“Coming out. The two words that defined my entire life thus far. The words I feared. The day I dreaded. I was about to lose everything.”
I grew up in a big house in the middle of the woods. The trees and the stream running through our property raised me. Where other girls my age spent their hours painting their nails, my days were spent trudging through the mud along the banks of the stream, catching minnows, and laying in the ferns with 50 foot towering trees surrounding all angles of my view. I can still remember the way our forest smelled.
I was raised in a family where God came first, above all else. Not only did we go to church, but we went every single Sunday. My dad was the Treasurer of the church and at the forefront of all decision making. My Mom taught Sunday School, prepped and cleaned the altar, and participated in every Women’s Guild activity. Church to my family wasn’t just something we did for the holidays, it was, and remains to be, everything. When anyone thinks of my church, they think of the Borths. The two go hand in hand. There has never been one without the other – as my grandparents were original members. I attended the partner, private middle and high schools where my father and his brothers also attended. My dad was the chairman of the board. The list goes on. Point being, God and the church were the focal point of my life.
Looking back, I now know I was aware of my sexuality at a very, very young age – I just didn’t know what it was. I remember watching kissing scenes in movies as a 6 or 7 year old, fawning over the women on the screen. I remember a particular movie where I experienced that weird feeling in your belly the moment you realize you have a crush. The flush of butterflies that makes your heart race, the tingles raising the tiny hairs on your forearms. This is the first memory I have of feeling attraction. I remember how those new, intense feelings felt to my young, learning body.
As I grew, I began to notice how different I was from everyone else around me. In elementary school, the other girls ooh-ed and ahh-ed over sparkly nail polish, gel pens, unicorn stickers, and drooled over their magazine cut-outs of every N*Sync and Backstreet Boys member, arguing over which was the hottest. I remember how confusing those girly fascinations were. What strange things to be excited about. I didn’t get it. And frankly, still don’t.
Then there was me. Confidently rocking my favorite gray cargo pants that zipped off at mid shin and just below the knee, a silver ball chain necklace around my neck, a large white t-shirt hung on my torso, undoubtedly covered with some sort of amphibian, snake or lizard artwork. My long, blonde hair was parted down the middle, fake tattoos on my forearms, and I always had mud on my sneakers. I was a gymnast too so I was exceptionally muscular for my age. Let me tell you, I was a picture of 90’s lesbian perfection. I was always the only girl at birthday parties and my best friend in the entire world was Charlie. That is, until I met Jessica. Who I found out recently is gay too, go figure. Looking back, I am stumped as to how anyone was shocked when I came out. It’s truly a mystery to me.
I skated by in elementary school, noticing I was different, confused as to why I didn’t like the same things as the other girls – but it was never anything more than that, it was never an issue, I was just me. Everyone accepted me for who I was. Then middle school happened and it hit me like a semi-truck smashing into a brick wall. All of a sudden, I was thrown into this new world of social expectation. Even worse, I had entered into private school social expectation. I didn’t look like the other girls and for the first time, it mattered. I was called a boy, my muscles were the butt of everyone’s jokes. My only saving grace was my athleticism and kind nature. As people got to know me, I was more accepted. Yet, the jokes remained. I wouldn’t say anyone disliked me but there was always whispering behind my back. The boys always made sure to laugh at my muscles. The “cool girls” wanted nothing to do with me – and they made sure I knew. Sneers and snickers in the locker room and banishment to the end of the lunch table. Middle school was not a fun time for this baby gay and it hardened me.
Add to that, the confusion of my intense attraction to women. Remember, I was brought up in an extremely Christian environment. The concept of being gay didn’t even cross my radar. I knew I had an attraction to women, but at the time I didn’t really know what that meant. I was taught in church and in school that being gay is a sin. Maybe everyone loves women at first and then they grow up and they learn to love men. I remember thinking that exact thought. I couldn’t be gay. Being gay is wrong. Please God, don’t let me be gay.
I’ll never forget the summer before my freshman year of high school. I remember sitting in my bedroom on the floor naked, legs crossed, elbows resting on my knees, head resting on my hands – staring at myself in my full-length mirror. I imagined what it would feel like to be different from who I was. I can play the part, I told myself. I wanted to be what this world wanted me to be. I wanted to fit in, I wanted to belong, I wanted to stop being made fun of, I wanted to be normal. As I sat there, envisioning myself as the young woman I knew would make life easier for me, I solemnly promised: High school is going to be different for me.
I remember walking down the hallway on that first day of the ninth grade. Watching, as everyone’s jaws dropped. I had my uniform khaki pleated skirt hemmed high above my knees (an offense I received many disciplinary forms for), my white polo collar was popped, fresh Sperry’s on my feet and I had spent over an hour doing my hair and makeup. Makeup. Admittedly, I looked beautiful and everyone noticed. I went from the quiet, athletic tomboy to this gorgeous, sporty athlete. My life changed on that day. Unfortunately, only temporarily for the better.
