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  • Writer's pictureAli

My Pride After Pride | My HERstory

Updated: Sep 29, 2021

Picture this:

You're thirteen years old, a sixth-grader in a new school district with a less than desirable haircut. You're awkwardly attempting to navigate all the things that come with being a middle-schooler - along with conflicting sexual preferences. As you begin to settle in and make new friends, you meet a seventh-grader who steals your attention one random day at school. You write a note to express your attraction hoping to see them before getting on the bus to go home; but alas, a missed opportunity.

After school, you unwind at home and eat dinner with your family. The next morning, the same routine ensues: wake up, school, bus ride home. Upon arriving home, your mom informs you that she finished doing your laundry, and you assume it's going to be another typical afternoon. Not long after you've settled in, she pulls you into her bedroom where she and your dad tell you about this note that was found in your jeans pocket. They ask, “who is Ashley?" Frightened, you tell them that she is a friend from school and that you think you might be bisexual. Their response? "You're grounded."

This was the beginning of my coming out story.

Throughout middle school, I entertained attraction to both girls and boys, but made sure to keep my then bisexual tendencies to a minimum. I played the part of a seemingly straight girl who secretly thought about dating girls while also navigating a new school with new friends. That was A LOT to unpack emotionally, and would continue to be that way for some time. My seventh grade year, I began cheerleading for the basketball team. My squad consisted of several girls who were a bit judgmental and had heard rumors of my sexuality drifting up and down the halls. I still played the part as a basic straight girl: blonde, preppy, and bubbly; but inside, I was desperate to break out of this cycle and embrace my identity of attraction to both genders. Eighth grade was more of the same: cheerleading, more preppy clothes, more makeup, less expression of my bisexuality.

High school presented itself with its own hiccups and hurdles. While navigating a new school, I had a familiar friend group which made it easier to handle such a big change. I kept with my cheerleading career beginning my freshman year with the majority of the same girls0 from middle school. We were forced to be with each other nearly every day of the summer and multiple times a week during school for practices and games. One would think that I built lasting friendships with my squad - and, I did with a few of them - but, it was largely filled with basic, straight girls: extra preppy, extra clique-y, and extra judge-y.

During class one afternoon, my cheerleading coach took me into her classroom to discuss my rumored sexuality that had been rapidly circulating around school. When approached, she told me that I would be required to tell my team about my sexuality, since 'they deserved to hear it directly from me'. After school, my team and I congregated in our coach's classroom where I nervously shared with them the truth of the rumors. I came out as bisexual to a group of girls who were hell-bent on rejecting me (again, minus like, three people). Keep in mind, my parents had zero clue as to this conversation, and were not notified before meeting with my coach or the rest of my squad. From that point forward, I felt freer to express my truth, but I felt isolated and misunderstood by the people I spent the majority of my time with. I wanted to be accepted by my team, but unfortunately, that wasn't my reality.

Once the news had reached its way to my dad that my coach outed me to my team, not only was I confronted about my sexuality, but I was also required to explain the way in which the conversation took place. It was then that my dad, my coach, the principal and the school board got involved in a heated discussion surrounding my coach's employment, possible termination, discrimination lawsuits, and the inevitable embarrassment and ridicule that I'd have to endure from other students. This would have been a great story for HRC and the ACLU; but alas, another missed opportunity.

That year would be my last year as a cheerleader.

The aftermath of that day has impacted my mental health in profound ways. Because of those experiences, I had to face rejection and ridicule from my family and my team, and it felt like the world was hell-bent on misunderstanding and alienating me. I battled simple things like learning to make friends and feeling part of a support group. I battled difficult things like self-hatred and feeling less than welcome in most social settings. My sport of choice and passion no longer felt like a safe space or a place I belonged, and I had to grieve the loss of an identity that I'd held onto since I was four years old. I felt stripped of everything that I was and everything I had become, and my mental health took a drastic turn down a dark path. By the time my senior year rolled around, I transferred to a different school to finish my last semester. I was hopeful that I would make new friends and potentially be in a more accepting environment. Unfortunately, that turned out not to be the case. I made a couple of friends, but I largely felt so far removed from school that I no longer felt like caring about my grades, my appearance, my passions or my purpose. A deep depression had set in, and life seemed extremely dismal. Aside from my friend group at my part-time job, my social circle was essentially nonexistent. I felt alone, misunderstood, and alienated for a large majority of my adolescence, and it wouldn't be until I reached early adulthood that I felt equipped to begin to work on my mental health.

Lacking family and community support made it extremely difficult for me to accept my sexuality even into adulthood. It wasn't until I was divorced from my ex-husband in 2016 that I came out as a lesbian, which largely relates back to a lack of acceptance - both personally and from others around me. Not having a sense of belonging harmed my heart more than I wanted to admit, and it wasn't until I was admitted into a mental health facility in 2020 that I had really begun to face those difficult emotions. Accepting deep emotions allowed me to fully accept myself, especially when I learned that the most important acceptance comes from within. Don't miss that: the most important acceptance is self-acceptance. But please don't misinterpret what I'm saying here: while it was imperative that I explored and healed those wounded parts of me, that doesn't make what happened to me and how I felt any less valid or traumatic. I very personally understand how complex and complicated it can be when someone isn't given a toolbox designed to create a sense of safety around their sexuality and self-expression. This was my reality for the majority of my upbringing. And while I recognize that to be my truth, I'm also gracious enough to forgive those who weren't given their own set of tools designed to accept differences in people around them.

What a hard lesson to have to learn the hard way!

The path toward my own self-acceptance hasn't been an easy one, but I'm so proud of the progress I've made toward finding peace within myself, accepting my identity as a feminine lesbian, and my passion to speak out for mental health advocacy and awareness. My story is a true depiction of how damaging it is when a person can't be their authentic self, and because of that, authenticity is a cornerstone value within myself that I deeply treasure. My greatest hope is that my story impacts future generations of parents, friends, students, and coaches within our social circles and empowers all of us to be united, inclusive and whole.

Through the pain, I’ve learned valuable lessons. Here are my hard-found truths and advice for you, my friend:

Your sexual identity may change over time, and that's okay. Sexuality is fluid.

Rejection is downright agonizing and painful. Don't let it stop you from being you.

Feminism isn't a straight girl thing. It's an identity all its own no matter your sexual identity.

You are the author of your life. Be proud of your story.

Your mental health is severely impacted when a part of you is required to go into hiding. Heal those places. Explore forgiveness. It'll set your soul free from the captivity of resentment and bitterness.

And lastly, you are seen, heard and are valid just as you are.

Be you, because you are beautiful.

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