National Coming Out Day. Presented by Equality Texarkana.

National
Coming Out Day
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"I'm still me, just a bit more free."
Amber Clayton
Amber Clayton
"I’m still me, just a bit more free."
My Story
It's been about 3 months since I told my husband I was Bi-sexual. His reaction was perfect, he had always suspected, but felt I would come to him in my own time. I had always suspected, too, but was scared to admit it. It's hard to shake the lingering thought that those you come out to will think you're being too mainstream, doing it because "it's the cool thing to do". But, I needed to be true to myself, to accept myself. And, that started with him.

Next, I subtly (not so subtly) started coming out to my co-workers. I hadn't known them for very long, it was not as nerve wracking, though just a select few know.

Nothing has changed. I'm still me, still the woman I've always been, just a bit more free. Now, if only I can get over my fear of coming out to my husband's family....
"It felt as if a huge weight had been lifted from my chest."
Andrew Nicholson
Andrew Nicholson
"It felt as if a huge weight had been lifted from my chest."
My Story
Growing up, I was always taller than the other kids in school. By the time I was in third grade, I was taller than my teachers. People often assume that being 6'4" in middle school would be enough to keep the school bullies away from you. However, being someone who didn't fit in with the traditional masculine gender roles, I was often singled out by the other kids.

I was a band nerd, and when I was in 8th grade there was a guy in band who had a Britney Spears poster in his trumpet case. I saw him being teased by the other guys, so I made it a point to become friends with him. We quickly became best friends and were inseparable. I had a huge crush on him, but I was still figuring myself out and there was no way I was going to tell him or anyone else.

I walked into the band hall one day and someone had written "Andrew and (friend's name) are faggots" on the chalkboard. I think I know who wrote it, but rather than say anything to the band director, I erased the writing as quickly as possible before anyone else saw it. I couldn't take a chance that someone might figure out what I was trying so desperately to hide.

That friend moved to a different school, and it wasn't until years later that I told him I'm gay.

When I was in 10th grade, I decided I was ready to come out to someone for the first time. I decided the first person would be a good friend from school who I was tutoring in math. I was so afraid, I couldn't find it in myself to say the word "gay". I told my friend that I had something to tell him, but he had to guess what it was. After making lots of wrong - and some pretty hilarious - guesses, he said "you're gay", and I said "yes". Luckily, that friend was open minded and accepted me for who I was. It's hard to express the relief I felt after my first coming out. It felt as if a huge weight had been lifted from my chest.

Coming out is something that you have to do over and over. Sometimes when you tell people you're gay, they'll say "well, duh" and sometimes they'll say "you know you're going to hell, right?", but a lot of people will be somewhere in the middle and just have questions.

"I denied myself the truth."
Anonymous
Anonymous
"I denied myself the truth."
My Story
I would do things differently now

I never thought about relationships much when I was younger; I do not recall even thinking about being attracted to anyone else until my adolescent years. I never was attracted to women physically, I could hold down conversations with them like it was no big deal, but I was never attracted to them physically, and I never understood why.

It wasn't until I started my freshman year of high school that I began to realize that something about me was off, but I never acknowledged it myself. Rumors began to spread amongst my small town high school that I was gay. Looking back now, I realize I denied myself the truth, but at the same time I was sparing myself from the daily ridicule and likely assaults that were frequent in my high school for people that were different. I lied to myself and everyone else, giving into their narrow-minded and bigoted views of what was considered to be normal.

The bullying never stopped, I had to bring in the principal and the head coach to get the bullying to stop that went on in my afternoon speech class where most of it took place. It was always verbal, never physical abuse, despite enduring what I had gone through, I had hope that the principal would do right by me and get them to stop. They didn't. Instead, the bullying intensified, her only suggestion was to say sorry, including me, the victim in this ordeal at the hands of two bullies two worked together to make my life hell.

I had no safe place other than home; I tried to stay home from being sick on days that I would have to do projects in my speech class, my grades suffered in the process. My principal was not sympathetic, and I had no allies in school that would speak up for me. I contemplated suicide the following spring; I was in a trance where any positive thoughts about myself and my life were gone, and everything that I expressed was negative and a dreary outlook on life.

