I’m not gay and I'm not straight. Like many people, my sexuality is complex, but it's also very simple; I'm attracted to who I'm attracted to. I’ve shared this with individuals in my life over the years, but I’ve never spoken about it publicly until now. Part of the reason is because I didn't see the need. The saying, "those who matter don't mind, and those who mind don't matter" is true in my life today.
But the reason that I didn't speak up for years was fear of judgement. Even now, after all this time, I still carry the weight of the lies that were perpetuated by closed minds during my formative years.
My perceptions on issues of sexuality were not formed at home for the most part. We simply didn’t talk about such things often. My perceptions came mostly from peers and the message was loud and clear; If you’re attracted to anyone of the same sex, you’re a fag, and if you’re a fag you deserve scorn, hatred, and an ass kicking.
But friends were just the messengers. It was a cultural thing. The idea that gays were inferior permeated the middle class, suburban, environment I grew up in. You were deemed to be broken in some way if you didn’t fit a very narrow idea of what a man or a woman is.
Religious-based, Southern shame has been key to keeping the closet door locked and sexual secrets hidden. “Love the sinner, hate the sin,” is what they cry, aiming to shame you into dropping the perceived sin, which it turns out is the very essence of who you are. By saying they hate the sin, they are in effect saying that they hate you, unless you deny your true nature, in which case they’ll love you, but only if you keep it on the straight and narrow.
This shame is most definitely damaging. It’s this shame that keeps people living a lie, burying their true selves with addiction serving as their only escape. It’s what keeps people from getting tested for STIs and from valuing themselves enough to stay safe. Sexual shame keeps kids from telling on their abusers. And it's belief in this shame based ideology that gives the fearful and the ignorant the idea that it’s OK to cause physical and emotional harm to people who don’t fit inside their little box of normalcy.
My hope is that these stories will soften the hearts of the self-appointed judgers among us. I also hope that the stories touch people who are already secure in their non-straight sexuality as well as allies of LGBTQ people everywhere. But my main focus and the reason why I’m publishing these stories is for Taylor.
It was just a few days before the big election and I was at the Pecan Festival in Tillman's Corner, Alabama. My table was situated inside across from the ladies selling Christian based mystery books and weight loss potions. The room was saturated with fervent Trump supporters. I had already been accosted by several of my neighbors about who I was voting for and the status of my salvation. The final encounter ended with a lady who assured me, with a smile on her face, that I would indeed be spending eternity burning in hell.
It was late in the day when I saw a girl approach with what I assumed was her grandmother. The girl, Taylor, was in her early teens. I made eye contact and motioned for her to come over and have a look. She timidly approached with her grandma. I started telling them a little about The Hidden South - Come Home book, but I had a real sense that she might be interested in what I had just begun working on; A new book filled with stories from people in the LGBTQ community across the South.
As I told her about the new book, Taylor began to tremble and tear up. She knew that I knew. I stopped talking as she stood there trying her best not to have a panic attack. I told her it was OK, but she was overcome with emotion. She had to walk away and I was left hoping that the experience didn’t hurt her.
About 10 minutes later I see Taylor and her grandma coming back my way. Through tears, Taylor came over and thanked me and thanked me and thanked me again. She asked if she could hug me and I of course said yes. We hugged and cried as if we weren’t standing in the middle of a room filled with the very people bent on keeping her shamed and silenced . It was an intense moment to say the least and a powerful reminder of exactly why I’m doing this.
Taylor never said why she was grateful, but she didn’t have to. She was touched because she felt accepted. That silent acknowledgement of who she was and the promise of connection that the book would provide moved her.
So I'm dedicating this collection to Taylor and all people who feel ashamed because of who they are. I want these stories to touch people who are struggling with their sexual identity everywhere. I believe they can and will.
In the next couple of weeks I'll share stories with you and at the end will provide a link to the Coming Out Collection. In the near future, I'll begin raising funds to create the next book that will focus specifically on stories of people in the LGBTQ community. If you'd like to be notified about the progress, subscribe to Important Updates below. If you're a member of an organization that would like to help me bring this book into existence, contact me.