Growing Up Gay in Mississippi

I came out to my mother last Wednesday, October 18, 2017 at the age of 29, a week after National Coming Out Day. I wanted to do it in person and knew I’d be in town the following week so I waited. Plus, coming out doesn’t have to be on a certain day, just whenever you feel ready and comfortable doing so. I’ve always said I wouldn’t come out to my mother until I was in a serious relationship and I had to let her know because it would be too hard to hide. I was scared. I dated a woman who told me about her family disowning her after they found out. I didn’t want that to happen to me, so I decided to wait. Although I’m currently not in a relationship, I couldn’t hold this secret in any longer.

I could not have asked for a better response than the one my mother gave me when I came out. She immediately told me it was ok and that God still loves me and I love God. I told her, “Do you know why I moved to LA? 2 reasons. 1. To have a chance to make enough money to change my life and my family’s life and 2. to be myself.” I then asked, “Do you know why I said ‘to be myself?'” She leaned on me and asked “Are you gay?” I hesitated and softly said, “Yes”. We talked for a while; I explained when I first accepted it and when I started dating women. Then she said, “You have to say it. You hinted at it, I said it, then you said yes. But you have to say it. It will free you.” My mother became my therapist in that moment. She knew she needed to be strong and supportive. I love and appreciate her for being so open and giving me a safe space to come out to her. I cried and she hugged me and told me it was alright.

My mother wasn’t always this open to me being gay. I remember her once saying to me, “You can be anything you want, just don’ be gay.” I was around 10 years old. Little did she know, gay rumors were already starting about me in school. I became extremely self-conscious about my attraction to the same sex; mostly rooted in me not wanting girls to feel uncomfortable being around me. I didn’t want girls to be grossed out if I unknowingly flirted with them so I avoided speaking to girls I was attracted to. I tried my best not to even look at them. This self-consciousness is something I’m working to get rid of to this day; I now blame it on being shy.

The reason it has taken me so long to come out and accept the fact that I’m gay is because being a black gay person in the south is not a pleasant experience. Mississippi just passed a law that makes it legal for businesses to discriminate against the LGBT community. I went to a graduate school where the president had to release a school-wide email to tell people not to harass a LGBT group that was visiting campus unannounced; stating we should show them respect even if they don’t believe in the same things we do. There is no debate that according to southern Christians, being gay is a sin. Period. It is looked at as one of the worst sins, even though the bible implies that all sin is equal: “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.” (James 2:10) These same Christians still celebrate the pregnancy of women who aren’t married and eat as much food as their hearts desire (with MS having one of the highest rates of adult obesity in America). The bible is often interpreted to benefit the one reading it while ignoring the parts they don’t agree with. If a straight man who lusts after a woman (Matthew 5:28) has the right to go to heaven, so do I.

Add the layer of being black in the south and imagine the hardships queer people of color go through. I had to see confederate flags flying every single day of my life (within the state flag, in my neighborhood, at the bar, on cars, on the way to class, etc.). While in a lab studying in grad school (a PWI), a white student asked me for tips on how to study for histology (a class I made an A in the semester before). I gave him multiple tips and resources, then he said “You know, not all black people are dumb. Black people are smart. What my grandfather and father taught me is wrong.” It was 2012. That’s why the “resurgence” of the KKK in recent events didn’t surprise me because I never thought they left.

So yeah, being a black woman in the south is hard enough. If any of you think being gay is a choice, ask yourself why anyone would want to make life harder for themselves, especially if they are a person of color. I’ve already lost friends I thought I’d have for the rest of my life. I’m sure I’ll lose family. But with time and lots of therapy, I’ve grown to accept and love who I am even if it makes others uncomfortable. (I’m pretty sure that’s a Janelle Monáe quote.)

I’m currently writing a much more detailed piece on my journey to self-acceptance; when I first noticed my attraction to the same sex, falling in love for the first time in college, and my experience dating women up to now. It may turn into a book, script, who knows… All I know is that it’s freeing to finally feel comfortable enough to be myself.

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6 thoughts on “Growing Up Gay in Mississippi”

  1. If we are all created equal in the eyes of God, no person has the right to mandate or impose what they define as morally acceptable behavior on anybody. Another thing worth mentioning is same sex parenting. Redundancy aside, I see no real problem with it.

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  2. Love this Marla. So happy for you (Do you and be proud of it) and your mom – a mother’s love is unconditional. You are smart and beautiful! I want the 2nd autographed copy of that book!

    Liked by 1 person

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