Even though society is slowly becoming more accepting of LGBTQ+ people, members of this community still face many challenges.
One such struggle is whether to live in a closeted world, or be open about one’s sexual orientation, preferences and gender identity. Some who have “come out” have lost family, friends and jobs. Others have lost their lives. On the flip side, other people have been embraced by loved ones and even gained friends and community after letting people know they were queer.
A Closeted World of Misery
Growing up, I felt an affinity toward both men and women, but I stayed silent about my attractions because I did not want to be ostracized. That closeted world was frustrating and torturous.
To maintain what I thought people wanted to see, I did my best to ignore my feelings and lived a heteronormative life. But when I went through puberty, both of my “preferences” intensified.
During this time I experienced stress, anxiety, panic attacks and fear. I felt trapped. Alone. Miserable. I thought about suicide, and it became my toxic lover. I wanted to end my misery and pain several times.
I tried to blend in at home, church, school, work and with friends. I feared I would be disowned, especially by my relatives. What would they think, say or do? I was a miserable wreck.
Then, in January 2008 at the age of 20, I was arrested for crimes that I maintain I did not commit. During the trial, my worst fears came true: Evidence of my sexual orientation was paraded in front of a conservative jury.
The Courage to Be “Closet Free”
Later that year, I was sentenced to 27 years to life. This propelled me to lock myself deeper in the closet. But six years later, in 2014, I grew so miserable denying my true self that I made peace with my reality. I needed to unlock that closet door, step out and shut it behind me forever. I was faced with a question: To be or not to be closet free? I decided to come out. It was time for me to finally live.
I was afraid of losing my family, with whom I had gained an even stronger bond since my incarceration. But I also felt strong enough to face the world, even if that was without them.
To my surprise and relief, each member of my immediate family, including my conservative Christian brother, accepted me when I came out. They said they loved me no matter who I was or whom I loved.
Being “closet free,” as I call it, has been an overall positive experience in comparison to the miserable decades-long closeted existence I had endured. I have been able to become a more mature me.
Finding Acceptance and Support
While I still encounter trans-negative and homophobic people, I feel the support of my family, my LGBTQ+ community and its allies. Even within these prison walls, they are a huge support system.
I am proud of who I am today. I am happier and more comfortable. If I happen to love another person who looks like me, so what? I can now proudly express those feelings without shame or guilt. I no longer have to hide the real me.
My experiences have taught me that life is too short to be miserable. I believe it is better to be open about your sexual orientation and gender identity.
Yes, there can be struggles, and some people may be disowned by loved ones. But the LGBTQ+ community provides a huge support network, and there is a chosen family out there ready to embrace us with care and love.
I wish I had had the courage to come out much sooner. I would have saved myself so much trouble and misery. I would have had a happier adolescence.
I would encourage my fellow closeted LGBTQ+ people to step outside that closet even if they don’t have their family’s love and support, which I know I am blessed to have. You have shed too many tears already. There is light at the end of the tunnel. And a beautiful rainbow, too.
Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.