I had a dream that changed my life in some ways I can't explain beyond the fact that it scared me to avoid suicide. I dreamed that I was attending a funeral, I see my family and friends are there, but I have no realization who it was that died. It was an open casket funeral, and I went to the front of the altar to see who it was, and I gasped I was beyond shock to realize that the person in the coffin was me.

The service had wrapped up, and I saw them carry me into a cemetery outside of the church, there at the burial service, I went up to myself to mourn my life being over and instead I found myself being dragged into my coffin by my body and then shut into the coffin. I began to panic and started to have trouble breathing and thought I was suffocating from being in the coffin. I woke up from my nightmare, and I had difficulty sleeping after that. I never thought of the idea of contemplating suicide again.

I tried to come out to one of my friends in high school, and she offensively referred to me as a shopping buddy, and then referred to my sexuality as a choice, and I severed ties with her because this put a strain on our relationship. I came out to my mother, and she overreacted, and she still does not accept me. Although she has no choice because she knows that I am her only child and if she wants someone to take care of her, she will have to be on my good side if she wants to be taken care of by me when she is older.
"I made the choice to be true to myself."
Britain Ball
Britain Ball
"I made the choice to be true to myself."
My Story
Growing up I was raised that all people should be treated the same. People were just that, people. So when I realized in middle school that I was not only attracted to boys but girls too it never crossed my mind that I should tell someone. I mean, I didn't go up to my mom one day and say "mom. I think boys are cute" so why would I do that over girls right?

I am not one who took a lot of people around my family anyway so the few girls I dated it was never really a huge public thing. Social media hadn't blasted through with it's huge presence yet so everyone's personal business wasn't out there for everyone in the world to know. I mean, it never crossed my mind that me being bi-sexual would ever be an issue, with my family anyway. I wasn't blinded to the judgment of the world. But then, almost two years ago, I started dating Ashley. I realized that this was going to turn into something serious. Serious enough that I wanted her to meet my family, sounds so old fashioned doesn't it haha. My mom and my sister were the first to meet her and immediately fell in love with her as well.

My grandfathers house is where we host all of our family get-togethers, birthdays, holidays (big and small) and sometimes just occasionally large family gatherings for no reason at all. My grandpa, or Gandaddy as I call him, and I have always been extremely close. My mom was young when she had me so he helped raise me and was more like a dad than anything. When I got married he walked me down the isle on one arm and my dad on the other. When he found out about me dating Ashley it turned into a huge ordeal. He let it be known that I was not allowed at family functions if I had the intentions of bringing Ashley because he would not allow such sin in his house. I was put in an impossible situation. One that even at 30 years old I wasn't emotionally prepared to have to deal with.

I had to choose. Not so much between someone I loved and my family that I loved, but I had to choose between standing up for what I believe in or cowering behind fear and pretending to be someone that I am not. I have always been a huge advocate for equality for all humans! So I made the choice, the choice to be true to myself and what I believe in with the hopes that he would come around and that I wouldn't lose more of my family. Thankfully, all of the rest of my family stood behind us. Some said it was hard for them to understand but that they love me and nothing would change that. They have all gotten to know Ashley and love her.

Unfortunately I can not say the same for my grandparents. I missed the first Holiday season with my family in 31 years this past year. I didn't get to see all my Aunts and Uncles and little cousins. I didn't get to drink the punch and eat all my favorite foods that are always prepared at the holidays. There was a hole. Something missing. But, I have a child of my own, and we will start our own traditions. Traditions that will continue for years and years to come, long after I am gone. Traditions that will not be broken by hate and judgement. Traditions that will equally bring all the joy the world has to offer to anyone who wants to join. I am still hopeful that one day, one day things will be different. Not just for me and my grandpas relationship, but for the world as a whole.
Gabby Reyes
"The only real coming out in my household was me coming out to myself."
Gabby Reyes
"The only real coming out in my household was me coming out to myself."
My Story
I never really had to come out to my parents. It was really something they just knew from the beginning.

