My dear friend, Leslie, is featuring me on her blog this week. Take a gander for the scoop on life out of the closet, writing aspirations, family, relationships, and more! Vist her site here.
header image: Cathyrox
When I was in the seventh grade, I couldn’t wait to shave my legs for the first time. Despite the fact that my leg hair was still blonde and whispy, I knew that many of my peers had smooth legs and I wanted them too. Shaving seemed like something intensely personal that I needed to discuss only in whispers. The day I set aside to shave for the first time, I told a friend at school that I was excited to get home from school that day. When she asked why I replied, “I just am.” Shaving had the mysticism of sex combined with the taboo of menstruation, at least in my mind. It was something women did but never talked about.
It wasn’t until high school that I first began to question why it was that I was required to shave off my body hair. I went the whole winter of junior year without shaving my legs, wearing pants each day. My high school boyfriend asked me when I would start shaving my legs again, and I asked him why it mattered, since no one could see them. “Because I like your legs and I want to see them,” he said. I think he genuinely meant it as a compliment, but, thinking back, it makes me feel gross. This interaction solidified my growing suspicion that shaving was an activity that women did for men, not for themselves, and that, if I was going to be considered attractive by the opposite sex, then I better keep shaving. A few weeks later, when the weather started to warm up, I did shave my legs again, eager to reveal them to my boyfriend from their hairy, wintry prison.
Despite a short period of weird grunge in high school when I wore only boys pants, I’ve always presented as highly feminine. I like makeup, wearing skirts, and the color pink. So, I followed the script set by the women before me. Every day I would shave under my arms and several times per week I would shave my legs. Throughout years of knicks, razor burn, and Nair mishaps, it never occurred to me that I could just NOT do it anymore.
Every summer, I spend several days in Hot Springs, NC at the Wild Goose Festival. Two years ago, I met a fellow queer woman at the festival and noticed her armpit hair. I had always assumed that, if I grew out my body hair, I would look disgusting and mannish. However, this woman was beautiful and I thought her body hair only added to her ~*Earth Goddess Aesthetic*~. I doubted I was cool enough to pull it off, but I stopped shaving my armpits at Wild Goose that year, partially because I usually don’t shower during the 3 day outdoor festival, but this year I continued my no-shave experiment when I got home. Two years later, and the experiment is still going. It wasn’t as though I made a dramatic decision on a specific principle. I just stopped shaving and never started again. I found that it didn’t make me look gross like I thought it would, and, if anything, it made my armpits healthier. No razor bumps, no burning when I put on deodorant after a shower, no irritation when I run in a tank top. Essentially, my laziness turned into feminst rebellion and self-confidence.
My decision to stop shaving my legs was similarly unremarkable. During some medication changes last fall, my depression was particularly bad, and I decided to give everything in my room with which I could harm myself to my roommates as a safety measure. One of the things I gave them was my razor. After a few weeks, I was feeling better and asked for my things back. However, my leg hair had already sprouted, plus it was November, so I decided to let it grow. This week, for the first time since I was 12, I wore a skirt with fully grown leg hair, and I loved it. I could FEEL THE WIND. At first, I thought something was on my leg and I kept looking down, but I eventually realized what I was feeling was the natural little feelers sticking out of my calves.
I’m not trying to tell everyone to stop shaving. I don’t care what you do with your own body hair as long as it’s making you happy. Middle school me was pumped to have smooth legs. It made me feel glories. But adult me is tired of spending time in the shower removing hair and wasting plastic. I’m tired of men and capitalism telling me how my body should be. But if shaving is what makes you feel like an empowered super-lady, do your thing, girl. Shaving is a personal decision. Maybe my 12-year-old self was onto something. Removing body hair is intimate. It can be seasonal like cycles of the moon. It can be empowering. And it can be painful. Do what gives you power, and do it because you owe your body the best you can give Her.
I’ve never chosen a word of the year before. Honestly, it always sounded a little bit corny. I feel the same way about making New Year’s resolutions. New Year’s feels like a tired joke about how Americans are terrible about following through. I have a love-hate relationship with New Year’s – I love the concept of new beginnings and fresh starts but I hate the ways we’ve turned it into a method of being dissatisfied with who we are and how we’re living.
This year, though, I decided to try the PowerSheets goal setting planner for the first time (I promise this isn’t an ad…stay with me). I’ve seen other successful women use it and love it, and I currently have a lot of dreams but need some help making them happen. Plus, I’m a sucker for a good planner, especially one with stickers. Part of the PowerSheets process is choosing a word of the year. Ideally, it’s something that can serve as an umbrella for all your goals and plans.
