouth. But here we are. I LOVE LIVING! Life is amazing, and full of surprises. I know you’ve probably heard it a million times, but I’ve lived it: IT GETS BETTER. Life is one hell of a journey, but I’m learning to love it. And don’t you ever try to tell me that a cause is too lost.
Because there is NO such thing as a cause too lost.
SOUTH DAKOTA | AGE 17
Unlike a lot of the kids involved with this project, I didn’t have a lot of struggles with my sexuality, and it took me a little while to realize that I wasn’t straight. Once I realized that I was bisexual, I kept it to myself. I still do, for the most part. The people that I am out to are very accepting and I feel comfortable discussing my sexuality with them.
However, I’m still afraid to be out to everyone. I live in a pretty conservative part of the country and I’m very involved with my church. I have never personally experienced backlash because of my sexuality, but I am afraid of how some of my friends and how my parents will react if they did know the truth about me. I commend the kids who are open about their sexuality and aren’t afraid to be who they are.
To anyone who sees this and is afraid to come out to certain people, or to come out in general, I want to say that you don’t have to if you don’t want to. Your coming out should be at your own pace and on your own terms, but this doesn’t mean that you have to hide yourself forever. Find someone you trust and open up to them, and remember that you’re never alone.
I came out 3 ½ times before I got it right as a bisexual transgender male. It was all slightly right in the sense of “something is wrong so I’m going to slap a label on it for as long as I can until it becomes uncomfortable.” But it always led to a relationship ending, because I felt uncomfortable with either my gender expression or sexuality. None of my exes appreciated that, even if I didn’t explicitly tell them why. They knew something was different by the end, but unfortunately it was always me that ended the relationship because I was scared of hurting them and hurting myself.
Going back to eighth grade, I came out as bi. I didn’t even think about gender back then, I didn’t even know it was a thing. By my sophomore year I thought maybe I was gender fluid and told three friends, but I soon got into a relationship with a guy who saw me as female, so I ignored most of my feelings for almost a year. It wasn’t the best thing to do. Pro tip: don’t let other people decide who you are. It doesn’t help anyone.
By the end of that relationship I was sitting in a whirlpool of self-hate and depression. I couldn’t look at my body and I didn’t want to think about my sexuality. Everything hurt. I remember the first time I legitimately saw myself as male; I was straightening my hair and I looked in the mirror and thought, “You’re a guy, why are you straightening your hair?” I stopped what I was doing and looked at myself. All of a sudden, I realized that everything I was doing was forcing me to lie. In April I knew I was trans, but I didn’t tell anyone.
When I broke up with my boyfriend I told him I was a lesbian, but it felt wrong and foreign to me. I didn’t picture myself as lesbian - it wasn’t me - so “gay” is what I used. Immediately after the breakup I started dating a good friend of mine until the summer. That summer was the start of the worst time of my life. After we broke up I shut down most of my emotions. I couldn’t tell what I liked or loved, I became angry with everyone including myself. For about three months I couldn’t cry no matter how hard I tried. Through all of this I hid it well and only told one person.
By August I was at my worst. I had started and ended a relationship with a good friend about three times in three weeks, and finally my friend had enough of my mood swings and inability to decide what I wanted. When he told me we couldn’t try again, that was the first time I had cried since May. I felt disgusted and alone, as if the world had no plans for me being happy. I specifically remember that as I walked into my house that night, watching the leaves turn different shades of orange and brown as the sky above looked a sullen grey, I thought “I am never going to wake up when I go to sleep tonight.”
That was the night I attempted suicide.
I’m still here. After that Tuesday, I went back to school. I saw the world in a new light, everything made me thankful to be alive. The mountains behind the field my band practiced on, the support I found in my friends, the flowers that grew from the cracks in the cement; all of these things cause me joy.
If I had died, I wouldn’t have been able to date my most loving and caring girlfriend, I wouldn’t have been able to march in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and I wouldn’t have ever met my puppy who I now love. There are so many things, I realized, that I’m living for. Even the small things that I never thought about: the end of a book or TV show, getting to eat my favorite meal again, and getting to sleep in my bed with the infinite number of soft blankets I own.
Even with this newfound love I had for life, I understood things weren’t perfect; I still wasn’t in the body I wanted. Looking at my body in the mirror was close to impossible. It still is.
But change is slow. Last week I changed my name officially. By next month, nothing in my school will have my deadname lurking around in the system. When I login to a school computer it won’t say my deadname, and when a sub calls out my name it won’t make my heart drop with anxiety. In less than a month now, I’m going to the doctor’s for my first talk about Testosterone. In less than a year, I’ll start looking the way I’ve always wanted to look.
One thing I’ve learned on this wild journey is that if I had been successful any of the times I was suicidal, I wouldn’t have fully realized how much I value my life. I also wouldn’t have gotten into my strongest relationship with the most beautiful girl I have ever known. My life would have been stopped short of the best part, so I keep living.
I’ve always found it really hard to be open with myself and who I am. From a young age, I’ve been consumed with how people view me and I’ve based my ideas upon that. I think a lot of this originated with being deaf and having hearing aids. I’ve always been worried about being deaf, having different opinions than others, or even just being different and weird. I forced myself into this mold that society had created for me. I muted myself and who I am so others would like me.
However, as I am nearing the end of my senior year, I have found that this is not necessary. There is no way for me to be normal and fit into a mold because I was made to be different. It’s taken me all these years — killing who I really was and putting on a persona so that others would like me — to realize this. And this realization has changed my life. It used to always be like, “Oh, I will open up when this person is comfortable with me. I’ll tell them all of this when they know the real me.” Now I know that I have to be comfortable with myself and that it really doesn’t matter if a person doesn’t like me or my life. And to be honest, if they don’t want to accept my lifestyle and personality, then I don’t want them in my life.
The whole reason that I went into my self-acceptance journey is because it plays a big part in my sexuality. Growing up, anything involving sex, orientation, or viewpoints on those issues were really taboo in my family. I grew up in a Catholic household and nothing about gayness was ever mentioned. It wasn’t until the 7th grade, when a friend told me, that I knew what it was. It was never a big topic and both of my parents really discouraged any sort of relationships for me or my sister. Growing up, my parents did not have a good relationship. My dad was, and still is, an alcoholic; but my mom still stays with him on and off. Not only have I been confused about gay relationships, but also about how heterosexual relationships work. I have always felt as though there is this big secret about love that I haven’t gotten.
This past month, I turned 18 and the one thing that I was bummed about was that I’ve never been in love. But I also came to the realization about how insightful all these years alone have made me. I am very aware of what I want in a relationship. One of the things that I don’t really care about is how my partner will identify; whether it’s as a boy, girl, trans, etc. What matters to me is that I am with someone nice who respects me, is willing to hear my ideas, and will look past my flaws. Why should I put a limit on someone who has those traits?
Although my sexual identity journey may be a little late — not having yet told my parents or many of my friends — I am still proud to be whoever the hell I am. I don’t really feel the need to put a label on it because, to be honest, I don’t even know what to call it. My main priority right now is to be whoever I want to be and to do what makes me happy!
UTAH | AGE 17
Be nice to yourself. You are the only you there is. You probably won’t fit every mold. And that’s okay. Being your own person is the best thing you can be.
I had no real challenges or hardships growing up. I wasn’t bullied in school (no one was really my friend either, but I’m counting my blessings), my family never came into any super financial struggles, my parents got along splendidly and hardly ever fought. The hardest thing I really had to go through in my life was doing my homework when I didn’t feel like doing it. In fact, it was so easy that I almost don’t feel like I deserve to be a part of this project. But after some deep thought, I decided that I should write my story anyway.
When I was younger, I didn’t really realize that a girl could have a crush on a girl, that’s just not how that was. I would have crushes on boys, but then I mostly thought it was just that I really wanted to be that girl’s friend, and that was all it was. I never thought of it was anything more, because in my head it really never had the option of being more.
I lived in Indiana for a lot of my childhood, and I was raised as a part of the LDS church, and there they talk all about a man and a woman. Strictly heterosexual. It’s all about how when the man finds his wife, they’ll get married in the temple and be together forever. No one ever mentioned anything about gay people, so I never really heard any of the “gay people are going to hell” thing until I got older. I thought about how exciting it would be to get married in the temple, but I also always wondered in the back of my mind about what it would be like to get married to a girl. In hindsight, I don’t know how I ever thought that thinking about that so much could possibly be normal.
We moved to Utah after I turned eight, and that’s when I started hearing more about these so called “gay people,” because that’s where it started becoming a problem. I would hear kids at school calling people “gay” as if it were a bad thing, and I just didn’t understand how that could possibly be an insult. It was just describing who a person loved, that’s all. But of course, being around such negative use of a word can really change the way you perceive it’s meaning, so I started to associate that word with bad things, and I pushed all the gay thoughts out of my head and tried to focus on how I felt about boys, because that’s what was “normal”. I tried to avoid that part of myself for a very long time, and it worked. I had pushed it so far down that I hadn’t thought about it in years.
My family never really talked about being gay and whether or not it was an issue—at least not that I can remember—until I was a little older, so school was the only place I heard about it for a large part of my childhood. But, it did start becoming more relevant, like when I joined color guard and started meeting a whole bunch of gay people, I started asking more questions and we started having more open conversations about it and about the consequences that would happen if I or one of my siblings came out as gay.
