I grew up in the South, terrified of being effeminate and calling unwanted attention to what lay just below the surface of my carefully constructed façade. I never told my family the real reason I wanted to quit school in the sixth and seventh grades was because I was tortured by the epithets of “gay” and “faggot” and “fairy” being hurled at me every day. Instead, I did what most people who grow up in a hetero-normative environment do to deny themselves: I dated girls. The more I tried, the more uneasy I became deep inside of myself. I knew why I “hadn’t found the right one” yet and that dissonant revelation painfully twisted my insides. Over time, a slumbering courage would awaken within me, but it would be many months before I would embrace the pain as a means of regeneration and resurrection.
This tension within myself, that I had ignored and chosen not yet to address, exploded when I set foot on Cedarville’s campus my freshman year. However, I quickly learned how to survive, how to play the game, and how to hide what was really going on in my soul. I was elected freshman class president, represented my class on homecoming court, and had set my eyes on running for student body president. During this time, I was in denial of myself and the ramifications of this suppression.
During my sophomore year, my mother was diagnosed with cancer as I was preparing for my student government campaign. I won and found myself staring into my junior year—the “student leader” of the campus, motherless, and very much afraid of myself. It was during that fall semester, when counseling would not—and could not—provide me the answers and perspective I needed that I looked myself in the mirror and resolved to discover the truth that was hidden deep within my soul.
Senior year was filled with tears, loneliness, joy, and sadness. I spent much time in research, reading, and conversation with others as I sought to confront myself. I didn’t want to make a hasty decision and I believed the process of “coming out,” to myself and the world, was something that should not be taken lightly or something not to be done quickly. When I began talking to people, I was terrified, but was pleasantly surprised by the love and graciousness that many showed.
The moment came when I could no longer contain the truth and the reality within myself; no longer was it a secret to be kept, a fear to be nursed—it was a truth that resounded deeply. The painful process of awakening had worked its way into the crevices of my being. Even so, I paid the price for my honesty, openness, and authenticity. I lost much of my immediate family—and many people I believed to be my friends. Dark days ensued. Yet, I came out of that very trying time stronger than ever, surrounded by people that loved, accepted, and pushed me to be the best version of myself—without caveats.
The process of coming out to yourself can be the hardest part of it all. Why? Because you have to learn how to truly be honest with yourself, and others. Once you reach that point, the path towards an authentic love and pride in oneself can begin. It’s a rich journey, a terrifying journey. But, I promise you–it is one you will not regret.
Since I published my first edition on Cedarville Out, much has changed at Cedarville University. The Cedarville I knew was filled with understanding and compassionate individuals—students and faculty. Critical thought was prized, social justice was a persistent thread of conversation, and exact adherence to specific religious dogma was not required. Yes, much has changed at Cedarville. Most of the people I walked with through my journey have since left. The risks you may face with your story are different than those I faced. In light of the drastic changes, you may feel even more driven underground than I did. Remember, above all: You are not alone. You are beautiful. You are whole. Do not let others co-opt your story. Think deeply, read broadly, and search for answers outside of the bounds of evangelical fundamentalism. I am always available to hear from you, if you want to reach out to someone from this group. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Per Ardua ad Astra: “Through Adversity, to the Stars.”