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Slutscapades: Coming Out

by Dr. Helen Shepard

I am a queer, genderqueer (genderfuck), disabled, polyamorous atheist. I’m also fat, which I don’t normally have to tell people, because it’s pretty obvious. But, you can’t see me! I want you to know it’s a part of who I am, which affects how I inhabit this world. I’ve struggled with some of these labels more than others, but they’ve all required me to come out of the closet at some point or another (often times repeatedly).

This article will come to you a month late, but I’m writing it on National Coming Out Day—a celebration, as well as a day of political activism, to bring visibility to homosexuality (and other stigmatized minorities), in order to minimize homophobia and bigotry.

Growing up Mormon, I was taught to believe that homosexuality was a choice; some people would be given the temptation, by God, to engage romantically or sexually with somebody of the same sex. This temptation was not a sin, but acting on it was. So, when boobs became the number one image in my masturbation fantasies and I lusted after my brother’s cheerleader girlfriend, I wasn’t necessarily surprised (and, I didn’t have an identity crisis). Because, even though I thought dicks were gross, my desire to be married in the Mormon Temple was strong enough—and, my lust for David Duchovny was quivering enough—to know that I was going to have no problem with growing up to marry a man. All I had to do, was avoid having sex with women!

I left the LDS church around age 21, by which point I had subliminally accepted the idea that homosexuality was—at least for some—a choice. Despite making out with women (and, eventually having sex with a woman), I still didn’t see myself as gay (or even bisexual). The truth is, I’ve always been pansexual—the shape of somebody’s genitals influenced my attraction less than their personality and their overall gender expression. But, it took me so many years to realize this—I had to have somebody else tell me.

"Everybody always thinks I’m gay," I told my friend. In retrospect, I was looking for acceptance. But, at the time, I just thought it was weird.

"But, Helen, you’re bisexual...aren’t you?" she stated, more than asked.

And, for some reason, in the surgery prep room of the veterinary clinic where I worked, it dawned on me. I liked kissing women, I was sexually attracted to women, I was more attracted to cross-dressing men than I was to masculine-presenting men, I’d had sex with women, I wanted to have sex with more women...oh yeah, I was super gay—what took me so long to realize it?

Throughout my whole life, people "accused" me of being gay, which I now interpret as pointing out I was genderqueer. I never liked shaving my legs or wearing makeup, I have a masculine voice, I carry myself in a strong/imposing way and I have an outgoing personality type. There was a time, in middle school, where I tried, on purpose, to act demure; I wore makeup, I wore feminine clothes and I shaved my legs. But, it never really felt like me and that sort of female presentation simply didn’t make sense. It was so many years later, long after behaving the way I always was, that I even learned the term "genderqueer." I embrace the term for myself now, but, I still haven’t exactly come out to my family. Because, it’s how I’ve always been (and, somehow they’ve always known), but I also know they wouldn’t accept the term if I tried to show it to them.

For my Mormon family, what you are isn’t just how you feel—it’s what you do. They would deny that I’m gay, because I’m not with a woman right now. They would deny that I’m genderqueer because, despite how I identify, I have boobs and I menstruate, THEREFORE I AM A WOMAN. I don’t believe this. Arguably, I’m just a "different sort" of woman. But, I’ve spent a lot of time considering what makes a woman a woman and one thing I know for sure, is that it isn’t the presence or absence of breasts (or, the presence or absence of menstruation). I don’t identify as female; I identify as non-binary—somewhere in the middle—neither one extreme, nor the other.

In a way, I don’t have to verbally come out to my family as genderqueer, because even if they wouldn’t use the word, they know that I am—they were among the first to tell me. The latest thing that drives them crazy, is that I’ve grown out my facial hair. Both of my parents wrote me lengthy emails about how unattractive I am for wearing a beard and how "unless I don’t care about anybody anymore," I should shave my beard. But, my beard is as much a part of me as my boobs and my menstruation—except, growing a beard is even more beautiful, because it’s a reflection of self-confidence, of defying social expectations, of finding comfort and beauty in my own body—for my own sake and not for the sake of conforming to others’ demands on me. Not that it matters, but plenty of people find my beard extremely attractive and those are the types of people—people who know how hard it is to be visibly challenging gender expectations and love me for it—that I want in my life.