I looked at all the threads I was weaving together as I dreamed up my 2019. I want to be more intentional: about money, about food, about zero waste, about minimalism. I want to continue my recovery from perfectionsim. I want to take risks even if it means things don’t work out as planned. I want to keep journeying through my trauma toward healing. I want to work towards getting published. I want to clarify my vocational goals. I have a lot to manage, but a lot of it seems to come down to progress over perfection. I can spend the next year wishing that things were different or I can take actual steps toward making things happen. (I’m using a lot of PowerSheets language here…sorry y’all.) After choosing goals and focusing my priorities, bravery seemed like the thing I would need most.
At the end of 2018, I needed a lot of bravery. Politically, autumn was full of triggers of my own experiences. I had to attend an event where my abuser would be present and had to make an emergency mental health plan. Changes in my medication had me feeling less stable than I had in nearly a decade. After Thanksgiving, I took a week off from work because of an intense relapse of depression that nearly had me checking myself into the hospital. Changes at work meant I would be starting 2019 with only 1 coworker out of the 3 I usually have (and running a whole nonprofit is hard enough with only 4 of us). I did not feel ready to take on new things. But as I reflect on what all of the turmoil that the end of last year taught me, it was nothing if not bravery.
Bravery to be honest with my boss about my mental health. Bravery to speak out with my doctor about how I was reacting to my medication. Bravery to work through my memories and flashbacks with my therapist. Bravery to ask friends to come sit with me when I couldn’t be alone. Even though I’ve largely come out of the darkness that was the past few months, I still need this bravery.
I also need bravery to give myself permission to take breaks from all this goal setting – to watch TV and relax when I’m so worn out that my insides feel like sandpaper. Sometimes, I become all consumed with my new goal setting habits and feel guilty when I spend my evenings doing anything but working toward my goals. But balance is absolutely necessary. Spontenaity is necessary. Breathing is necessary. I’m still struggling to manage my time in a way that combines both working toward my goals and resting. I have to keep reminding myself that I was doing some intense healing just a few weeks ago. Being brave is both big and small and I can’t wait to see what it brings me.
*tw*: depression, anxiety, sexual assault, abuse, self-harm
I hate the process of getting somewhere. When I’m traveling, I hate driving for long periods because I feel like I’m wasting time when I could be accomplishing something. Flying makes me anxious, and even though it’s faster, I hate the concept that I have to arrive so early before my flight just to sit in the airport and do nothing. I love traveling when I get to where I’m going. I love exploring new restaurants, seeing new sights, and doing things I haven’t done before. But it’s the process of getting there that makes me uncomfortable.
For a long time, I felt the same way about my mental health. Once I overcame an issue after a prolonged period of suffering, I thought I was done. I could check it off the list because I had overcome it. In high school, I had problems with self-harm, and once I stopped self-harming, I thought I was done with it. I was proud of myself for overcoming an obstacle and moving forward. I thought I’d never have to worry about it again. But mental health recovery doesn’t work like that. There are good days and there are bad days. Our negative patterns tend to show back up in difficult times. Recovering addicts probably know this the best, and the fact that they use the phrase “recovery” to describe their process shows a much deeper self-awareness than my own. Recovery is a process, not a checklist.
Things have been difficult lately. I’m still figuring out what the proper medications are for my anxiety, and because I also have a history of depression, it’s proving more difficult than I expected to find an anxiety medication that doesn’t also trigger my depression. I’m working with my doctor to figure out what prescription will be best for me, but it’s essentially a trial and error process. Also, our current news cycle hasn’t been any help, triggering memories and fears surrounding my own experience of sexual assault. I didn’t spend nearly enough time processing these feelings, which resulted in a breakdown during my therapy session last week, after which my therapist wouldn’t let me leave until I had a friend to meet me at home to make sure I was okay. (Overwhelmingly grateful for my therapist and my friends in that moment.) Because I’m a perfectionist, I rarely let people see me at my most vulnerable. I don’t like for people to see me cry, so asking for help in that moment was a big step.
