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Living Authentically

Chronicles of my journey coming to live an authentic life and my coming out process.

Living Authentically

“Pride, GR” is a personal essay series set to coincide with the 46th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, a series of trans women of color-led violent protests and actions that sparked the gay rights movement in the United States in Greenwich Village in1969. This series will feature unique voices and perspectives from members of the LGBT community in Grand Rapids and their experiences with their identity and exisiting in this city. You can read all the articles under the tag "Pride, GR".

I came out about a year and half ago to both myself and a few very close friends. At the time, I was working for a non-profit Christian parachurch ministry and I was scared out of my mind as to how they would react. After all, I had dedicated nearly six years of my life to that ministry, four as a volunteer leader during my undergrad at Calvin College and two as a staff person in East Grand Rapids. I knew the policies yet they were just vague enough to leave me with a slim piece of hope that maybe, just maybe, I could be gay and work for this organization.

After a few months, and many nights fighting with myself as to how to go about this conversation, I sat down to talk with one of my supervisors. Through tears, I was able to come out to him. Surprisingly, that conversation went generally well as he confirmed that slim piece of hope for me. Little did I know that what would come as a result of that conversation would lead me into some incredibly trying times.

Two weeks later, I found myself sitting across the table from two superiors. I knew this conversation wouldn’t be good. In fifteen swift minutes, I was told that I could no longer have contact with kids in any official ministry capacity starting April 1, which was in two weeks, I was informed that I would not be attending two summer camp trips that I had been planning for months, I was told that my time with the organization would be ending June 1 as opposed to working through July as was originally planned, I was told to focus on administrative tasks for my two months remaining on staff, and, to top it all off, I was asked not to tell anyone.

I was asked to keep a part of me hidden. I was asked, after nearly a decade of battling with myself about my sexuality, to go back in the closet. They told me to think of how this would affect the organization, which was code for “what will the donors think of this?” They told me that this was meant to protect me from people in the community, which was code for “people will think you are a pedophile.” What they told me were lies. I thought that coming out was going to be the hard part, little did I know that living into and embracing my queerness would be even more difficult in the face of a barrage of homophobia.

As the next few months unfolded, I quickly found myself questioning my entire existence as the last six years of my life felt invalidated and disregarded all because I finally embraced my authentic self. I felt like I wasn’t good enough, I felt like I was less than, I felt like I had to hide my true self in order to be accepted.

As I write this today, I wish that I could say that things have gotten better. Yet reality dictates a different feeling - yes, the East Grand Rapids community, specifically the kids that I worked with and their parents were so supportive, even going to the extent of petitioning for my participation in summer camp trips. Yes, I have found a great queer community and other close friends that have literally saved my life. But, what I am continually realizing is that West Michigan is not a welcoming place. West Michigan is not a loving place. West Michigan is a place that will be forever marked by rejection.

Even if seven out of ten people have been supportive, the three that have not speak louder and forever haunt my thoughts. I am sick and tired of being told that I am going to hell, I am sick and tired of being told that I need to be patient for change to occur, I am sick and tired of being rejected for attempting to live authentically as possible and I am sick and tired of knowing that wherever I turn in Grand Rapids spiritual violence will follow. 

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