The thing is, I learned there wouldn’t really be any consequences.
My parents love me, and they just want me to be happy. This confused me immensely, because all the coming out stories I’d read or the videos I’d seen of people coming out on YouTube always had some explanation of how they’d had to cut people out of their lives because of it, or that there was some tremendous heartbreak after they admitted to other people that they were gay. So, where did any of that fit in with me?
I knew my friends would be fine with it, because half of my friends had already come out as gay, and the other half were already friends with my gay friends, so that wouldn’t be an issue. My parents told me they would be fine with it, so that wasn’t an issue either. But there was always an issue when people came out. Someone’s heart was always broken. It looked like it wasn’t going to be anyone else, so the only heart left to break was my own.
When I really started to think about the possibility of being gay again, it absolutely mortified me. I had nothing wrong with my friends being gay, or the idea of other people being gay in general, but there was something terrifying about the fact that it was also me. I ended up representing a letter in the LGBTQ+ acronym. I tried to rationalize it to myself that I would only be half gay and that would make it only half as bad, considering that I am bisexual. But oh honey, that’s not how it works.
I was having this identity crisis, not only because I was beating myself up constantly, but because at that time I was also the token straight friend. If that doesn’t give you an idea as to how gay my friend group is, I don’t know what will. Which also makes the fact that I was having a crisis sound even more ridiculous. I was fully aware that it was completely ridiculous because I knew in the forefront of my mind that I didn’t need to be doing what I was doing, yet I was doing it because some small part of me felt like I had to.
I was trying so hard to deny who I was, and there was no real reason for it. I would face no problems when I came out, which I think just made it worse for me. Like I said, there was always conflict, and since there wasn’t any in my case, I had to make some. Even if it was entirely internal. I never talked to anyone about it, and it just kept getting worse. It really wasn’t hard to beat myself up, I really didn’t like myself anyway. I just kept telling myself that I was unlovable, because at that point I really believed I was. I was taller than almost everyone my age because I’m six feet tall, and I’m not exactly thin, so there was an abundance of things to hate about myself. No one had ever really liked me as more than a friend in the past, so it was hard to tell myself that those things didn’t mean I was unlovable. It had gotten so bad that I started self-harming and giving myself little scars to try to feel something really real again. I drew little symbols on my body to remind myself that things would be okay.
I had almost come to the point of telling someone about my struggle or just straight-up coming out, but then we learned my brother had cancer. Of course, that wasn’t really good for anyone’s mental health, so I continued to struggle by myself as we tried to help my brother. I didn’t want to add any more burden to my family, though I was aware that I wasn’t seen as a burden.
Eventually, after all the stuff with my brother had blown over for the moment, I felt sick and tired of being sad and conflicted all the time, so I came out to one of my most trusted friends. Not very well, considering I hadn’t talked to her all day then suddenly out of the blue she gets a text from me at midnight, telling her that I think I might be gay. It was nerve wracking to send that text. I had been struggling, and I had been hating myself for about two years at that point. She was, of course, very supportive, and she gave me the courage to tell everyone else, which I did slowly. Of course, everyone was very nice and encouraging, and when I did finally tell my parents, they basically said “Okay, good to know,” and moved on. It really wasn’t a big deal after all.
I felt such a relief after I came out, and I realized that all the stress and self-destruction that happened in private really was all for nothing. Things do get better, and one constant reminder is a little heart scar on the back of my hand that’s slowly starting fading, and I think there’s something deeply symbolic about that.
So, be nice to yourself. You are the only you there is. You probably won’t fit every mold, and that’s okay. Being your own person is the best thing you can be
Hi! My name is Ella. I’m 15 and I live in Denver, Colorado. I’m a big ol’ lesbian, and my gender is kind of whatever. I’m not very particular with pronouns or anything.
Wow, so I’m supposed to write my story. I don’t really know what to say, but I’m just going to write and hope that I like what I end up with.
So my childhood was pretty ordinary. There’s not much to really say about it, until I was about 7. My dad got sick with alcoholism and dementia. He essentially poisoned and destroyed his body. He remained on the brink of death for 5 years, and my mom and I had to watch him die. Therefore, watching everything fall apart around us, leaving us to pick up the pieces.
Around the end of his life, I started reading a series in which one of the main characters was a lesbian. Now I had shown interest in girls since I could talk, so this wasn’t a totally foreign feeling as much as it was a confusing feeling. In kindergarten, I had a girl best friend, and I remember asking my mom if I could marry her, to which she replied: In some states.
When I started reading about this gay character, and I started thinking about it, I was more and more put off by the idea of ever being with a guy. I battled with this for months, totally confused and unsure of what it meant.
When I finally figured out that I was a lesbian and there was no doubting that, I then began to battle with myself about coming out.
My mom is just about as liberal as they come, but I was still terrified. Maybe I was scared because things would change, just to say the words, or because I didn’t want her to have more to stress about my dad inching closer to death every day. Nonetheless, while she and I were on a road trip in December 2014, I popped up from the backseat, and with my heart exploding in my ears, I said: Mom, I think I’m a lesbian. She said “Great, be a lesbian!”. That might’ve been the biggest deep breath I’ve ever taken.
My dad was a different story. I knew he would be accepting of the homosexual aspect, but the thing about his sickness was I never knew which Dad I would be getting that day. I could get accepting, loving, arms-always-open dad that I had grown up with, or I could get drunken, and couldn’t-give-a-shit dad, that his illness would constantly transform him into. When I look back now, I don’t care which one he was. I just wish he would’ve been able to know. Death got to him before I did, and I’m finally learning to get over that regret.
After his death, my life both ended and began. This was way too overwhelming for my 12-year-old brain to understand properly, so I had to grow up even faster than I already had.
When I was 13, I began going to an LGBTQ+ youth group here in Denver called Rainbow Alley. Rainbow Alley both changed and saved my life. I felt like I had a purpose. I had a group of people that would always accept me and never turn me away. I was doing just about the best I had ever done, or at least that’s why I thought. In retrospect, I wasn’t even close.
Through Rainbow Alley, I met my first girlfriend, and for the next year of my life, everything revolved around her. I cut everyone else off, I stopped going anywhere, and I barely interacted with my mom except to ask her to give me rides. After months of nothing but mutual psychological abuse that we disguised as love, we finally broke up at the end of summer 2017. That sent me into the deepest, darkest hole I’ve ever had to be in. I relapsed in more ways than one. I attempted suicide, and I was in the mental hospital. I had absolutely no hope for anything. I was convinced I would live in agony until eventually, my heart would just stop from how broken she had left it. (Edgy right?). Hearing “It gets better” would make my blood boil. How could anyone possibly understand what was going on in my head?
Slowly, I felt my heart actually start beating again, or at least, happily beating. Since then, it’s only been beating harder.
I found a group of friends that convinced me that life is actually worth living. I have Rainbow Alley, which has become the biggest pillar of my strength. I’ve actually learned what it’s like to be happy. Don’t get me wrong, I still have problems. I’m not always happy, not even close. I have my breakdowns and I overthink every little molecule of my existence. However, we all have our shit to deal with, and in the end, life is the most beautiful thing we can be given, and no matter what, it will get better.
If you’re reading this and you’re struggling, I know that it sometimes feels like nothing you can hear will make anything better, but if for nothing else, I want you to hang on for me. For all the cute animals in the world. For the sunshine and the stars that twinkle at night and the way someone smiles when they see you. Now go drink some water, take a deep breath, and maybe do a face mask or something. Thank you for reading this discombobulated story that I procrastinated too long on. I promise you, everything will be okay.
UTAH | AGE 18
My name is Ethan Mills. I’m 18 years old, born and raised in Utah. I’m homoromantic and currently LDS. This is my story, as crazy and twisted as it has been for me.
I have been extremely blessed and fortunate with my journey and process thus far. I want to start by saying I’m so sorry for those of you who go through such sad and terrible times within your journey–Your parents who reject you, friends who abandon you, and those who even turn on you and attack you–It’s truly heartbreaking, and my heart reaches out to you.
My parents saw the signs that I could be gay from a young age. Instead of scolding me for playing with barbies or feminine dress ups, they encouraged me to try more “masculine” things. They also took counseling on how to handle the news if I was, and they talked through every possible outcome. They talked about if I was transgender, if I was gay, etc. They told me that the only thing that would ever surprise them was if I announced I was pregnant.
They found out that I knew I was interested in men back in ninth grade when I had written a letter to a boy I had a crush on in my ward. It’s a long story, but they read the letter and discovered that I was also depressed and cutting myself. I began counseling shortly after. I only went to counseling for about a year and a half, and I dreaded it because I misinterpreted what the intent of it was. My parents told me they did it mainly for my depression. In my mind, I saw it as my parents trying to make me straight.
At the time, I did like both sexes, and during our counseling sessions, I was often asked which path I wanted to take: Marry a man, or marry a woman. I lied and told them that I wanted to marry a woman, as instructed by the church and because I thought it was what they wanted to hear. The reason why was because my parents told me that they believed I would get the most happiness out of marrying a woman—That I would have the most fulfilling happiness that way. They also said that they would support me if I chose to marry a man. In my head, that translated to, “We’ll love you more if you choose to marry a woman,” (which is not what they meant).