I never felt like myself in high school. I loved my friends more than anything and holy hell I had a great time – too great of a time sometimes. I loved sports. I loved being an athlete. And I was good, really good. But I had to try so hard to keep up with the persona I exhibited. I was told day in and day out, that being gay is wrong. I was constantly preached at that gay people go to hell – that they’re abominations to God. Or, more progressive teachers saying being gay isn’t a damnable offense, but acting on it is. Either way, everything composing my internal clockwork, the ticking of the love within my heart, was wrong. And not only wrong, but something the church is obsessed with harping on.
Imagine, for a moment, what all of those years of hearing those messages did to my developing psyche. I was immersed in that world all day Monday through Friday and then again every Sunday. As a result, I have had to spend a majority of my adulthood unlearning all of those self-damaging teachings that are ever so deeply carved into my brain. The voices of pastors, teachers, family members saying: gay is wrong. I was wrong. I remember crying myself to sleep, imagining myself burning in hell for who I was. I tried SO HARD to fight it. I was swallowed in an eternal battle within myself. It was exhausting and it left me broken.
I was terrified of losing my family because of who I was. I grew up in a house where “that dyke” wasn’t allowed on the television – Ellen. Where, gay men were jokingly referred to as gay blades. Where, homosexuality was something viewed as perverse and disgusting. Where, God was the center of everyone’s being and homosexuality was not tolerated. The same God who, I was told would send me to hell for who I am. Or, if not for who I am, if I decided to act upon who I am. What a cursed life to envision as a young adult. I knew if I ever disclosed my truth, I would lose my family. I would lose my friends. I would lose everything and everyone near and dear to my heart.
I moved three states away for college and experienced a whole new world outside of the small, Christian microcosm that encompassed my life prior. I was blown away by all of the different types of people, different views of the world, different views of religion. I was immersed in a vast sea of different people and everything I thought I knew about life burst apart at the seams. It was magical to experience. My societal and cultural intellect grew more in my freshman year than it had in the prior 18 years combined.
I confidently knew I was gay in college but I was terrified to be who I knew I was. I was still playing the game, still battling the war raging inside of me. I was terrified of losing my family, terrified of being that girl in middle school again – judged, made fun of, not accepted. My college years were wasted. I envy those who reflect on their college years and think – those were the best years of my life. They weren’t for me. While I certainly had moments of fun, there were many nights I hid away in my room. I often turned down invitations to parties and I was unable to form true, intimate friendships. How could I possibly have felt anything but lost? I was unable to be myself and the product of that equation caused a disconnection between myself and the people I knew. I don’t blame myself for hiding – I was debilitated by fear, anxiety, and depression. I’m sad though that because of my sexuality, my fear of being who I truly was, the whispering messages resounding in my head of everything I had learned as a child, caused me to miss out. College could have and should have been so beautiful. Instead, it was a prison.
Making matters worse, during my freshman year, I fell in love with my best friend. But I couldn’t tell her, no way. Imagining opening up my secret to her was terrifying. What if I scare her away and lose her? The gamble was too risky. So I kept it in. We wound up moving in together our sophomore year as roommates in an apartment off-campus. And one night, drunkenly at a party, she cornered me in a bathroom and dared me to kiss her. I was shocked. We kissed – a memory in my mind I can picture in perfect, slow motion clarity. From that night on, we never slept in separate beds.
I was 19 when I lost my virginity to her, I was her first too. It was a fumbling mess of awkwardness. We both had zero clue what we were doing but we made love until the dim sunshine crept through the blinds. We were inseparable. But we were a secret – another secret I had to bear. With fury in her eyes she would tell me over and over again that she wasn’t gay and after college this – whatever this was – would end.
As the years passed though, our love continued. A relationship mixed of tears, arguing over what to do with our love, fighting, and secrecy. I desperately wanted our relationship to be public. I wanted to finally start living my life. I wanted to break free of the prison that held me. But, she adamantly refused. Never. We can never tell anyone. So, she would flirt with guys at parties as I watched. I would watch her from a distance, grabbing on to any substance to numb the reality of my life. We’d find excuses to go to the bathroom together, kiss, yet make sure we didn’t stay in there too long and look suspicious. As this continued, I withdrew socially. It killed my soul. But my love, my first love, was too hard to leave. So I stuck it out.
At the end of our senior year, as the reality of that ever looming ultimatum crept closer and closer, she broke down and said she couldn’t leave me. And in fact, she believed she’s also gay. That revelation was one of the happiest days of my life. We talked about marriage and planned how we would spend the rest of our lives together. And in the story we painted, we discussed how we were going to tell our friends and family. Coming out. The two words that defined my entire life thus far. The words I feared. The day I dreaded. I was about to lose everything.