I’m also supposed to be training for a marathon that’s happening the first weekend in November, but I’m not sure whether or not I’ll be able to run it. I sprained my ankle (for the millionth time) at the beginning of August and just started coming back from that injury a few weeks ago. I had some calf and shin issues while getting back into training because my left leg wasn’t used to the strain, so I’m incredibly behind on training. Injuries combined with mental health struggles, not to mention that I’m now battling a cold, mean I haven’t trained past 12 miles. I ran a marathon earlier this year, so I might not die if I tried to run this one, but it definitely wouldn’t be what I had hoped. I can’t stand this because I didn’t run as fast as I had hoped when I ran the Nashville Rock ‘n Roll marathon earlier this year, so I chose Savannah (a super flat and easy course) to redeem myself and try to PR (run my best time). But now, I’m facing whether or not I can even complete this marathon.
All this to say, things have been in a downward spiral lately. My depression and anxiety have caused me to spend a lot more time sitting in my room not exercising, making strange meal choices (i.e. cereal for dinner like every day), not cleaning my house, and not getting things done. Without my routine, I get even more depressed and anxious, so you can see how this spirals out of control pretty quickly. I haven’t been moving toward my goals. I haven’t been checking things off of my to-do list. Heck, I haven’t even put on make up most days to go to work. But it’s important for me to remember that these things don’t make me a failure. I’ve made it through times like this before and I can make it again. I made it through an intense bout of depression in high school. I made it through the aftermath of being sexually assaulted. I made it through breaking up with someone I had dated for 5 years only to realize he was emotionally abusive. I made it through coming out. I am strong, and sometimes strength looks a little different than we expect.
Right now, it looks like managing to eat several times per day, remembering to wash my face, going to bed at a decent time, drinking water, and taking my meds. Eventually, it might look like running a marathon again or striving toward getting more pieces published. Being mentally healthy isn’t a straight line forward, so I have to remember to celebrate the small victories along the way.
It’s been a long few weeks, y’all. Since coming out, I’ve gone to Wild Goose Festival (still haven’t written about that adventure), hosted my childhood best friend’s bachelorette party, moved to a new house, and sprained my ankle. It’s been a time. But through all that, lurking in the back of my mind was how to make sense of why I felt like it was important for me to come out.
I’ve been asked this questions several times, sometimes from people who are not affirming of the LGBTQ community and other times from people who are supportive and trying to get to know me better. At first, I wasn’t sure how to answer. I could only explain my coming out by saying that I knew I had to. I couldn’t resist it anymore. A part of me that had been beaten, oppressed, locked away, and shamed for so long finally had a chance to creep out into the light, and I was tired of telling it no. After years of therapy and self-reflection, I finally developed the courage to say “hey, this is who I am.” And once I fully embraced that thought, there was nothing I could do to stop it anymore. For me, coming out as bi has nothing to do with polyamory (although plenty of people of all different sexualities are and find it fulfilling) or leaving my current relationship. I am happy with a straight man. But I am still a queer person, and I’m tired of being erased.
Bi erasure is a problem even within the queer community. I constantly hear people say that bi people are just gays who haven’t come all the way out yet. While that can sometimes be the case, bisexuality is also it’s own legitimate identity. When I’m dating a man, I’m not “straight.” If I were dating a woman, I wouldn’t be a lesbian. If I were dating a trans person, my sexual identity would not depend on how they identified their gender. No matter who I am with, I am still bi. My identity is my own identity, regardless of who my partner is. I do not want half of who I am to be erased simply because of who I’m with.
But it’s more than that. It’s not just about me.
In case you’re not aware, the United Methodist Church is currently in the middle of a years-long debate about human sexuality. For the past several General Conferences (held every four years – lining up with presidential election years in the US), voting on issues of human sexuality has resulted in arguments, protests, tears, and an inability to understand The Other. Because of this current debate, I knew that I was putting myself at risk by coming out and simultaneously being a Methodist clergyperson. I haven’t yet received any feedback from the church, but, technically, I could have my clergy credentials removed. LGBTQ people are not allowed to be clergy in the Methodist church, which is a primary issue up for debate at all of these conferences.
The people in the congregations I’ve served need to know that someone among them is queer. So many people who believe damaging things about homosexuality think that they don’t know anyone who’s queer. It’s easy to have hurtful opinions about a group of people that you don’t actually know. It’s much harder to look a member of that group in the face and share those opinions, especially if that person is a member of your faith community. So, by coming out, I hope to also start conversations with people who don’t know where they stand and also with people who do know where they stand and want to have conversation about LGBTQ issues. So if you have questions, let’s chat.