Because I was identifying as bisexual at the time, that meant I had to choose one or the other, but not both. It would “ruin my relationships” in the future if I was indecisive. I don’t think they meant to invalidate bisexuality, I really don’t. I think they didn’t quite understand it. Looking back, I can see now that talking to that counselor was basically like trying to cure me of bisexuality. I believe he had the best of intentions, trying to help me so that I wouldn’t regret any decision of choosing a male or female partner in the future. But bisexuality is possible, and it shouldn’t have to go one way or the other. Bisexuality is not wrong or invalid. You can like both sexes. With that pressure of “you have to choose,” it sort of made being gay seem so much more forbidden and made me want it more. Over time, I lost interest in women. Not because I was “gay all along and trying to cover it with bisexuality.” That’s not why. It was because I knew my heart yearned for love from a man. I hated that it was seen as wrong and forbidden. I still do.
Since then, I’ve hated the idea of seeing another counselor because of that. I feel different now. I know they aren’t all awful and that my experience was particularly strange and not quite right. Most people think when someone is seeing a counselor, it is a sign that something is wrong with you. I promise you, it isn’t (thank you Connor Franta for helping me realize that). I’ve even recently considered finding a new counselor and having sessions to help keep me mentally stable. Life is challenging enough, but sadly, being part of the LGBTQIA+ community makes it quite a bit more.
Continuing with my story, I’m going to talk about growing up in the Church. I don’t recall hearing any negative comments or comments in general about the LGBTQIA+ community. Probably because I wasn’t thinking about or paying attention to it. I heard more about it once a friend of mine in the ward started her own journey. She began asking questions about homosexuality and same-sex marriage in Sunday School. I also heard a lot of talk about it with the November 2015 policy released by the LDS Church Presidency.
The 2015 policy, meant to “reinstate” the Church’s stance of homosexuality and same-sex marriage, was damaging for a lot of Mormons and LDS LGBTQIA+ individuals and families. People felt hopeless for the future and lost faith that God loved them anymore. I was in eleventh grade when the policy came about. My mom became concerned I would start hearing horrible, rude comments from members in the ward and at school. I had to remind her that everyone needs to have their own time to learn and understand. My mom heard some ignorant comments and it upset her, and for some reason, I never heard anything.
Something that I have come to understand is that people can have their own opinions, values, and beliefs. But physically hurting or ostracizing someone for those opinions, values, and beliefs is never okay. That’s something that the world has forgotten. It’s time to remind everyone.
Jumping back a bit, I started becoming more aware of the male figure in eighth grade. I didn’t understand that I was attracted to the same gender until ninth grade, at which point I identified as bisexual. Ninth grade was probably the worst year of my life for various reasons. I was depressed, cutting myself, struggling with the Church, getting involved in dangerous activities (that I won’t specify), and obviously, figuring out my sexuality. I thankfully made a turnaround in tenth grade. That’s when I became the happy, cheerful person that everyone knows me to be now. It’s also when I started wearing my colorful clothing. Over time, my “closet” became glass, meaning people knew I was gay, though I hadn’t made the announcement. Despite those outer struggles, my battle was not against people. I was never made fun of for “being gay” or acting weird (though I was a strange child). My struggle was inside of me. When I really began to understand who and what I was, I didn’t feel ashamed. I did have concerns about what it would mean for my eternal salvation.
In the Church, marriage and being sealed in the temple with your family is one of the most important steps needed for eternal salvation. I began to wonder if I wouldn’t have that when I started receiving blessings within the last few years—Like my patriarchal blessing, some father’s blessings, etc. In almost each one, it would mention my eternal spouse, my wife, and that she was preparing for me and I needed to do the same. It tore me up inside because I wanted to be able to love a man. I saw the beauty in same-sex relationships and I knew I couldn’t love a woman the way she deserved. I was also told about my children that are waiting for me. And that’s the real kicker. I know I couldn’t fulfill the plan for some young woman. I was, however, more torn about losing my children than not having a wife, in all honesty. I still feel guilty about that, but I’m just not interested in being with a woman at all.
I was especially torn with the children, being told they would go to other families who wouldn’t be able to love them the way that I could. I worried that meant they would be abused, rejected, or neglected. I struggled with that guilt throughout high school. I wanted to date guys. Even with my parents telling me they’d support me if I chose same-sex marriage, I still felt obligated to the Church. Obligated to marry a woman. Obligated to bring those children into the world and into my life through “my wife.” It felt like it was all arranged.
I wish I could have just come out, instead of having my parents believe that I was bisexual and go through that detour. Instead of going to counseling to choose something, I could start living as a gay man and be happy with that. I wish I could’ve told my parents, “I’m gay,” back in the day. To come out and start dating guys instead of going through those years of struggling to make a choice.
Instead, I fought myself and beat myself up. I still had a couple of boyfriends in high school. I lied to myself that I’d eventually get around to trying to marry a woman. It wasn’t until my last boyfriend I was with for the last two months of my senior year that I finally understood. It was okay to be gay. That it was okay to love someone of the same-sex and not feel like I’m broken or rejecting God. He helped me reconnect with God and search for some answers about what I wanted for myself too.
It was quite a trying time in my life because I was finally forcing myself to face what I had been avoiding for so long. I was so emotionally torn. I’m sure it put strains on the relationship, but I’m so grateful for all his support and love. He also helped me realize that I could still have children in my life, but through different means such as adoption or a surrogate. That has really given me hope that I can still have them in my life.
To conclude, I finally came out to my extended family back on October 23rd, 2017, and publicly on March 1st, 2018. The reception has been quite well, and I’m blessed to have such positive, affirming people in my life. Now it’s my turn to be that love and support to anyone who doesn’t have that.
I have also discovered that I am homoromantic, not homosexual. I love romantic affection from the same-sex, but I actually don’t like sex. I haven’t had sex, but just the thought scares me. Therefore, I also consider myself asexual. I’ve learned and grown from this journey just as much as my parents have.
I’m sure it looks like my parents struggled or weren’t very supportive based on what I’ve mentioned. I promise, they have been so supportive of me. Yes, they made a few mistakes, but they were trying to figure it out, and they have learned and have grown. They did their best and they still continue to do their best. I’m so grateful for everything they have done for me.
Currently, I plan on staying a member of the Church (some of you will disagree, others will agree, but it’s my choice. It’s my journey—not yours). Even if it will be hard to stay, change can only come if we show them how to love us. Not going away and making them think they win or something like that.
My biggest message I want to leave with you all is this: not everyone is going to love you. Whether you’re gay, straight, blue, or orange, people will want you to change to fit their idea of who you’re supposed to be. So, make sure you love yourself. Know that you are perfect the way you are, and if not, find what makes you happy and do that for you. Not for someone else, but for you. Your happiness is up to you to obtain and have. You deserve love and healthy environments to grow in. I love you all. Thank you for letting me share my voice and my story.
When I first came out as bisexual, I was accepted and it was never an issue. Two years later, I came out as transgender. Now that… that was a whole different story. I came out to my family and friends over Facebook with a big outreaching post that was received with comments varying from, “I love you [birthname],” to “I love you and support you, Jack.” And man, that was hard to handle. I lost a lot of people and it made my home life incredibly hard. My parents made me see a therapist who kept telling me that it was selfish to want to transition and that I was asking for too much. It was such a difficult time. No one in my family would really talk to me. I was just a terrified, little 13-year-old and I had never felt so alone.
At the time, I was dealing with friendship issues. I was trusting the wrong people and confiding in toxicity. I just took it all in and bottled it up because I thought that to be a “real man” meant that I couldn’t cry and that I couldn’t be affected by any of it. I hid inside of a hyper-masculine shell and I hid everything from everyone. I didn’t accept that it was okay to be myself and that I didn’t have to be this big masculine person all the time. I kept pushing myself. This cycle continued for a good 6 months until I finally found good friends around February of last year. They loved and supported me no matter what and didn’t care if I was cool or not because, let’s face it, I’m not cool and never have been. But after I confided in that group, things seemed to get better. I reasoned with my family instead of just fighting with them constantly. Eventually, I got better.
Even since then, I’ve gotten a lot better and I can finally be myself in a safe space of wonderful friends. My family has come around a lot, honestly. Not everyone in my family calls me my name yet, but they’ve become more open to doing it. To end this, I thought I would give you a message of hope in a rough time.
Everything can get better. No matter the circumstances, there is a 99.9% chance that the situation you’re in right now is not as bad as you think it is. Whether you’re having issues with friends and family about coming out or dealing with mental illness, I know that you can get through it and that you’ll make it out okay. I promise.
UTAH | AGE 17
Growing up, my sexuality wasn’t really a concern for me. I had feelings for guys, but I never really read into them as anything out of the norm. It wasn’t until I went into junior high and all my friends started dating, that I began to wonder if something was wrong with me. Of course, that wasn’t the case, but I wouldn’t fully realize that until eighth grade.
In eighth grade, I met a guy that made things clearer. It never crossed to be anything more than a crush, but that’s when I knew for certain that I was gay. I then went on a binge of “coming out story” videos on YouTube, trying to make my own plan of attack. I was pretty nervous what my family would think of me. My parents, particularly my dad, had always shown a level of homophobia. When summer came, I eventually worked up the nerve to come out to one of my best friends. She lived pretty far away, so I decided there was little risk in telling her, but I was honestly surprised at how good it felt. Suddenly I had someone that I didn’t have to hide anything from, and I loved the feeling. Maybe soon I could work up the courage to have a conversation with my parents about it. That’s not what happened.
