Growing Up in Smalltown Alabama

Although a bit more progressive by comparison with other small towns in my state — due in great part to the university community – it was a tough place for a young lesbian nonetheless. I was from a well-respected family, was popular in high school with plenty of friends and boyfriends, but I tried to end my life on two separate occasions. At the time, I didn’t even know what was wrong with me. I just felt like there was something about who I was on the most basic level that was evil, repulsive – or, even worse for my family, socially embarrassing. I knew I wasn’t who I pretended to be, and I knew I wouldn’t become who my parents wanted me to be. I saw no other way out.

The first attempt was half-hearted. I took a handful of sleeping pills. After 10 minutes or so, I walked with numbed footsteps to my parents’ bedroom and told them what I’d done. They made me drink Grey Poupon and water so I would vomit, then they called the doctor. I saw a psychologist for the next several months, but I didn’t really know what to talk about because I didn’t understand what was wrong with me. Seemingly, I had it all. My parents watched my every move for months on end.

After a few months of letting it go, the feelings of worthlessness — of what an embarrassment I would be to my family — returned. I knew for several weeks how I planned for the story to end. I would wait until the night before we were all to return from Spring Break in my 11th-grade year, and I would attach the vacuum cleaner hose to my car, crawl in the back with the motor running and go to sleep. Hopefully, a teacher or coach at my high school would find me early the next morning in the parking lot behind the school. My parents would never have to know the truth of the ugly person I truly was.>br />

About 20 minutes into the scenario above, I heard another car drive up and a door close. I thought of the humiliation of being found in the midst of this scene. I thought of how my parents would again say they didn’t know what to do with me and how they’d over exact every minute of my days. I didn’t know what to do. I had no Plan B. If I’d had access to a gun, I wouldn’t be here now, but I didn’t know where to get one

I hadn’t planned to live one day past that one in March 1982. I certainly never planned to go back to school the next day, and I was way behind on projects I’d had no intention of finishing. I drove past the school and all the way to my house on the lake, where I spent the day trying to figure out another method. Unable to identify a sure-fire method, I resolved to just go back to the psychologist, tell her what I’d done and see if she could show me a way to walk into the future.

It would be nearly two years before I recognized my attraction to another woman was undeniably sexual. For GRITS (girls raised in the South), discovering you’re a lesbian at 20 is a lot like discovering that you’re Black at 20, after enjoying the privileges of the White majority all of your life. Except Black people don’t embarrass their families by being Black. And Black families don’t expect their children to hide the fact that they are Black to avoid social embarrassment or upsetting Grandma. And Black churches don’t demonize their Black members.

Fortunately for me, by the time I discovered my sexuality, I had developed a stronger sense of myself and was only briefly despondent. I was afraid for a minute that this would mean I couldn’t be a mother, which I had longed to be as far back as I can remember. The strength was fostered in large measure by an amazing teacher I’d had in high school, who made me feel that I was not only worthy but exceptional. In fact, this teacher was the first person I told about my newly discovered sexuality, and she’s remained a mentor and dear friend for nearly 30 years now.

Sadly, not every questioning, terrified teenager has a mentor like mine, nor do they know where to find one. That’s why groups such as the LIKE ME® Organization are so critical to helping these young men and women see their worth and, most importantly, that they are not alone. There are many, many others like them, like ME.

If I could sit down with every young person who ever thought of ending his or her life, I would tell them that it gets so much better. And every day brings unexpected surprises. For me, 13 years TO THE DATE after that miserable March evening in high school, I gave birth to my first child, which was without a doubt the happiest day of my life. And when I chose to have her, I knew that I was not only worthy of having a child, but that I would be an amazing mother to her and any other children I had. And I am. What a surprise it was for me to realize that I’m an amazing daughter, too. My parents love who I am and the life that I’ve made for myself and my children. They’re proud of me.

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