I want everyone to know who I am, even if it means losing a few relationships with those who refuse to accept me. In this politically horrendous time, I cannot be silent any longer. In a time when Christianity is seen as an exclusionary religion, I want to invite people on the margins in by showing them that I am on the margins too. Being queer means so many different diverse things, just like the rainbow we wave, and I’m grateful to finally be a public member of this community. So, let’s allow all the colors to be visible and make the world a little brighter with how fabulous we are.
I first knew this about myself in high school. I talked to a few close friends about it. I confided in a queer history teacher at school for advice. My short lived exploration was met with so much resistance, though, both at school and at church, that I abandoned my questions about my sexuality entirely for the next decade
My high school refused to allow a Gay-Straight Alliance. Instead, we would meet in secret in the school theater at lunch. One of the few out lesbians in school came to her car after school one day to find the word “dyke” carved into the driver’s side door. The only trans person at school was forced to use the bathroom at the nurse’s office because there were no gender neutral bathrooms. People laughed and talked behind their back. Things have changed greatly at my high school, which is now much more supportive of LGBTQ students, but when I was there, it was painful. My youth group was also a place of difficulty. Whenever we explored LGBTQ+ issues, the teaching was that homosexuality was sinful and against God’s will. A combination of all of these hardships shoved me decidedly back into the closet for nearly ten years. I thought I had to choose between being a Christian and being bisexual, so I choose being a Christian.
In many ways, it was easy to pass as straight. I was not being entirely untrue to myself by dating only men. I liked cisgender men. I didn’t like only cisgender men. But for a long time, it was easy enough to pretend. I positioned myself as a straight ally. I was believable. I’m high-femme (which, if that term is unfamiliar, means I present my gender as very feminine – wearing dresses, having long hair, and wearing make-up) and have had several long-term relationships with men. Even some of my gay friends assumed I was straight. I was good at hiding.
It wasn’t until I got to seminary that things began to change. Suddenly, I was confronted with queer people who were also faithful Christians. I had never met anyone who was able to live fully into both of these parts of themself. I didn’t know it was possible. Christianity and queerness had always been presented to me as mutually exclusive lifestyles. You could be one, but not the other. During my time at seminary, though, I realized that I could faithfully be both. At first, I didn’t think this would mean coming out. I thought it just meant being honest with myself. That, in itself, was a big step. Because of my experiences as a teenager, I thought my bisexuality was silly and childish. It had always been discussed as something I would grow out of once I became a more insightful adult.
Meeting other queer people who continued to explore their sexualities and gender expressions opened my eyes to the fact that I could be a serious, ambitious adult and faith leader who was also bisexual. I didn’t have to leave that part of myself behind. It wasn’t silly or stupid or shameful. To the contrary, in order to fully mature as a person, I needed to embrace who I really was. Once I realized that Christianity did not have to be an obstacle to my coming out process, the reasons for staying in the closet thinned. I now know that it is more faithful for me to be honest with myself and others than to lie about who I am.
Coming out to my family was another significant obstacle in my coming out process. My parents are loving and caring people, but we don’t always see eye to eye politically. I know that they love me deeply, but I was afraid that they wouldn’t be supportive. Last month, though, I developed the courage to write them an email. I spent weeks drafting it and sent it to a friend for feedback. After weeks of delaying and thinking, I finally took a deep breath and hit send. It was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done. However, it turned out that my anxiety around being honest with them wasn’t warranted. My parents told me that, of course, they love me no matter what. They had questions and concerns, but they listened to my answers patiently. I believe coming out to my parents will be an ongoing process, but I’m grateful for their acceptance and curiosity.
Now that I’ve been honest with myself, my faith, and my family, I am tired of hiding. I spent most of the month of June desiring to be a full part of the LGBTQ community so I could wear rainbows and wave flags with my fellow queers. I know that it’s not that simple, and that the queer community has it’s own set of challenges to face, but after ten years of hiding, I want to celebrate who I am. I’m ready to bravely stand up to those who say I can’t do things and show them that I’m just as worthy. I’m ready to use my privilege as a white queer person in a straight-passing relationship to teach others about what it means to be queer. I’m ready to be my full self. While this will no doubt be an evolving journey for me, I’m glad to have my community in it with me. I can’t wait to continue to share about who I am and where I’m going.
Happy Belated Pride, queens. Let’s do this.
For more information: A few months ago a did an anonymous interview on a friend’s blog about being a queer, closeted Christian. I answer questions about my sexuality, my faith, and being a queer pastor. Read it here.