Heather

Camden + Michigan + USA

Friends Are The Family You Choose

Genderqueer + Pansexual / 17 and Under + 18-22 + 23-29 / White / Christian

I grew up in a very rural area in southern Michigan. To give you an idea, my school district was comprised of two villages, and we still only had around 200 people in a one building, K-12 school. I’ve known that I was “different” ever since I can remember, but I wasn’t able to pinpoint why exactly I felt so ashamed about it, or why it was even important until much later.

When I was in fifth grade, I had my first kiss. My best friend and I had been holding hands and “elementary-school-level flirting” since we met in the first grade. I was over at her house, working on a science project, when I leaned over to kiss her on the mouth. Her mother walked in, and within the week they had moved to Colorado and started her reparative therapy. After that, I knew how important it was that I keep my attraction to girls a secret.

Throughout middle school and high school, I always had boyfriends and I was never “single” for more than a few weeks. Unbeknownst to anyone else, I had secret girlfriends on the side (who often left because no one wants to date someone who is ashamed of them—I don’t blame them at all) though not at the same time as my relationships with boys. I dutifully went to church and youth group, praying that a god I was never sure I believed in would take my same-sex proclivities away, while keeping up the illusion that I was a part of that group. If someone suggested a friend of mine was gay, I would reprimand them because that was “such an awful thing to say about anyone!” No one ever suggested that about me; my illusion was successful.

I finally felt comfortable enough to come out during my first year in college. I was engaged to a male at the time, and far enough away from my small town where I felt safe. I told my best friend of 13+ years first, who immediately came out to me as well. We knew almost everything about each other, except for that, and neither of us had the slightest clue about the other. I told a few family members after that and the word quickly spread through my little community. When I came back from school, my church “excommunicated” me. I have that in quotes because I’m not Catholic; my Protestant church decided to try that one out, I guess.

After being outed to the rest of the community, an entire side of my family disowned me. At first, I grieved the loss of those people, but I have come to realize that those who really matter will and have come around eventually. A few have contacted me over the years, the conversations tense on either end; the pattern is an increasing one, however. I have never had someone reconnect and disappear again. Losing people, though not pleasant, has taught me the importance of self-care. Sometimes, the best thing you can do for yourself is to cut the poison out of your life, rather than carry the shame of others who put their comfort over your mental and physical health. The family I have left is a mixed bag, though many of them just stay in denial, content to erase my pansexuality whenever I date men.In the grand scheme of things, who chooses to stay or leave really doesn’t matter to me. Friends are the family you choose, and I have plenty of those to see me through. I have found so many peers and allies within the LGBT+ community who are ready to offer their love and support. It isn’t to say that the community is free of discrimination, especially for those of us within the bi-sexual and trans spectra, but being able to share stories with people who have faced similar consequences to coming out has helped assure me that I am not alone in this.

In the grand scheme of things, who chooses to stay or leave really doesn’t matter to me. Friends are the family you choose, and I have plenty of those to see me through. I have found so many peers and allies within the LGBT+ community who are ready to offer their love and support. It isn’t to say that the community is free of discrimination, especially for those of us within the bi-sexual and trans spectra, but being able to share stories with people who have faced similar consequences to coming out has helped assure me that I am not alone in this.

Remember that you’re never alone. Even if you lose a few people along the way, they probably weren’t worth keeping.