In December of my freshman year, I came out to my family in a fight. A fight about scarves. Let me explain. My sister and I went to a Christmas play together, and, there was a guy there who was wearing a scarf. I thought the scarf was cute. As we drove home from the show, my sister asked me if I knew what I wanted for Christmas. I told her I wanted a scarf. She told me that scarves made you look gay. This, for obvious reasons, offended me. First, I tried to tell her that she’s just wrong. She told me that she thinks so, so any of the girls I’d want to date would think the same. I told her that I wouldn’t care because it looks good, and then I asked what’s the problem with being perceived as gay. She didn’t understand why I was trying to defend gay people, and since we were home at this point, I told her that “People like you are why so many gay people want to kill themselves.” and I went into my room and slammed the door. Right about then is when she made the connection and went to talk to my parents. I was stressed about her telling my parents, so I took a shower. Nobody could talk to me if I was in the shower. Once I realized that I was in there too long, I got out and got dressed, and my parents came to talk to me.
It went better than I had imagined. They weren’t all for it initially, suggesting that I don’t act on the feelings and try to be a “gay Mormon”. It took them a bit to fully understand that that wasn’t how I planned to live, but they’ve come around by this point in my life.
As I’ve gone through the rest of my high school career, friends that I’d had for years have since come out to me. I quickly realized just how “not alone” I am. I was able to build a strong support for myself, which has only grown as I’ve found out about things like Affirmation and Encircle. I’ve been able to be an inspiration to friends and family to live more authentically just by being me, and I think that’s really cool. My journey isn’t over yet, but I’m excited to see where it takes me.
UTAH | AGE 16
My name is Jaden, and I am a 16-year-old gay student that attends high school in one of the most conservative counties in the state. I have often wondered the “what, when, where, and why” of how my life became what it is, but being able to express myself, my struggles, my ambitions, my pain, and my triumphs has given me the platform to answer some of the deepest questions I have had to face. My journey, like others, began when I was very young. I have been told of my extreme sensitivity to others, and there are multiple recorded stories of my genuine and sincere heartfelt actions. Although the accolades I received were real and assumedly well deserved, the persona I was providing left me wondering how I could ever communicate the things that really made me who I was. I was 10-years-old when I asked my mother to walk with me to a stream behind our house. There was a log there that provided me an escape to look into the sky and really contemplate the mysteries I was trying to understand myself. As my mother sat with me, I began to cry uncontrollably. After much cajoling, I explained that I had packed my suitcase and I was prepared to leave home in order to negate the ridicule my family would receive when our community, our neighbors, and our friends found out that their brother, son, and neighbor was gay. My mother’s response was “of course you are too young to identify with these feelings,” and she immediately found counseling for me to help correct the assumed false assumptions I had of myself. As you, the reader, view this story, you can possibly identify with the outcome. There are not enough degrees, trainings, or achievements that can offer any individual the authority to convincingly change the knowledge of what we know is in our hearts. I knew who I was, and having the many counseling visits did nothing but reiterate that there would be no one in life that could ever or would ever force me to make the assumption that only I have to offer myself. My life carried on, and no mention was made regarding what was still the source of so much heartache and loneliness.
At 15, I decided to tell my mother of this secret that I no longer wanted to carry. It was as if I was supporting a boa constrictor and the grip was tightening more and more every day. Eventually, I knew that I could no longer breathe, and the burden I was carrying was torture. Although I did not know what the outcome would be, I knew that being true to myself was all I had left to offer. Although it has taken time, my family has been very supportive and has chosen to learn with me on this journey. It has taken them to new places, and if you were to ask my mother today, she would tell you that although it was been a roller coaster ride, she would not change a thing, as it has created a new a beautiful environment for our family to truly love. I would concur that this journey has definitely been a roller coaster, but coming down the hill after reaching the top with anticipation of anxiety and fear has allowed me to more fully experience the thrill of putting myself out there. I would never say that getting on this (roller coaster) ride would be my preference one hundred percent of the time, but I know that I am the one that has chosen this journey, and I can choose to be afraid of the climb to the top or to enjoy the exhilaration of holding my hands in the air and the thrill of the descent.
This year I have been a student in a creative writing class and this opportunity has given me the platform to truly reach further into the thoughts, feelings, and emotions that have been a part of me since I was very young. The truth is that being gay is very hard to articulate. It is not a poem or a prose and can’t be explained away. It has made me both raw and vulnerable. Being vulnerable has allowed me to feel both love and pain and often times, the two overlap more frequently than I would expect. The pain has made me put up walls. These walls I know are meant to protect my emotions, but like many they not only prevent heartache from coming in but the ability to fully let love out. Being able to share myself, my journey, my heartaches and triumphs not only gives me the opportunity to shed the layers of the boy that I have been, but hopefully take down this wall, brick by brick. I know there is hope, I know there is support and most importantly, I know there is love.
“It is better to be hated for what you are than to be loved for what you are not.” - Andre Gide
My hope is that through my journey, you too can learn as I have that as I work on being in love with the person in the mirror who has been through so much, the truth is that I am still standing.
Much (unconditional) love,
SOUTH DAKOTA | AGE 15
My name is Jay. I’m bisexual, though I lean more towards girls. I live in South Dakota, I’m Native American, and I’ve never believed in myself until recently because I’ve suffered with depression, suicidal ideation, PTSD, and anxiety disorders my entire life. My therapist says that it comes from the rough first few years of my life and due to this I’ve been in and out of hospitals that claim that they can fix me. But the moment I came out to my family was the most meaningful thing to happen to me in my entire life because I’ve never known love and acceptance on that level before. This is my story:
I was born to two parents who had just gotten into their twenties. They had lives to live and things to look forward to, and my sudden appearance in my mother’s stomach was holding them back. So, three years later the police found me outside my mother’s apartment screaming and crying as she slept peacefully. They say that she slept around and did drugs and drank alcohol. But never have I been given solid evidence other than a diagnosis written on cold paper that said I’m traumatized.
It took one year for a family to want me; taken in by my grandparents on my father’s side after a hard decision made by the jury, as my mother’s half of the family fought for their right to keep me with them. The second phase of my life began with a new home and new family members to call my parents and it ended with my first suicide attempt. I was nine years old when my uncle Percy committed suicide and I remember the moment I found out being the turning point of my life where death sounded so sweet. Insomnia followed afterwards, and so did the nightmares, the apparitions, the fear of the dark, the self-harm, and the acceptance of knowing that everyone that I would ever come to know will someday die.
My first trip to a mental hospital was when I was eleven. I had overdosed on sleeping medicine in hopes that it would kill me, and that was where I was forced to start anew again in a third phase of my life. I left Regional West with a fake smile on my face and bandages covering my arms. I found new places—secret places—to slit my skin when I finally got ahold of another blade. The pills numbed the pain, but it didn’t stop me from crying myself to sleep at night. It wasn’t until I was twelve and in sixth grade that I had learned about the wonders of sexuality and finally took notice to the people around me. I didn’t learn that it was considered bad to like girls until I found one that I really liked. Her name was Rhea, also known as my first kiss and my first heartbreak. I like to think that I was too young to really know what love was, but the more I think about it, the more I knew what I was doing. Our relationship ended with my departure for a Christian boarding school. I was taught that it was wrong, I was wrong, and that God made man and woman for a reason. During my time at the school, my cousin Emil had committed suicide by hanging himself. I had learned that he was gay and afraid to come out to his family and suffered from bullying and had turned to drugs as a coping mechanism and wasn’t able to recover from hallucinations and a trip that would send him to end his life.
The third phase of my life ended with another suicide attempt. HSC, South Dakota’s state hospital, was a stricter place, and there I learned that it was okay to like girls and to accept myself for who I was. My grandmother died while I was in the hospital, and I wasn’t able to attend her funeral, which had sent me on a downward spiral towards another mental breakdown. It took a while for me to regain my footing and continue on with my life with my grandmother in my heart in spirit. After leaving the hospital, I gave up the religion that was shoved down my throat at such a young age and left St. Joseph’s. I began the fourth phase of my life with my head held high as I entered high school only for it to crash down on me in the long run. I had failed my freshman year, and my life began to take a turn for the worst. After a buildup of emotion, I broke down in a panic attack screaming and crying, where I managed to cut my arms and legs in a feeble attempt to calm my own nerves to no avail. I was absent from school for the next two months, and there I learned that the suicide rates in South Dakota have doubled over the past twenty years, and that almost seventy-five percent are Native American youth just like me. I also learned that for every successful suicide, there are twenty-five attempts which have broken the 2016 record.
Though, I’ve lived knowing that my existence was unwanted, my sexuality is a sin, and that I will never be like anyone else no matter how hard I try, I’ve learned to accept myself as a person—a living, breathing, human being that deserves to be alive and on this planet just like everyone else. It hurts to be criticized and laughed at behind my back, but the people who don’t like the way I am may be one or one million out of eight billion people that live on the Earth. I came out to my parents a few months after I’d left my final hospital trip and they accepted me with open arms. I’m so grateful that I was lucky enough to get even closer to my family with their knowledge of my sexuality.