The only real coming out in my household was me coming out to myself. I remember having crushes on girls in the the third grade, and thinking it was a perfectly normal thing; like everyone had crushes on girls.

My parents had normalized homosexuality and other aspects of the LGBT+ community to the point that it wasn't a thing that needed normalizing. It was just like getting married to a guy, or having a crush on the opposite gender. I was so used to it that when I told my friends I had a crush on the cute blonde girl from Room 142, I wasn't expecting vomit noises and comments about how yucky that was. I was expecting 'awww' and 'Gabby and Cristina, sitting in a tree'.

For the next three years, I trained myself to tell everyone that asked that I had a crush on this boy or that boy. I would silently pray that I would stop having feelings for girls.

Then I moved to Texas.

I met my best friend, a trans guy. I met my mom's friends, people of all genders and orientations. I started thinking to myself 'Maybe this won't be bad.'

One night over dinner, almost four years after the vomit noises and the disgust of my 'best friends', I casually slipped out six words over green beans and lasagna: "You guys know I'm gay, right?"

I got two syllables in response.

"Uh-huh."
"Coming out to others wasn't as hard as accepting it myself."
Heather Taylor
Heather Taylor
"Coming out to others wasn't as hard as accepting it myself."
My Story
I had to, for the first time in my life, put my happiness before anyone else's. It was in that selfish act that I found a love for life and for myself I didn't know I was capable of. Coming out to others wasn't as hard as accepting it myself. It was in that long life altering journey that I realized this process was far from selfish. In the end, the people I spent years "protecting" with my denial are now even happier because they see and feel the true happiness in me.
"I always thought you were."
Jimmy Pope, Jr.
Jimmy Pope, Jr.
"I always thought you were."
My Story
When I came out to my mother she said I always thought you were, I responded you could have told me!!!!
"I was scared of losing my family."
Julie Hicks-Taylor
Julie Hicks-Taylor
"I was scared of losing my family."
My Story
I grew up in a home where coming out meant being kicked out. I was scared of losing my family. It wasn't until I finally came out that I learned family will stick by you through thick and thin. If they don't, you aren't meant to be family, you will find yours. I did and I'm the happiest I've ever been!
Levi Wilder
"Coming out was the best thing that has happened to me. I don’t regret it even for a moment.."
"Coming out was the best thing that has happened to me. I don’t regret it even for a moment.."
Levi Wilder
My Story
I came out from a closet created by the church and the expectations of my family. I was terrified of anyone knowing I was gay because I would be removed from my fellowship with my church I had grown up in. I feared my father would disown me, or if he didn't he would at the very least make my life miserable trying to control me; either by trying to fix me (my worst fear being him sending me off to a conversion camp) or by being disappointed in me and expecting me to "choose" to be straight.

Early on I knew I was different from the norm. Mostly by being much more emotional, sympathetic, and empathetic than other boys my age. I was also more comfortable talking to girls and befriending them more often than boys. This kind-heartedness and tenderness were, thankfully, appreciated by both of my parents. I was not pushed hard to be "manly." But I always had to worry about learning outward displays of masculinity to avoid ridicule at school.

What took me a long time to realize of myself was that I crushed on male characters in shows and movies. Especially those around my age or a bit older. I thought I just admired them or wanted to be like them somehow, which was true, but it was more than that. I had romantic feelings for them. Maybe I felt safe crushing on boys who weren't exactly real. I don't think I had crushes on guys in school, but it is hard to say. I moved around a lot.

It eventually dawned on me, "I am gay." I can't say what exact age but I would say around 12 or so. Once I knew, fear gripped me. I wanted no one to find out. I could not trust friends. I could not trust figures in authority, counselors, or psychiatrists. Because, if I were to try, I could only imagine all the things that could go wrong. I could not even trust my twin sister.

If I admitted that I was gay to anyone it couldn't be taken back. So I didn't. I couldn't even admit it to myself. I told myself I wasn't gay. I was just being tormented by evil thoughts. But living this way hurt me. I felt beleaguered. Boxed in by something I could not seem to control. Definitely nothing I asked for or wanted.

