This is my coming out story.

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All I know is I was 10 years old. That was my earliest memory of actually realizing I was different than the rest of my peers. She played on short stop and her name was Jamie. I didn’t understand it and I didn’t know what to do with it – but I also knew that coming to this realization meant there was no going back after that day. I liked girls and I didn’t know why. This wasn’t something I chose. I didn’t come to the conclusion that since boys were mean and girls smelled nice that I’d choose them.

I have zero recollection of anything ever happening to me by an adult that would make me this way – as so many try to make us believe. That just didn’t happen to me. I had an incredibly normal childhood. Better than most, maybe. Both of my parents were always present, and they loved each other. We were encouraged to use our imaginations and make the world look however we wanted it to look because there were never limits put on our creativity. I had friends. Tons of friends and I was the one you could always count on to make everyone laugh. I got into normal kid trouble – and if by normal you mean that I was 10 years old smoking a cigarette on the street behind my house while waving to my neighbor with my other hand then yeah, you could say it was normal. When I close my eyes tight enough I can still hear the anger in my Mom’s voice as she stood at that back sliding glass door and yelled my full name for me to “get my butt inside right this second”. 10 was a big year for me. A turning point in more ways than one. I had learned that I never wanted to tell another lie ever again because the taste of disappointment from my parents was a hard one to swallow. It took a long time to earn their trust back. But I also knew I was gay – and I wasn’t sure how much body wash it would take to wash the gay away but I was surely going to try. But if that didn’t work, then what? Ironically at the same time I never wanted to tell another lie, I knew I had to lie about this. No one could know. In the 90’s this wasn’t really talked about and definitely wasn’t accepted. Since the day I was born I’ve had this unyielding need for everyone to like me. People finding out about this was certainly not going to help win them over.

I spent most of my teens faking it really well. Not intentionally but after lying about yourself for so long it just kind of becomes a part of you. Like something you put on every day as you’re getting dressed. I was on the prayer team in my youth group AND in the main church – spending all of my time praying for and seeing breakthroughs for my peers. Then at night I would crank up that same worship music as loud as my little boom box would allow and I would lay in the middle of my floor…and cry. I wanted the ground to swallow me whole. I wanted Jesus to snap his fingers and “change me back”. I wanted to find hope somewhere, in something. But maybe most importantly, I wanted someone to tell me it was ok to not hide anymore. But none of that ever happened, so I’d eventually pick myself up off the floor and fall asleep exhausted – ready to do it all again the next day.

Jump ahead to 2010. I left my phone on the charger for 6 hours and thought nothing of it. I returned to my family being in a panic and my cousin telling me that “she’s glad I’m safe, she knows I’m gay, and that my mother had called the Maggie Valley police department and reported me missing.” I will tell you I had a lump the size of Texas in my throat after hearing that. And then, a moment of clarity and sigh of relief came to me…..”it’s out. Your secret is out now. There’s no going back and there’s no having to hide anymore. We’ll just face whatever comes from here on out.” I will never forget what my Aunt said as soon as she got on the phone with me. “I love you. I love you I love you I LOVE YOU.” And that’s all I needed to know.

Back home I was ready to face this new reality head on. I had just finally come up for air after over a decade, so I started the conversation with my mom exactly like this: “I’m not about to lie to you. I will tell you anything that you want to know, just please don’t ask any question you don’t honestly want to know the answer to”. And then we began – what ended up being a series of talks between family members. I knew it would be difficult but I didn’t know it would be like this. I believe it was about a week later that I moved out of my parent’s home. I didn’t know what was ahead of me and I didn’t know if I’d be ready for it, but I knew under the circumstances that I couldn’t stay where I was – which was later confirmed to me in a conversation I had with my father. They were hurting. I was hurting. They had each other and I had no one. But “I didn’t deserve anyone because I did this to them. I broke the family. I disappointed everyone. In a single moment I ruined all the dreams and expectations my parents had for me”. These were the things I would tell myself. My mind kept thinking about how I wanted so badly for someone to beg me to stay and that we’d work through this together – but I couldn’t let those thoughts reach my heart because I knew I’d never recover from it. So instead, I just left.

Fast forward to today – almost 6 years later – and honestly I’d like to tell you that I’ve learned so much along this road and that I’m a much better person for it – but I just don’t know. I know it’s been a long, difficult journey. There have been so many tears…so many challenges….so many dark places…so many conversations I wish I never had to have. But there has been a lot of learning, too. It’s not been an easy road by any stretch of the imagination – but I’d like to think if I was given the chance to go back and rewrite my story, that I wouldn’t. We don’t get to choose the cards we are dealt in life. There is a lot that we do get to choose, but so much that we can’t. We don’t get to choose what color eyes we are born with or what shade of skin we will have. We don’t get to choose the family we are born into or our gene pool or if we have pipes like Kelly Clarkson. And, hear me out – we don’t get to choose who we are attracted to, either. I didn’t choose the same sex any more than you who are straight chose to be straight. We weren’t given two doors to walk through and I fell asleep during the instructions and walked through the wrong one. It just…is.

And man has it taken me a long time to come to this place. And for all of my Christian family and friends – I believe that God can do whatever He wants to do – and believe me I’m not this way for a lack of trying, or prayer, or whatever you’d like to call it. But I’ve arrived at a day when I just can’t stand the thought of living another minute feeling like I have to hate the very person that I am. I like who I am. I think I’m a pretty decent person. I can be crabby when it’s really late and I’m running on little sleep, but besides that I’m a genuinely happy person. There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for someone else. But if it’s your prayers that are continuing to make me feel like as long as I’m this way I have no place here… that as long as I’m this way I should not be afforded the same rights as you…or that I should hate who I am…or that who I am is disgraceful and an abomination…that what I am is a sin and deserving of hell… If your prayers are what has been keeping me in this prison…I’m going to ask that you stop praying them. Regardless of your beliefs on gay Christians, I know who holds my future in their hands. And I’ll be damned if I let another year or even another moment of my life go by where I allow myself to stay living in this captivity.

I have always had the outlook on life that there is beauty in everything if you’ll only take the time to find it. I’d really like to hang onto that. I love to love people, and if you’re reading this then you better believe you’re in my life for a reason and that there’s nothing I wouldn’t do for you…unless that means I have to continue to hide who I am.

So, this is my story. It’s not pretty. It’s not even poetic – and I’ve just scratched the surface on the things I could tell you if you really wanted to know. It’s not easy for me to be this vulnerable. But I fear that I’d be risking even more if I kept it hidden another second. As much as the world is changing, there are still so many that can’t see past the labels. Once they realize who we are we are dismissed. We are treated like aliens on our own planet. We are not treated like individuals….like humans. Some of you will never know that your looks of disappointment, hateful words and lack of love are the very things that have taken the lives of so many of us…and several times almost myself. I’ve seen more dark days than I’ve seen light sometimes it seems. And it needs to stop. It HAS to stop. We all need to realize that, political and religious views aside, we are ALL humans that are deserving of love – and the second you trade love for hate is the moment you’ve lost someone that you may never be able to reach again.

So please, if you have a story, share it. I believe that if more of us would allow ourselves to be vulnerable for a minute and share the grit of who we are and why we are who we are and what it took to get us here….I truly believe more people would be able to relate to us. That they would see that we are real people under these labels and stereotypes and hateful words that they throw at us. We all have a story – whether you’re straight, gay, bi, trans, etc…. Whatever you are and regardless of what ANYONE says….

Your story matters. So I hope you’ll share it.

I’m Mandy and I’m 29 years old – and I couldn’t be happier to be alive.