I know that it’s going to be hard but you can do it. I swear to you that you can, because if I can after all I’ve been through, you can too.
SOUTH DAKOTA | AGE 19
As a kid, I remember that I loved to run around shirtless just like one of the boys. My only issue: I wasn’t a boy. I was able to get away with it as a child, but as I got older, I knew that I had to stop. When I was young, it didn’t bother me much that I was a girl because I didn’t really pay any mind to gender or gender stereotypes. I was just a kid and didn’t know what any of it meant. Now that I look back at how I acted and dressed myself, I was a straight up tomboy.
One summer, I remember that I had on a safari hat that I got from the Denver Zoo, and I wore it the entire summer with my hair in a braid. That fourth of July, one of my distant cousins and I were playing. I was wearing the hat so my face was pretty much covered up and you couldn’t see my hair. He called me “He”. At first, I thought, “Wait, I’m a girl.” But after the initial shock of being called a boy for the first time wore off, I realized that it didn’t really bother me — I actually kind of liked it.
Once I started middle school, changes began to happen, and I wasn’t happy about any of them. I was a happy-go-lucky kid who didn’t really have anything to be sad about. I had an okay life; I lived with my mom and sister; nothing bad ever really happened; our family was close. There was nothing that should have made me sad. But once puberty hit, everything went down hill for me. I waited as long as I could before wearing a bra. My mom always tried to get me to wear one because I wasn’t flat-chested anymore and it was starting to become noticeable. I wore baggy shirts (two sizes too big) and hunched my shoulders trying to hide my chest; but eventually, it got to the point where I couldn’t. All these changes were happening and I was dreading them. My only preparation for the changes was an American Girl book on female puberty that my mom left on my bed one day, which I promptly threw to the back of the closet so I wouldn’t have to look at it.
By the time I was in the seventh grade, I was super depressed and uncomfortable with my body. I had gained a bunch of weight from medication for my depression, and my body didn’t feel right to me. I discovered self-harm through the internet and, at one point, ended up doing it every day, or I would get anxiety attacks.
No one at my school ever really payed any attention to me. I was the quiet weirdo with no friends. The only friends I had were online. For some reason, I was desperate for someone to actually want me. It was the only time that I felt like someone actually liked me, and it made me feel a little better about the way that I looked. But now I know that most of the men that I talked to would have talked to any woman willing to show their bodies to them.
By the time I hit high school, I thought that I needed to start wearing more feminine clothing and make myself look more like a girl to get people’s attention. I had long curly hair that reached down to my mid-back and wore makeup and frilly dresses. This became one of the worst times of my life. I finally had a few friends, and I was not as shy as I was in middle school. But something still didn’t feel right to me. I laughed around and pretended that I was happy with who I had become, but in reality, I was miserable. During one of the bad parts of my depression, I decided that I needed a change, and I cut all of my hair off. I shaved one side and the other side went just a little bit below my ear. I still tried to be girly, and the hair cut helped for a while, but I eventually fell into another deep depression. It seemed as though the older I got and the more I tried to hide my emotions, the more and more depressed I became. I didn’t want to be alive anymore. I felt like I was worthless and didn’t deserve to be here. I wished that the innocent people who died would have been replaced with me so that they were able to live and I wouldn’t. These were my thoughts daily, and they only got worse as I kept hiding.
Around the end of the summer of 2015, I came across a video on YouTube. It was a foreign language short film simply titled Boy. This was the first step for me in my transition and basically where everything began for me. I had never heard the term “transgender” before and didn’t even know there was really anything like it. After the first time I watched that video, I started doing extensive research on what it meant to be transgender. Every piece of new information that I found was like a door unlocking for me and it just hit me that this was me. In November of 2015, I told my mom that I didn’t like being a girl. She instantly was understanding with me as I told her all of the things that I had learned. I am lucky that I was raised in such an open family. She instantly accepted me for who I am even though the process of my transition didn’t really start until a few more months after I told her. We got my hair cut and she bought me more masculine clothing, trying to do everything in her power to help me through this. No one else really knew except my close friend, and no one had started to use my preferred pronouns yet. I was happier with who I was, but I still felt like something was missing, and I wished that my transition would move faster. I found a transgender support group, and I was super excited to go to my first meeting. I, to this day, still go to the meetings. I met so many amazing people there who have helped me in my transition journey. They made me realize that I wasn’t alone in this and that there are more people like me out there; even in the area that we live in.
I was still kind of confused about what I really felt my gender was and who I felt as a person. I was afraid to became a man because I still liked all the attention that I got from men online and didn’t want to lose having someone like me for how I looked, or even liking me at all. I still liked men, and I felt like becoming a man would ruin my chances of finding someone as a partner even more; which, for some reason, was really important to me. I didn’t feel like I acted enough like a boy when I was younger because I did wear dresses and played with barbies and dolls. I felt like I didn’t show enough signs that I was really a boy. I felt like I wasn’t “trans enough”. All throughout 2016, I kept doing research and questioning who I really was. But by the middle of the year, I was pretty certain that I knew that I was a boy and that I wanted to live my life as a boy.
I didn’t really come out to anyone else until October 11th, 2016, which is National Coming Out Day. I debated all day whether or not I wanted to say anything on my Facebook. Close to the end of the night, I asked myself: “Why not just do it?” I didn’t know what people were going to say about it, but I was met with nothing but support. There were a lot of people who didn’t really understand it, and I didn’t expect them to. I honestly didn’t even know everything about it. I was most afraid of my grandpa’s response to it because his side of the family is made up of conservative ranchers, and I didn’t know what he was going to think. He was pretty supportive of me even though I know he doesn’t really approve of it, still slips up on my pronouns, and talks about it with my family behind my back. But that is better than what his response could have been. It took my family a while to get used to the new pronouns, and even now they slip up. But I know that it’s better to have them slip up on my pronouns than to completely disown me for being who I truly am.
After I knew that this was the path that I was taking, and getting all of the help and support that I needed, I wanted to put myself out there and stand up for the kids in my area who are also transgender but didn’t receive the love and support that I got. I came out to my school as transgender and started an LGBTQ+ club at my school, which was a pretty big deal because Sturgis, South Dakota is a conservative town. The kids at the school can be cruel. The first time that I put up posters for the first club meeting, people would tear them down and throw them away. I didn’t want to let that break my spirits so I just put up more posters for every one they tore down. I knew the other students were saying harsh things about the group, but I didn’t let them get to me. I ended up having several people message me and ask me for advice; some even came out to me. It felt amazing that people trusted me enough with something so personal and that they actually wanted my advice.
The time had come in South Dakota when the legislative session was open and bills were being introduced again. The year before, I wasn’t really out yet so I didn’t realize that there was an anti-transgender bill out there. When the next year came, and another anti-trans bill was introduced, I wanted to do something to help. I wrote up a testimony and went to the state capital. I was ready to read my testimony in front of the legislator to oppose the bill that they were trying to pass. I felt like it was what I had to do — I had to be the voice for the other transgender students in South Dakota that would have been affected by this bill. Luckily, I didn’t even have to read my testimony because the bill was killed right then and there before anything even happened. It was a big win for the LGBT community in South Dakota.
I went through a few months of counseling to get my referral to an endocrinologist in my area and got an appointment on March 16, 2017. The reason that I remember that date is because I got my prescription for testosterone that same day and took my first shot. I’m a pretty impatient person, and I wanted results that day, so I got frustrated when my changes were happening at a slower pace than those of people I had seen on Facebook. I know that the changes differ for every person as well as the time that it takes for the changes to occur, but it was frustrating to me. A few months after starting T (testosterone therapy), I fell into one of the worst depressive episodes I’ve had. I ended up going to a care center that night to talk to a counselor and to stay over night to be watched over. It was a long and awful night but I got the help that I needed at the time and I am still here today because of it. A year later and I am happy with my changes so far. My voice is a lot lower, I have a little bit of facial hair, and I look more masculine than I did pre-T. And as much as I want my changes to be greater, like a full beard on my face, I know that I have come a long way from where I was to where I am now. I’m a lot happier with myself now and I am the happiest that I have been for quite a while.
SOUTH DAKOTA | AGE 19
This is my story — one that I would like to share with other LGBTQ+ teens. I had a very encouraging parent who always told me that it was okay, but that didn’t make it any easier. I still waited 17 years before confessing my true self. I had the help of a special someone who, at the time, was just a friend. She helped me overcome the scary feeling of telling my mom who, like I said before, was very understanding and accepted me right away with no hesitation. However, I know that is not the case for everyone.
On June 17th, 2016, I asked to speak to my mom privately and my younger brother was, of course, being nosy that day. I told him that I had to talk to Mom alone and that I would explain things more in-depth after I was finished. My mom had just gotten off of work and was worried that I had gotten into some trouble. She was very anxious to know why I had pulled her aside that afternoon. All I said was, “Mom, I like girls.” She replied saying something along the lines of, “Well jeez, I thought something was wrong with you. Finally, you tell me what I already know,” and then she started laughing. I, of course, thought it was impossible that she knew considering I had never told anyone and that I’ve known since I was about 14 years old. I was a little weirded out until she started telling me how much she loved me and that it didn’t matter who I was sexually attracted to because I was still her daughter and nothing would make her stop loving me.