When I was 20 years old I met Andrew Nicholson. We met at Texarkana College taking a Ceramics class together. I admit I barely talked to him in the class. I even ignored him at times. Maybe part of me knew he liked me on some level and I avoided him. It was not a conscious action. At the end of the school year he asked for my number explaining we should hang out outside of the college. I could find no reason to say no so I gave him my number.

A few months later he called. I was surprised but glad to hear from him. When he asked if we could hang out I agreed so we started going out to the movies and eating meals together to talk; get to know one another. (Seems a bit like dating huh?) He took the time to befriend me. Early on he confided in me that he was gay. My immediate action was worry, but I took the time to think about staying friends with him. I was an adult now. I could make decisions for myself and I found no good reason to avoid a friend just because he was gay. So I told him it was not a problem.

Months pass and I developed feelings for him. Yet again I experienced worry and fear, but I didn't stop seeing him. We talked so much and I felt we developed a strong emotional bond. Finally, I gathered enough courage to tell him. It was the hardest thing I had ever done because I had conditioned myself to never say that I am gay. Let alone I was unsure how he would respond. He was the first person I came out to. He had feelings for me too! I cannot emphasize enough that it was through him and our developing love for one another that I eventually came out to others; friends, family, and acquaintances. It took years and I was cautious but I came out!

It released me from the confines I had allowed myself to be in. I don't live a life of fear anymore. Even though there are still people who want to reject me, hurt me, or demonize me. It doesn't matter now. I have the love of a man who loves me in return. I've known him for a decade. We have stayed together through good times and bad. Soon we will be married. Coming out was the best thing that has happened to me. I don't regret it even for a moment.
"It is something that you work at to keep alive every single day."
Mark Vaughan
Mark Vaughan
"It is something that you work at to keep alive every single day."
My Story
Out is not an event...it's a lifestyle.

I came out first to a few trusted friends. I was 22 for the big one, and when I was asked if I was gay, I asked, "Does it matter?" He told me his concerns (he was straight) and we came to an arrangement. And I said the words out loud, "So, yes, I'm gay."

I had a few friends I told. I had a few friends who told me I was gay, and they were cool with that. I told my doctor, because this was the beginning of the AIDS crisis, and he needed to know. I needed to know everything he learned about this new gay cancer.

I came out to my father, and it was a wonderful experience. My mother found out, and it was hell. So, I know the ways it can go, and can sympathize with anyone who faces rejection.

When I moved to Corpus Christi, I decided "I am OUT, and I am never going back in the closet." And for the most part, I lived that. But I never came OUT like I did when I took on the fight to Keep M-130. There was an anti-discrimination ordinance passed in Texarkana, AR, that basically said the city and her contractors would not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. And there was a push-back from the Bigot Brigade rallying around the phrase "No Men in our Daughter's Bathroom." (Yes, I know where the apostrophe goes. They didn't. It was on their signs. Even the second printing.) We lost that battle, but we were not out of the fight.

Now I'm on the board of directors of an anti-discrimination non-profit. I'm doing pro-bono counseling for LGBT clients. And I'm out. Way Out. I have been recognized in far flung Nashville Arkansas because I have been on the news. And I have to say, in Trump's America, that is kind of scary thing.

So why do I do it? Because this is NOT Trump's America. It is ALL of Ours America. And because I talk to teen-agers who are facing being LGBT and they are so much better off than I was at their age. As bad as things are, they have gotten better. They are healthier, brighter, more hopeful, less battered, and it is so indescribably wonderful to realize that yes, things do get better. But they get better only if we collectively come out of the closet. Hatred and Bigotry grow in the dark, and in silence. Bigotry shrivels outside of silence. When you say "I'm not gay, but I'm an ally, and that was offensive" you have stolen their power. When you say, "You are talking about my gay son," or "you are talking about my gay sister" you are coming out of the closet as someone who will not stand idly by.

