When I was a little girl, my family and I went to church every Sunday. As the choir sang, I used to fall asleep in my mother’s lap. My sister once joked that because of my name, I must have thought that the choir was singing lullabies to me. I grew up knowing that I would always be protected by an all-mighty creator, and that if that didn’t work out, my parents would always be there for me too.
In middle school, when I realized that the religious symbols and text that held so much meaning to the rest of my family held nothing more than sentimental value to me, I hid my new beliefs from my parents. I went to church, prayed and sang alongside them, all the while feeling resentment towards my old religion. The remains of my religious soul burned with guilt when the pastor would speak about having faith in God and obeying one’s parents.
In high school, when I wanted to come out to my parents as being gay, I anxiously anticipated what their reactions would be. My parents are undoubtedly very conservative and religious, but when my cousin came out as gay before, they were happy for him and excited by the cute pictures of him and his boyfriend. When I told them what I had been hiding from them, my dad immediately got up from his seat and hugged me. My mom followed, and they both comforted me and said that they loved me no matter who I am or who I love. They did not wait to remark on how surprised they were that out of my siblings, their one gay child was not my brother.
When during my freshman year at W&L I begrudgingly went as my hallmate’s date to a fraternity homecoming party, I told myself that I would be there long enough to take pictures and leave as soon as I could. Just as my endurance for social events wavered, I stepped out onto the porch of the fraternity house and sat down next to the first person I ever saw in person that pulled off both a beard and a side-swept haircut. As someone who came from a small town in the Midwest where men look more like the animals they hunt and pose with in their Facebook pictures, I was entranced. When he and I started dating, the identity that I had spent years building shattered. I wondered how I could be so many people at once, both to myself and to my family. How could I be someone who for years felt like they only were attracted to women, but still have a relationship with a man? How could I feel comforted when in times of crisis, my parents would tell me that everything is a part of God’s plan, but not believe in God?
When your main source of stability in the world is knowing exactly who you are, you are put into a vulnerable position of both needing change but not being able to easily accept it. In trying to explain how I still feel most comfortable labelling myself as a Catholic and a lesbian, I am met with more dissent than insight. It is difficult to balance between choosing labels that succinctly define who I know myself to be, while also not wanting to be made uncomfortable by the labels that are given to me based on what others see. Especially on a campus where the labels that people believe most define them are put on keychains and water bottles, the labels we choose to give to ourselves are everything.