I know that I had it easy, and that some coming-out stories aren’t as easy as mine was, but I just want to say that everyone should be loved for who they are. I come from a state that is very controversial and, most of the time, teens are bullied for being gay. That is why I want to say that you are not alone. You don’t have to feel alone because there are others just like us. I believe in every one of you; struggling or not. We are in this together. Love is love.
So my story is a bit of a rough one but I survived. I lived with my grandparents up until I was 10 due to having an incarcerated mother. They found out I had a girlfriend. I was basically homeless for about a week. I was placed into foster care for the next 3 years. I went to an extremely conservative Junior high where the students as well as the staff weren’t accepting to me and my coming out process. I feared for my safety for those years. Getting in school detention for asking a teacher if they supported gay marriage, being bullied, and getting beat-up on more than one occasion caused me to try to take my own life. For years I struggled with self harm. By my 3rd year of foster care I was told I had the high possibility of going into adoption. This scared me. A few months later I was told my father was located just a town away. I ended up moving in with him but still feared coming out to him. When I came out he told me a line I will never forget, “I am here to guide you, not judge you”. Slowly but surely I built confidence within myself. I’ve found resources and people who care for me when I don’t even care for myself sometimes. It’s funny how life can be so rough at one point but blossom into a beautiful recovery. Today may seem tough but there’s always a reason to continue. There’s always someone who will be there for you even if you don’t see them. I promise that.
SOUTH DAKOTA | AGE 17
Now, I realize that love is as infinite and unmistakable as the tides and the lunar cycles are. It’s bigger than our small feeble minds. As humans, we try to label it and put it into finite boxes that fit the patterns that are beaten into our heads; but it’s not a horse to be tamed. Love is the ocean and the ever expanding galaxy. Love is the most wildly unexplainable, mystifying, beautiful feeling we could ever witness. And how can that be wrong?
My life started out rough, as it does for many, unfortunately. But I have been surrounded by the most amazing mother and siblings anyone could ask for. My mom often said it was us against the world. When I was five, I was adopted by a man that my mother married. Along with that marriage came my marriage to the conservative Christian lifestyle. As you can imagine, living in South Dakota, there are as many bible thumpers as there are corn cobs. From a young age, I was taught that marriage was between a man and a woman, and I was to grow up to be a good wife and mother.
When I was in the sixth grade, I was beginning to discover the foundations of attraction. My first kiss was a girl. I went home and cried for days, feeling every ounce of guilt and shame I felt I deserved. I convinced myself that it was only by chance that I kissed a girl. My next four kisses were all girls. I still fought very hard to convince myself I was straight. It was all just fun. As innocent as jumping rope.
In seventh grade, whilst driving home with my mother, she received a phone call from my sister. I heard her voice become excited, then drop in confusion. I asked my mom about the call after she hung up. She told me that my sister was seeing someone. I asked what his name was and my mom responded, “HER name is *****”. As a devout Christian, I struggled with the fact that someone I cared so deeply about was openly admitting what I thought was a sin. All the while I was denying my own feelings. I probed my pastors with questions disguised as concern for my sister when in reality, I wanted to know for myself. They told me I needed to save her...
I struggled with my identity throughout all of middle and early high school. I kissed boys, and girls, always searching for meaning in the touching of lips. I tried so desperately to feel something in a boy’s lips that felt better than a girl’s. Late in my sophomore year, my parents split and I was finally able to truly explore my sexuality openly. I realized quickly that gender made no difference to me. I fell in love with shiny eyes, and broken hearts, and warm smiles. The body of the person made no difference. My love has always been beneath the skin.
I am who I am now. I am a human being who loves unconditionally, without labels. Gender, sexuality, and race don’t exist in my mind. My heart is blind, and it’s a part of myself that I wouldn’t trade for anything. Learning how to love others taught me to adore myself, and I can’t thank all of you (the LGBTQ+ community) enough for accepting me into this beautiful family we’ve created.
My message to anyone struggling is to remember that you were made from fucking stardust. Your love expands beyond the bounds of this earth, and your heart, your identity, and your love is NOT and NEVER WILL BE wrong.
Story told by Kathryn (Mother)
I am the mother of an amazing son, Luke. When Luke was eight-and-a-half years old, he came out to us as transgender. Luke was assigned female at birth. We had always thought of him as a tomboy. He did not do the typical girl things; he liked to climb, play in the dirt, and be rough with the neighborhood boys. He always wanted to dress in traditionally boy costumes on Halloween, and even preferred boy’s underwear. When he was in third grade, we took him to get a haircut for school pictures. On the way to the salon, he asked if he could cut his hair any way that he wanted. He had beautiful, long hair. He had asked many times throughout his life if he could cut it short, but we loved his hair so much. After some trepidation, we caved and told him that he could cut it any way that he wanted. He opted for a mostly shaved head. Over the next few days, he started asking for other things he wanted, like boy clothes and to get rid of all the girly decor in his room. We found out from a neighbor that he had started asking his friends to call him Luke. The name change was a struggle for us, because when Luke was born we had given him a gender-neutral name that we loved. We tried to convince him to keep his name the same, but he was pretty insistent about changing it. We came to realize that his old name was tied to his old identity. He was not comfortable with it, because he associated it with being a girl. When we asked Luke about the changes he was making, he informed us that he never felt like he was in the right body; that his mind and body did not match. He didn’t feel right about being a girl. He told us that he had known since he was 3 or 4.
I decided to educate myself on what it was to be transgender. I read many books and talked to many other moms. The week after he came out, we met with a child psychologist. I felt it was important for Luke to get support and for us to get some guidance. After several visits, the psychologist confirmed what we already knew, that Luke’s brain functioned just like any boy his age. His imaginary play and the way he answered questions was just as any eight-and-a-half-year-old boy. The question I was most asked in the beginning was, “what if it’s just a phase?” to which I say, if it is just a phase, then at the end of it he will remember that we loved him no matter what. We learned that it’s not just a phase. The difference between a phase and being transgender is that kids who are transgender are consistent, persistent, and sometimes insistent. Their desire to transition doesn’t fade. Transgender people are not just trying out a fad. After about a month of many talks, teacher conferences, and cleaning out old items I started a grieving process. I grieved in private for the daughter that I felt like I lost. I grieved for the dreams and hopes that society had helped me form around gender. I was still reading all the books that I had bought to educate myself when I realized that I wasn’t grieving a person; I was grieving an idea. I was fortunate to have my child living and enjoying life. I started focusing on hopes and dreams that were not tied to gender. For example, instead of picturing Luke in a pretty, white wedding dress, I pictured my child happy and loved by another person. When I removed gender from the stereotype my grieving had come to an end. What I want for my child is to be happy, loved, and fulfilled—and none of those things require gender. I would rather my child be happy and have peace of mind rather than want to die. I would rather they be in my life forever than to resent me later in life and cut me out for their own sanity and wellbeing. Luke is now eleven years old and is a thriving, confident kid. We have learned a lot about ourselves over the years. We had his name changed legally last year to make school a little easier.
Advice I would give parents is to love unconditionally. Educate yourself. If your child tells you a term that you don’t understand then research it. Be open to the idea that you don’t know everything. Listen to them and be empathetic. Be patient with yourself. It takes effort to get use to change. Be patient with your child. They are trying to figure out who they are, and there may be times when they experiment with different things to find out. Allow yourself to grieve if you need to, but don’t get stuck there. Your child is still here and still needs you. The transgender community has the highest rate of depression and suicide, and as that person’s parent you hold the cure. The cure is love. Supportive, empathetic, unconditional love. Studies have shown that kids who feel supported and accepted have a much lower rate of depression and suicide. The younger a person transitions, the happier they are in life. You hold the key to helping your child survive.
Advice I would give transgender kids is to be patient. You have known that you were transgender for a lot longer than we have. You are excited and anxious to spread your wings. A week of finally getting what you’ve been waiting for might not seem that fast to you, but for those around you who just found out it will seem quick. Be patient. Be forgiving. Don’t get caught up on the people that can’t accept you for who you are. Respectfully correct when someone misgenders you or uses your dead name. It is ok to correct them. For some, you may be correcting them for years, but this is also how you educate them. We have seen with our extended family that although it is difficult for them, they eventually and gradually adjust. There may be times when you encounter an unsafe environment. Get out! Reach out! Seek help from friends, family, and other people you know are safe. You do not have to live, work, or play in an environment that is not safe. It is ok to ask for help. Asking for help when you need it can sometimes be difficult, but it shows great strength. Know that you have value. Those close to you may struggle at times to show you that you are loved. You ARE loved! My family loves you, and there are so many other families that love you. We See You. Do Not Give Up Hope.
I grew up privileged, in a sense. I have one thing that a lot of people sadly don’t have: unlimited and unconditional love and support from my family. There was a point in my life where we were homeless, I have gone hungry before, and our family has been looked down on for being mixed race, but I always had love and support. I never had to come out to them. It was just one of those things where if I brought home a girl, no one would bat an eye. I didn’t realize that people usually did have to come out until I was in middle school.
I moved around a lot when I was younger. My parents had divorced when I was five and my mom spent the years afterwards trying to “find herself.” Now, don’t get me wrong, my mother is a wonderful human being who loves me and my sister unconditionally, but she admits that she practically went through a midlife crisis at that point. We went all across the States, and even out of the country to Morocco and Egypt. It was there that she remarried. It didn’t last long, but it was long enough for her to contract HIV from her cheating, now ex, husband.