Coming out is a lifestyle. You do it when ever you need to. It's like a marriage; sure there is a ceremony, but it is something that you work at to keep alive every single day. The work does not end because you say "I do." Coming Out isn't over after you say "I'm gay." Instead it is a continuous call to be your genuine self, to stand up and be counted, and to speak your truth, even if your voice trembles.

Coming out is a lifestyle. Being gay is not. So make your lifestyle choice.
"It is something that you work at to keep alive every single day."
Shanna Stroup
Shanna Stroup
"I had to come out over and over my whole life."
My Story
As a bisexual, it seems that I had to come out over and over my whole life. You finally get weary, and to a point that you just want to let go of the responsibility of "representing" for bisexual identity, and just let people think what they want. There is so much stigma and prejudice still unique to bisexuals. I guess I'm just getting tired of explaining things to people. It would be most helpful if people could just remember that a bisexual person is still bisexual, whether in a same sex relationship or in an opposite sex relationship. Our sexuality does not change depending on the sex of our partner. I feel we are underrepresented, when it comes to LGBTQ issues and news. And bisexual erasure is still a problem in our community. Much progress has been made, but it has taken a long time, and it sometimes feels like we take one step forward and two steps back as a society regarding LGBTQ issues in general, and bisexual issues in particular.
"Diet the Gay Away."
Tam Sewell
Tam Sewell
"Diet the Gay Away."
My Story
When I first told my mom that I liked women, my mom suggested that I lose weight. It made sense to her that if I was thinner, then I would magically be attracted to men. I tease her about that to this very day.
"The door is open, and I'm never closing it again."
Trent Xenos
Trent Xenos

Photo not available

"The door is open, and I'm never closing it again."

Photo not available

Photo not available

Photo not available

My Story
For National Coming Out Day, I have decided to write about my own coming out story. Now unlike a lot of people you might read about, my coming out took quite awhile and had a slew of different reactions to the news. So who am I? I am Trent. A gay transgender man. Double whammy there! I've got the G and the T on LGBT. For a very long time, I identified as a straight woman, was married, had two children, but I wasn't happy. I knew something wasn't right, deep down inside, but I shoved it away and ignored it for so many years. I guess we should start at my first coming out though, before we go into detail of my final coming out. I was sixteen the first time I came out. Back then, I didn't know what it meant to be transgender. I didn't have a word for it, I didn't have resources that told me what I was experiencing, was something others had dealt with too. I spent my highschool years trying to figure out who I was. I was straight, I was bisexual, I was a lesbian, and finally, I was transgender. It was this label, which fit. It sewed so nicely into the fabric of my life. The term itself was invisible to me, but would show itself later in my life, when I was ready to accept it once again. I didn't know the word, but the label was there, the feeling it brought me, was what fit.

I went to my mother, who herself is a lesbian. She came out to me when I was nine years old, but this is my coming out story, and not hers. I told her that I felt like I was supposed to be a man, and that I wanted to be a man. She accepted it, mostly. She was confused, didn't really understand and neither did I really. When I was eighteen, I was shoved back into the proverbial closet by society. I was pushed in with the pink clothes, the glitter and the tiaras. I was told by society, not my mother, but society, that I was a girl and needed to act like it. I gave into the pressures, entered one straight relationship after another, never satisfied with myself or the relationship I was in.

My belief that I was supposed to be a man, was forgotten about. Mostly. I refused to listen to him, put duct tape over his mouth and quieted him for ten years. During those ten years, I got married and had two kids. I played the wife role, the female role, but there was always something missing. No matter what I did with my life, I knew that something wasn't right.

In July of 2016, a friend of mine came out as transgender. Through researching things for them, he came out again. Trent. He ripped that duct tape off, and he screamed for his freedom. The realization took a bit to sink in for me, but by the middle of August I knew what I was, who I was, who I wanted to be. I told my mother first. She wasn't exactly shocked, but she didn't want to believe it either. She told me many times that she wished I would change my mind, as if one can change their mind on such a thing. She told me over and over that I was wrong, that there was no way. She supported me, but she didn't support me at the same time. The final week of August, I came out to my then husband. I tried to lead it up with something grand, tried to ease him into it all, but he just got annoyed with my constant barrage of words that didn't give him answers.

