Growing up in a deeply religious and conservative community in South Louisiana, I was taught that there were only two options when it came to sexuality – you were either gay or straight. And, as a member of a Baptist church, being gay was considered a sin. So, from a young age, I repressed this part of myself and believed that my same-sex attractions were simply the devil tempting me.
It wasn’t until I met my now-partner at the age of 17 that I felt a connection that I couldn’t explain. Despite getting engaged quickly, our relationship was plagued by guilt and shame, especially after we had premarital sex just a few months before the wedding. Even then I still felt an attraction to the same sex. But, again, I shrugged it off as an evil temptation. I thought, “there is no way I can be gay and attracted to women”. I even remember telling her that I had once thought I was gay, but realized it was just the devil trying to confuse me.
This self-hatred continued for years. You do not realize the effect of suppressing yourself has on you as a human being, as a spouse, and a parent. The lying to yourself eats away at you like a cancer. This inhibited the ability to truly love myself. I was always taught that you cannot fully love others unless you knew the love of Jesus. I’ve learned that this is false. Really, it is. You cannot fully love others until you first love yourself. This is not a selfish statement. Simply admitting who I was opened the door to this process of loving myself.
However, everything changed when I discovered the world of TikTok and met others who were also deconstructing their religious beliefs and coming to terms with their sexuality. For me, it started with the church’s silence on minority issues and their stance on LGBTQIA+ rights. This was only solidified by their support of Donald Trump, who they spoke of as if he was the savior himself. Eventually, my partner and I walked away from the church, and it opened a whole new world for me. Through this process, I watched as my partner showed her support to the LGBTQIA+ community. I didn’t even realize that this was the beginning of leading me to my own acceptance. She had created a safe place in our home.
Then the next part of my journey was my youngest son, Asher, who was always drawn to dolls, anything shiny, and dressing up as a princess. This scared me at first, especially when he did this around my family. Hearing them say, “no Asher, that’s for girls.” The look on his face would break my heart. The light in his eyes would diminish. This led to conversations with my partner. She was angry, and rightfully so. We see our children as little flames meant to shine bright, and we did not want to take any part in putting out that flame.
I remember one day he had his nails painted and his older brother said, “Asher, painted nails are for girls”. Instead of getting angry, I immediately went into the bathroom and painted my nails. I walked out and said, “Elijah, my nails are painted, what are you going to say to me?” He got very quiet. This, I know, wasn’t the best way I could have handled it, but I really wanted to drive a point. I then started to hear my youngest talk about how he was embarrassed by what other kids were saying. This led me to painting my nails and going out in public. I wanted him to know it was okay to do it. It then turned into me loving the way it made me feel. All these things were bringing me closer and closer to admitting who I was. I couldn’t stand the lie I was telling myself any longer.
Finally, it happened. We came home from my partner’s parents place and began to talk. I started crying, I couldn’t hold it in any longer. I accepted myself and realized that what’s the point of a relationship if you cannot be honest with each other. I wasn’t crying because of shame, only fear. I was afraid of how she would react. Would she leave me? These questions were terrifying. As I was crying, she was asking, “what’s wrong, you can tell me”. I then looked at her and said, “I’m bisexual”. I could never have guessed how she would respond. She looked at me and said, “Okay”. She told me she loved me no matter what. She had a follow up question that was fair. She asked if I was wanting something different than what we had in the relationship. I told her it was not about that. I was fully committed to her, but I couldn’t lie about who I was anymore. I wanted her to know all of me. She was my biggest supporter, and our relationship has only grown stronger since.
I’ve stepped away from religion and am working through the pain and trauma that it caused me. I honestly do not know what I believe as far as religion goes. I cannot prove or disprove any of it. There is just a lot of pain and trauma that the church has caused. The church can rob you of your identity. It tries to make you conform to its ideas of how you should look, act, and believe. I was taught that my heart was wickedly deceitful and should not be trusted. Trusting myself was taken away from me. I was taught to choose God over everything and everyone. Since leaving, I love people more authentically and completely. It doesn’t come from a place of duty. I don’t do it because this is what I’m called to do by a higher power. I do it because that’s what being a good human being does. I’ve also developed more empathy and a greater capacity for compassion.
As a police officer for 16 years, it’s been a challenging journey, especially in the South. I often feel like an alien. When you step out of the echo chamber you were born in, you see the world so differently. The places you thought were the safest are not, and the once-scary places have become the safest. It’s been strange. But I hope to bring a new perspective and understanding to the profession. And after 17 years of marriage to my amazing partner and with three beautiful children, I’m learning to be a better person every day.
I used to think of ignorance as a bad word. It’s not. It’s simply not knowing. But once you know, you are no longer ignorant. You become obstinate. Which is simply defined as an “asshole”. My goal is to never stop evolving. I cannot change the past, I can only course correct. This, I know, will happen a lot. There are plenty of things I am ignorant of. But I’m not afraid to learn or admit when I am wrong.
To sum this all up: Love yourself. It’s not a selfish act. Treat others like human beings. And step out of the echo chamber. It’s not your fault you were born where you were born and to whom you were born to. You don’t have to be what others around you say. Be you.