After my father had left us one year we were homeless for a short time. We lived in our car in the middle of winter and ate food given to us from food banks. This was only for a short time, though, because my mother was able to secure an apartment for us. It was there that I met a boy. My emotional support dog didn’t like him, but he seemed alright and that wasn’t a big deal at the time. It wasn’t until one night, when he had to stay at our home because his mother was out of town and he had nowhere else to stay, that things turned.
I am an insomniac, and I have taken a plethora of medications to try and sleep. I was also on high doses of medication to deal with my anxiety and depression.
I now not only suffer from my previously mentioned depression, insomnia, and anxiety, but I also deal with a severe nightmare disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. My emotional support dog became my service dog. Recently, in January of 2017, my dog passed away. This led to a short bout of depression where I felt like nothing mattered, because that dog was the only person who understood me.
Now, I have a cat. He was a stray who was sickly thin with scars across his face, and a demeanor towards others that was overall quite rude, but we connected right away. Now he is fat, happy, and far too spoiled for his own good. We have grown into different beings together, and I guess that can be cheesily referred to as poetic.
I guess I really just want younger people, who may have been in similar situations as me, to know that things get better. Life won’t be perfect, it never is, and sometimes it won’t seem like it’s worth it. But it’s the small moments that make life worth living. They make every horrible thing that happened in life worth it, even if just for one moment. It’s like when I hold my cat to my chest as I sleep, or when I make a friend laugh. It’s those small moments that make everything worth it, and you just have to remember that.
SOUTH DAKOTA | AGE 15
Growing up, I knew I was gay although I didn’t know what gay meant. I just had this connection with boys that I didn’t have with girls, and that’s all I knew. It all started in elementary school. I had been to at least four schools so I had quite the experience. Why did I go to four elementary schools? I went to four because ever since the stock market crashed, my family and I had been in and out of apartments and trailers. Going through that, I never really had a set group of friends. But I always found myself having a temporary girl best friend every time; I just bonded with them more than guys. I think it was because the boys were always into sports and games, and I wasn’t.
I first experienced homophobia in the 5th grade. I told one of my girl friends that I had a crush on this boy and he somehow found out and made fun of me for it. I remember being embarrassed and ashamed. Ashamed because I was taught that liking a boy was wrong and embarrassed because I wasn’t like anyone else. As time passed, and I went onto middle school, I had started to develop depression and anxiety; even more so as I started to get bullied. The bullying started off as verbal. I’d get called out for everything; from not talking to anyone, to the way I’d dress (which was pretty “normal” at the time). They’d call me things like “fag” and “mute”. I’d also get death threats, and it pretty much stayed that way for the whole year. I started to self harm and see myself in a negative way. I looked in the mirror and all I could see looking back at me was “ugly” and “wrong”.
As seventh grade started, my parents got a divorce. This really made me isolate myself and kept me from expressing my feelings because I felt that it would be wrong and self-centered to do so. The bullying also started to go from verbal to physical; most likely because of the fact that I came out as bisexual, which I did to “dip my toe in the water”, if you will, and it was VERY cold. I felt disgusted with myself, disgusted that I would go against my family. That same day, I tried to commit suicide. I felt trapped, like there was no escape from what I was going through, and I thought no one would ever understand or care. I especially felt this way because the year before my parents got divorced, my brother had already come out, and the way my family reacted was horrible. They’d tease and harass him, and eventually he moved out. I didn’t want help from my family because I was scared that I would end up like my brother. I wanted to cling onto the love they had for me because they were all I had left… I told them everything that happened, though I didn’t come out, because it was too much to keep in. Deep down inside of me, after everything that happened, I knew that it was wrong; I knew that none of it was my fault. If I could describe it, I’d say that I started self-parenting.
After talking with my parents, I started doing things for myself. I started to surround myself with loving people who were like me. This helped me get through the rest of middle school, helped me fully come out, and helped me develop my current aesthetic. “No eyebrows, no thank you” became my catch phrase as I shaved them off, which I did because I didn’t give a fuck anymore. I did that during THE year of peer pressure and social awkwardness — 9th grade; freshman year. No one could tell me shit; I was living and breathing the way I wanted to. I also went to the doctor to get medical treatment for my anxiety and depression, which helped a lot.
Currently, I’m fully out as gay. Everyone in my family knows, and although my dad and siblings don’t really accept it, my mom (who got custody of me) and all of my friends do. I have forgiven everyone and moved on to become a better me. I think that because of these experiences, I’ve been able to become stronger and build myself up. I’ve been able to make stronger relationships (my brother and I currently have re-connected and are bonding). My advice to the fellow queers? DO YOU. Because, honestly, no matter what you do in life — whether it be your aesthetic or making a PBJ sandwich — there’s ALWAYS going to be someone telling you that it’s wrong. Those kinds of people are inevitable, unfortunately. Also, at any cost, do whatever you gotta do to put yourself in a comfortable situation. Reach out! You’re not alone in this!!!
Admittedly, there’s not a huge amount that I can say about my past. Not that I don’t want to, I just can’t remember. Regarding the LGBTQ community, I’ve really never payed too much attention to it. In the last six months I have found a wonderful support group, and some good friends. They stayed by my side through all the hard times. The best advice I can give is to find good friends. True friends, who will stand by you through the thick and thin. The friends who will stand by you because of who you are not what you are. There is always going to be that one person. If you’re bullied, I can’t say to just ignore it as I have my entire life, you need to tell someone about it. If there’s one person sympathetic to your cause, then you’ve succeeded. If there is another person sympathetic to the both of you, then it’s an exponential growth. Don’t just give up. If you give up, everyone that has said anything bad about you or gay community wins. Try to project contentment. No matter what you do, live life as you wish. I’m currently in a gay relationship. My Youth Group leader from church knows that I’m gay and that I have a boyfriend. He supports me either way. You need to find people to support you. Nothing more, nothing less.
Hi my name is Anthony and I live in
Albuquerque New Mexico, I live at Casa Q
and I’ve been there probably a month. I am
16 years old.
I was placed into CFYD (The New Mexico
Children, Youth, and Families Department)
custody when I was 6 months old. I was
placed in my Aunt Joanna’s care, who is
essentially my mom. She’s everything I love
and everything I want to be in this world.
Originally, she tried to adopt me and my
brother when I was six-months old and
my brother was a year-and-a-half old. She
was close to finishing the adoption process
when CYFD let my mom get her stuff back
together and returned us to her. I was with
my mother for about a year before I got
put back into CYFD custody. In that year I
experienced a lot of trauma.
They finally took me from my mother and
gave my brother and I back to our aunt. My
Aunt Joanna tried to adopt us, again, and
CYFD had a problem with that, for some
reason. I don’t know the whole story but we
were given back to our mom for the third
She was with a new guy this time, except
he was a drug dealer, we lived in Clovis
this time, it was a small, very Christian
community. I was growing up as a Christian
and, by this time, I was realizing: I am gay; I
am very gay and not interested in girls. For
the longest time, my family didn’t know. It
wasn’t until I was 9 and was with my mom
for the last time-- they found out. During
those last few days we were on the run from
the police; me and her boyfriend-- and that’s
when a lot of aggression occurred towards
While my mother was in handcuffs, I told
her I was gay and she said “I don’t fucking
care about you anymore. You’re not my
child, and you’ll never be my child.”
It was at this moment that I just broke
down in tears because that’s the last thing
you want to hear from someone you love
despite the shit that they put you through.
The last thing you want to hear is that they
don’t love you, and I was put in my Aunt
Joanna’s custody for the last time.
I was angry at life and I hated myself. She
didn’t know I was gay. I told her that she
was a worthless bitch and that she wasn’t
my mom. The only person who ever gave
two shits about me and she was shocked.
My brother knew what had happened, at
this time he was about 12, and he said the
exact same thing that my mother had said:
“you are not my brother; I never loved you
and you’re going to be a piece of shit that
makes us worthless.” It was at that point that
I tried to kill myself several times because I
had lost my mom, my preferred mom, and
now the only sibling out of 10, who had been
there with me my entire life, and witnessed
all the pain with me. I had lost everyone.
I was put in the foster care system and I
bounced around from home to home.
It wasn’t until I was 13 that my brother
and I found ourselves in the same foster
home again with two Christians. They
adored him and despised me. They were
sports-going outrageous people type of
people. They wanted me to give up who I was
to be who they wanted me to be. I told them
‘no, i’m not going to do it’ and it got to the
point where they were just as mentally and
physically abusive as my mom had been.
I was locked in my room sometimes. I was
told to pray away the gay...and I was tired of
it. I gave up and tried to kill myself again.
I was put through TFC again (Treatment
Foster Care program) and I found a foster
mom who I love and still love. Her name
was Linda. I love her so much, she took me
in and I was with her for 3 years-- up until
I was almost 16 when she and I got into a
really big fight, but then made up. We were
trying to go to therapy and get along and
at that point I was so angry. I didn’t want
anything to do with anyone; I didn’t want
to speak to a therapist who would give me
more useless meds that didn’t make me feel
Linda wanted me to go to a therapist and
actually try. I didn’t want to try for anyone
because no one was there for me during my
times of need. I had run away before and
I had called my family and I asked “I need
help. I really need help. That’s all I need
They used to tell me if I needed help,
if you find a way to contact us we’ll help.