So, while my family has always known that I’m genderqueer, one thing I did have to come out about was my atheism. My parents always forced me to go to church and I started questioning it when I was about eight years old. But, to be fair, there was a time—particularly in college—where I firmly believed the LDS church was true and that I would be eternally punished for doing some of the things I did or had done (like, having sex with men and smoking pot).

Leaving the church was a long and painful experience. For years, I lived with literal nightmares, that the second coming was happening and that I had failed to repent on time. For years, my behavior, philosophy and desire strayed from the church. But, I lived in a cycle of sin and repentance, so terrified that the church was actually true that I couldn’t realistically question it. After all, the worst sin possible is to deny The Holy Ghost after you’ve been given a testimony of the church’s truth. Most religions count on this terror to manipulate and abuse their members into a lifetime of submission.

When I took part in a religious panel to educate my university about Mormon beliefs, somebody raised their hand and asked me why Mormons weren’t allowed to read anti-Mormon literature. I was taken aback, because, first of all, I didn’t think I was expressly not allowed, I just felt that it wasn’t recommended. I was operating on faith—something that couldn’t be proven and could easily be weakened by too many questions. Here’s a hint for religious people: if learning more about your religion could destroy your religious beliefs, your religion isn’t true! And, that’s exactly what happened to me (albeit years later).

I’d had enough of the heart-palpitating terror from trying to obey the church, which made increasingly less sense. I had just broken up with a shitty fiancÚ and was questioning everything I believed. And, it was with this mindset, that I sat in front of the computer and Googled "anti-Mormon literature" for the first time. Within 45 minutes, I went from believing that the Church was true—that I was just a sinner who needed to repent—to believing that everything I’d been taught was a lie and there really is no God. Shout out to MormonNoMore.org for helping me get there!

But, how could I tell my family? Mormons believe that families existed before the Earth existed, that we had chosen to be together (since before we had been born) and that sacred covenants made in the Mormon temple meant we could live together for eternity; to leave the church was to turn my back on my eternal family.

For months, I lied. I tuned in to big Mormon events, like the semi-annual General Conference Broadcast from Salt Lake City, by the general leadership of the Church. When I returned home for Christmas, I hid my marijuana and went to church...until one day, it was no longer possible to lie.

My brother sat my parents and myself down, to tell us he was going to propose to his girlfriend of three months. My mom started crying, because, for my brother to marry a non-Mormon, it meant that she would keep him out of the temple, thus preventing him from making those same eternal promises my mother and father had made. My brother had left the church years earlier, but Mormons have a term for this: "inactive members." The general perception is that my brother and others like him were still Mormon—they were just going through a phase of inactivity and the hope remained, that they would repent and come back to the church. For my brother to make a life promise to a non-Mormon woman, meant that he was more seriously turning his back on the church.

I lost my shit.

"Mom, he doesn’t want to go to church again...he’s never going to be Mormon again. He doesn’t believe the church is true, with the same conviction—or more—that you believe the church is true. He’s changed his life, Mom, he’s not coming back. And, I understand his perspective, because I’m not Mormon anymore either. I don’t believe the church is true, I don’t like the church and I don’t believe in God!"

I walked out on both of my parents crying and my brother’s mouth, agape with shock and annoyance, that I had co-opted his big moment, in order to make an announcement of my own—louder and with more defiance and pain.

Coming out doesn’t mean a person is free from people trying to persuade them. Many gay couples have to face questions from family or strangers, like, "Couldn’t you ever change your mind?" or "How can you do something so unnatural?" Similarly, my own family sometimes sends missionaries after me, guilt trips me, shames me and annoyingly insists that I’m just going through a phase.

But, I will never go back to the church. I know this with as much clarity as I know I am sexually attracted to women or that I’m fat. There’s no way to pretend these things aren’t true. It’s taken half a lifetime of reconciliation with myself and I’m still not fully healed. But, I’m comfortable and confident with my queerness, my body and my atheism.

Coming out means different things to different people. Thankfully, because of international movements like Coming Out Day, homosexuality is increasingly less stigmatized around the world and people often shrug at friends who come out—or, people don’t feel a need to hide their true selves in the first place—therefore never really having to come out. But, life isn’t always so easy, either. So, many of us have to come out as something that is a disappointment to society, our parents or our "friends."

Maybe you want to come out as a sex worker, maybe you want to come out as a lover of furry erotica or maybe you need to come out as a victim of relationship abuse and finally leave your shitty partner. Whatever it is, I hope for you that you will find a supportive community. You deserve to be yourself!