My coming out experience had a lot to do with personal growth and taught me many lessons. I grew up in a Christian household, and up until middle school I tried very hard to embody that, even though I felt skeptical and doubtful at times. Since that's what I was taught, I didn't think of ever deciding to leave that lifestyle. Nowadays I don't have any problems with Christians, though I no longer believe in that religion. I think I used my Christianity as an excuse for harmful behavior. I also used it as a tool to be very homophobic.
In elementary school I never really fit perfectly into female stereotypes, so I dressed like a tomboy and enjoyed things "for boys" like video games. This never really caused many problems in my family, thankfully. Also, the majority of my neighborhood friends were boys. My younger brother and I would spend time with the boys who lived next door, as well as their friends. Now that I look back, I notice how a lot of their jokes made fun of gay people and I grew up believing those stereotypes.
I never really saw a problem with homophobic jokes and they ended up shaping my behavior later on. My family didn't mention gay people often, and if they did it wasn't in a positive manner. There were quite a few instances where my negative view of LGBT+ people was reinforced. Part of it may have had to do with the number of times I felt the pressures of female stereotypes as a kid. I was nowhere as interested in feminine things as my female friends.
There were many times when I wondered to myself, "Why wasn't I born a boy?" I don't think my issues regarding my gender excused my behavior, but I think that explains why the subject made me so angry and hateful with so little basis. I tended to make casual homophobic remarks when the subject was brought up until middle school.
When I reached seventh grade I ended up going to a charter school instead of the public middle school that my friends were attending. My best friend at the time was the only person I knew who was going there too. Needless to say, though, I made a lot of new friends. This led to me changing a lot that year because of the normal challenges that come with middle school, and new perspectives on the LGBTQ+ community.
The new people at this very small school were mostly LGBTQ+ or allies. And as I was incorporated into a new social group, I ended up developing so much. For the first part of the year, I was very resentful of the fact that some of my friends didn't agree with my views. Eventually, over time, they changed my mind about a lot of things. Now I'm very thankful they helped me become less bigoted.
I still really tried to follow my religion, though at this time I started to question things. What would happen if I wasn't straight? Was I just fooled into sinning and that's why I'm starting to question my sexuality? Or am I being controlled by the values my family brought me up with? What if I come out and people reject me?
There was a point one day where my best friend and I ended up kissing while we were hanging out. I had feelings for her that I had been trying to bury down for a while. Afterward, I broke into tears and prayed. We both felt guilty because a lot of our friendship was based on our Christianity. Never in my life had I felt so many emotions. Shame, guilt, fear, and regret. It was very impactful and changed my perspective a lot, because after that my doubt about what I believed was even harder to keep buried down.
My friend and I ended up ignoring the encounter and carrying on as usual. She wanted to talk about it but I refused to bring it up. I eventually took the step of telling my mom that I was no longer going to be a Christian. After that, I told her about my feelings about my gender and how I identified as gender fluid. It deeply affected our relationship and I feel it caused a rift between us. She dismissed my feelings and brushed it off as a phase.
When I came out as bisexual later on, it furthered some of the issues I was already facing with her acceptance. My mom has warmed up a little about the subject recently, but at first, she brushed it off and denied it. My sexuality and gender expression were a source of contention for quite a long time, and arguably they still are today, though things have definitely improved. Since my dad is divorced from my mother and not super involved in my personal life, I never really came out to him. Despite the problems that were caused, it was a step in the right direction for me.
In my second year of middle school I moved to another school, and I was emboldened in my identity. I no longer dealt with as many doubts about my prior religious crisis, because for the most part, I had made peace with it. I did face some criticism from people who saw how much I had changed. People wondered how I could change so much, and I know a lot of people drew conclusions without asking me instead. In my case, the self-discovery that every teenager should get to experience in middle school often got dismissed as teenage rebellion.
Despite that, I tried my best to not let others’ criticism get to me. But it was very difficult because I really didn't know many people that were supportive of the new me. Sometimes I still feel like people I know want the old me back, and are waiting for the day I go back to who I was when I was younger.
Overall, after dealing with a lot of self-doubt and conflict, I wouldn't ever choose to go back and stay in the closet. I feel so much more liberated now. Most queer people can testify that they will always have to deal with others’ criticism. Though struggling with these opinions can be difficult, I'm really grateful for the support of my friends.
I like educating people on LGBTQ+ subjects when they want to talk about it. I remember how I was very ignorant and hateful at one point in time. I think talking to people who only dislike queer people because of their environment is a great thing. I have changed the minds of many people and that makes me really happy.
Nowadays, I love to show off my identity because I have worked so hard to get to where I am. I attend a lot of LGBTQ+ events because I want to help and represent a community I feel I've found a home in, and whenever I meet someone struggling with their identity, I try my best to help them and lend my experiences.
I have grown so much and I'm really glad I had the opportunity to change from such a hateful person to a way more accepting one. I can't imagine how hard it would have been for me to deal with my feelings on my sexuality and gender from a homophobic and transphobic mindset. I've learned from my experience that coming out to others is really hard, but coming out to yourself can be just as challenging.