Year 17 - Being my Authentic Self
For many, today is just another Monday to get your school or work week started. But, if you are like me, today means so much more…
Year 17… How did we get here? Has it really been 17 years since I officially came out to my family? How time flies when you have the opportunity to live your authentic life. And yes, I fully recognize the privilege in that statement. Many people who identify in the LGBTQ+ community around the globe don’t get to celebrate who they are or who they love.
In the Fall of 2004, I didn’t even know there was a day to celebrate or highlight the number of people who’ve acknowledged their sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender confirmation out loud to people. Maybe if I had known of this day or knew there was so much community support, I wouldn’t have felt so scared to make that call.
Even before we get to 2004, I can always remember being different. I couldn’t put a name to this difference but I could remember in my Catholic elementary school the girls gawking at boys and all I wanted to do was get to recess and run. After all these years, I can remember the school-girl crushes I had on other girls. But, back then we didn’t talk about the LGBTQ+ community. So I let my feelings pass and continue to grow into my adolescent years. As I moved into high school, things really started to shift. The people around me started to discuss and share their interest in same-sex relationships, but I still wasn’t ready to share that side of myself even after I had the terminology for it. It wasn’t until my junior year when I shared with my closest friend that I had a crush on someone. I made her play ‘Guess Who,’ to figure out who it was. Eventually, I felt enough confidence to share my full self with my friends, but taking that journey to tell my family was still not something I was ready to do.
I finally gathered the courage to tell my family that I was interested in girls during my sophomore year of college. Allow me to set the scene.
I was in my dorm room with my roommate, hanging out on her bed, had my mom on my cell phone, and my best friend/teammate on the dorm phone. (Yes, back in my day, each dorm room had a landline phone.) I needed that comfort and support because I honestly didn’t know how my family would react.
Long story, short, my family, both immediate and extended, fully accepted me on the spot. There were a few family members who had to go through their own self-education, learning what it truly means to have a lesbian daughter/cousin. But, through and through, I felt a ton of support. That support honestly is what allows me to stand as my authentic self today.
In one moment, my life could have gone in one of two directions. Reflecting on it now, I was not at all prepared for a negative outcome. Nor did I think that my revelation could have had detrimental consequences as they do for others. All I knew is that I could no longer live a life closeted and hiding my full self from the people that I love.
Now in year 17 of being proudly out, I can say that I’m the happiest I’ve ever been. I’m in a happy, healthy, and committed relationship. I have climbed the ladder in the sports industry, but most importantly I created my own business to share why it’s important to create inclusive environments.
I remember when I first started working full-time being asked if I would announce or acknowledge my identity as a lesbian in the workspace because didn’t “I already have enough struggles on my plate just being a Black woman.” To be honest, I never thought about it being a hindrance to being hired, but in many places, the reality is, LGBTQ+ people are being verbally and physically harassed, shamed, and fired for just showing up as themselves.
So every National Coming Out Day I always reflect on the moment I decided to live as my authentic self. I think about the love and support I’ve received from my family and friends. I thank God that he created me in his image to allows me to walk in my truth so that I can maybe inspire someone else to do the same.
I also spend time reflecting on my LGBTQ+ extended family who doesn’t have the same opportunities to share their authentic self. I spend time thinking about the many LGBTQ+ lives we’ve lost to suicide or murder. I recognize the global barriers that many LGBTQ+ identified individuals face daily, just to exist in their spaces. I think about the ways in which I do my work, every day, that I can center, comfort, and create spaces that show people that they are loved and supported.
So I encourage everyone to take this day to reflect upon your values and how you show up every day. Today is a great day to learn something new about the LGBTQ+ community that you didn’t know before or even donate to an organization that is centered on LGBTQ+ individuals. There are millions of LGBTQ+ individuals in this world. Find ways to stand beside and honor their truths.
If you are a leader, of a school, business, team, etc., I ask you to take a stand to be a transformational leader! Don’t just be a person/company that celebrates LGBTQ+ individuals during a particular timeframe. LGBTQ+ individuals live in their skin 365 days a year. You should support them every single day.
To my LGBTQ family, if reading this gives you the courage to share your truth I will be the first one to celebrate you! And if coming out puts you at risk, please know that I am here, fighting every day, standing with you, for you, beside you, and will continue to advocate for change on your behalf. You are seen. You are loved.