Instead, they all had the same excuse “i’m
sorry, I’m really busy, I can’t help you right
now.” I think it was because they wanted
me to learn my lesson with how I treated
my aunt, because I know they love me and
I know that they still love me they just were
dealing with their own stuff. For the longest
time I felt that no one cared, so I cut off
everyone from my life.
In a way I did want to die. No one cared
about me so why should I care about life? I
got to the point where I was ready to leave
when my foster mom called me and told me
“you’re going through your own shit right
now I get it, but cut your shit.” She said “you
have to forgive to forget. You have to fight to
prove that you’re better than the people who
brought you down and don’t lower yourself
to their standards and don’t try and get back
to them. Eventually it will corrupt you and
She told me that she loved me, and this
is when I started to go to therapy and get
help because she told me she loved me but
that she didn’t want to talk to me or see me
until I got help. So I did. I started working
After a long struggle I’m at Casa Q, the
staff love you and tell you that you’re free to
do what you want as long as its legal.
I am so happy here. I now have a boyfriend,
which I’m happy about, He’s really kind and
great and a big teddy bear. I love him a lot,
and I don’t use that word. I haven’t even told
him that to his face nor will I until... but I
do. I could sit there and tell him anything
and show him real emotion and just be able
to get help.
If I could give any advice to the LGBTQ
community or gay teens who are struggling
it would be that it may seem, at the time, that
the entire world is against you and that no
one will ever be there to help you...but even
the people who hurt you, care. They care
enough because bullies at school wouldn’t
bully you unless they cared. They would just
look at you and think ‘there’s just another
kid’ and walk away but there is something
about you that makes people notice and pay
attention and make sure that you’re there
So just don’t give up, just find the people
who care and be more comfortable with
them. Let them help, don’t push them away
and allow yourself to be isolated.
I’m 16 and my next step is to get my GED;
hopefully get into college early and get a
degree with a nice paying job. I really want to
get into digital art and programming. I love
Steven Universe and doing fan-fic comics of
it and I’m trying to get really great at digital
art so I could continue.
Hi my birth name is Tyojawan Zaverriek Presbury and my new name is Tyra Kiari Leshay, better know as Miss Rendezvous 2017-2018. I am a young Trans woman on the road to becoming an LGBTQ mentor and Advocate.
When I was a kid, I always knew I wasn’t going to be like other boys, I never fit in. My teachers would always tell me I was not different from the other boys in the class, I was just more creative, but I knew that already, I just didn’t understand why the other boys didn’t want to play with me at recess, or even sit by me in class. I always lived an out of this world kind of life, my reality was always fantasy because I felt normal that way.
My mom told me we were moving to Casper, Wyoming when I finished fifth grade, and that’s when everything started to go downhill. In Casper, sixth through ninth grade was junior high, so everyone was starting to date and do different things. I tried my best to stay in my fantasy world, but it got hard when girls would ask about my sexuality and boys avoided me even more. I joined the cheerleading team and made a new friend who was foreign and amazingly “different”, as in openly gay. He was a bright big rainbow and he could match my fantasy and go above it too. He made me realize that I’m not straight, so I ended up telling my mom I was gay and it was almost heartbreaking to see that she didn’t have any reaction, it was almost like she didn’t care, but I knew she cared a lot because she always helped me out and she has gotten me to the point I’m at today.
I struggled with my grades and just being at school in general because after I came out to my mom, I came out to everyone I knew and even people I didn’t know. I was bullied every day after that. Despite the happiness I felt for being open about liking men I still didn’t feel like it matched who I was exactly. I started doing drag, and while doing my first performance at 14 I met a beautiful post-op trans woman. She showed me I was more than just a drag queen or a fem-boy, she showed me that I am a strong Woman confined to a body where I didn’t belong in the first place.
When my grandma got sick we moved back to Cheyenne, Wyoming to help keep her healthy – It was terrible. I started struggling with more than just my great-grandma’s health, my grades dropped again, I started ditching class to avoid being bullied, and doing drugs to bring back my fantasy life. It didn’t work and I ended up spiraling out of control. I was jumped in the Central High School locker room for being myself, the school didn’t do anything, so I started fighting more, using drugs more and I truly became a different person.
I finally met my now 2-year match/ companion/ and best friend. He helped me become myself again, without drugs, alcohol, or fighting. I made it off with 1-year of probation and am now a transgender Drag Queen pursuing her many different talents and skills to become as successful as possible.
I just want to say thank you for the chance to share my story and thank you too all the people who helped me get to where I am now, because if I didn’t have their support I’d most likely be in a worse place than when I was younger.
We always knew that Zelda was different, that there was something incredibly special about her. I call her my rainbow child. As Zelda’s mom, I struggled to reconcile the black-or-white views I was raised to never question, with the reality of gender diversity. Growing up, every issue was a moral issue. Having Zelda as a daughter has helped me to see the many beautiful colors and spectrums of identity that color this world.
Since kindergarten, Zelda has literally left a trail of glitter and sequins everywhere she goes. The first time Zelda tried to tell my partner and I that she was a girl on the inside was when she was 3 years old. It was Halloween, and Zelda desperately wanted a costume that included a dress and tutu. We bought her the tutu and dress, but also bought her an iron man costume and told her she could only wear the dress at home. I tried to explain my reasoning to her, telling her that I wanted to protect her from people who might say or do mean things because they just didn’t understand.
At the age of 4, during bath time, Zelda asked me why she had a penis and when it would “change to the thing girls have”. Zelda shared that she felt like “a girl on the inside”. My partner and I didn’t have the tools or the understanding to support and affirm Zelda’s gender identity, so we did what we thought was the right thing – we allowed her to have a few stereotypical girl’s clothes and shoes, but would not allow her to wear them to school.
Zelda has always loved pink, purple, and bright neon colors. Even her “boy things” were as feminine as she could find. When Zelda started her second-grade year, she REFUSED to get her hair cut, and stated that she would only go back-to-school shopping if she could “go into the girls’ section”. We tried every incentive we could think of to talk her into a haircut, and getting the usual boy’s clothes, but she was not having it. Zelda started having terrible emotional meltdowns, crying, almost hyperventilating several times over the course of 2 weeks.
My partner and I realized we needed help, that we didn’t have the tools or knowledge we needed to help Zelda. We went to the New Mexico Transgender Resource Center (NMTGRC) and attended a Parents of Transgender and Gender-Expansive Kids Playgroup. At the playgroup, we met an amazing advocate and co-director of NMTGRC named Adrien Lawyer. He let me say everything that was on my heart – even things I said out of ignorance, things I’m embarrassed to say I believed at that time. Then Adrien very gently educated my partner and I. It was like our eyes were opened to a reality we hadn’t realized was there the entire time.
After that first play group, we took Zelda to the store and let her pick out a new wardrobe. Every piece of clothing had a combination of glitter, sequins, rainbows, neon leopard print, or pink and/or purple. We stopped censoring her altogether, and she went to school the next Monday in a dress, with a huge stripped purple flower in her hair. Zelda’s emotional melt downs stopped immediately, but the bullying at school had only just begun.
We tried meeting with the school principal, district administration, even the district superintendent. Zelda’s school was adamant that they could not change her name in the school computer system or records without a legal name change and would not change her gender marker without “medical documentation of sex reassignment surgery”. After receiving support from the American Civil Liberties Union, Zelda is now able to use the school facilities of the gender with which she identifies, and after a legal name change the school now formally recognizes her as Zelda. Despite these little victories, Zelda continues to struggle with unaddressed bullying at school, and we have been unsuccessful in advocating for change in the school district’s requirement of “medical documentation of sex reassignment surgery” prior to changing a student’s gender marker.
Zelda’s school also informed us that Zelda would not be allowed to discuss her gender identity while at school. We were told that LGBTQ identities are not addressed in school curriculum because “it is up to the parents to decide how they feel about that sort of thing”. In order to help Zelda express herself and feel heard, we participated in several studies and advocacy efforts whose primary aim was to elevate the voices of our gender-expansive youth. Zelda has participated in the TransYouth Project out of the University of Washington, the Gender Moxie Project out of the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, and completed an interview titled “Courageous Young Transgender Girl Has a Simple but Powerful Message” with local news anchor Megan Cruz. At the age of 8, Zelda’s visibility and desire to share her story have helped her to become an advocate for her community.
Prior to Zelda’s official social transition at school, I tried to protect Zelda by censoring how she expressed herself. I’m ashamed to say that in many ways, my behavior made me Zelda’s first bully. If that sounds like a strong statement, it is. We required Zelda to repress her authentic self, when it wasn’t Zelda whose behavior needed to change. It was the systems that perpetuate these harmful black-or-white beliefs that needed to change. It’s students and parents who continue to try to police Zelda’s gender through hurtful words, that need changing.
Zelda is a fearless, courageous young lady with a powerful voice. She celebrates her identity, and hopes that by sharing her story, other kids might be brave enough to live as their authentic selves. My hope is that by sharing our story, other families of LGBTQ youth might recognize the gift that their children are to this world – and to their families. We still have so much from these courageous young people.