"I'm transgender!" I yelled it at him as we were driving home. It felt so amazing to say it out loud to him. I had had such bad anxiety thinking of how to tell him. My heart was beating so fast. The relief was instant, a weight off my shoulders, and my husband, he just sat there in silence. Then he told me I wasn't. He said there was no way. Told me I was delusional. I was wrong. Said he would leave me, because he wasn't gay. We got into a huge argument, with me trying to get him to see me as the man I am, and not the wife he believed I was. In the end, I was pushed back into the closet, but only partially. I couldn't take the arguing, and I was afraid. At the time of my coming out, I had no job and was a stay at home mom. He was the breadwinner, I just took care of the kids when they got out of school. I had nowhere to go, and I was scared. So I told him he was right. Told him I was wrong.

For the next two weeks, I shrank into silence and misery. Daily panic attacks became part of my life. I feared for what I was to do. I tried over and over to give up on what I was feeling, to push him out again, to put the duct tape back over his mouth. Except the duct tape never lasted more than a minute. I learned how strong I was through him, the real me. I couldn't go back in that closet. It was impossible.

Middle of September I came out again, this time in an email I sent to my husband.

That night he read it, and he came into our bedroom. "We're getting a divorce. We're done. You don't get anymore chances." His words were cold, the fire in his eyes showed his anger. We fought once more, and just like that, he threatened to take my kids from me. My very life, my sole reason for existing in the muck of denying who I was. They were the only things that had made me happy, that had pushed me to keep going, and he was telling me he would take them. I would lose them forever. He manipulated me, and played me like a violin. I fell right into his trap and I told him I was wrong, AGAIN. The fear of losing my children put me back, at least in his eyes. I knew who I was, and I took actions into my own hands.

The beginning of October, I moved out with my kids, told him I needed time to find out who I was. Who I was, was Trent, and we both knew it. Since then, he has finally come to accept me, we've filed for divorce and I moved back up here to Texarkana in July of this year.

I publicly came out on Facebook and changed my name to Trent, in November, the day Donald Trump was elected. I felt it was the perfect time to show everyone that if they had voted for him, they had condemned me. I had several friends remove me from their friends list, one such person was a longtime friend from 9th grade. She went quietly, never said anything, but blocked and removed me. A few others welcomed me with open arms, and were very kind. My grandmother removed me from Facebook, and now when she comes around, things are rather awkward and tense.

As for being gay, well, that was surprisingly easier. Most people just assume it, since I was straight when I identified as a female. Some have been rather rude with it, asking ridiculous questions such as "if you like men, why don't you just stay as a woman?" These questions have irked me, because these people prove their ignorance on what it means to be trans. It isn't something I asked for, it's not something I wished for, and it's not something I can change. Just as I can't change that I'm attracted to men, regardless of what my gender is. People wish to fit me into a box, but just like the closet, I don't like enclosed spaces with doors and lids.

I think for a lot of my friends, they either accept that I'm gay with no problems, or they don't fully see me as a man, and therefore it's easier for them to accept that I am attracted to men. I find that sad, but the only thing that will change their views, is knowledge and awareness.

That's it for me. I came out, and I'm not going back in there. My family knows, my Facebook friends know, my best friend knows, my job knows. I came out, because I couldn't stand lying to myself anymore. The door is open, and I'm never closing it again.
"If you want people to know you, you have to know yourself first."
Vyctoria Taylor
Vyctoria Taylor
"If you want people to know you, you have to know yourself first."
My Story
If you want people to know you, you have to know yourself first.

I'm only out to some of my friends and family. One side of my family I'm not comfortable telling. Their small minds and insistence that I "get a boyfriend" make it feel impossible. I fear their potentially offensive reactions and opinions. Maybe one day they'll be more open. Until then, I'm only halfway out. It helped coming out to my moms because they understand me. They accept me no matter what, don't insist I date boys, and never call it a phase.
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