As of writing this letter I don’t know how our conversation went, but I assume there will be tears and misunderstood words, and hopefully love. I never thought that it would have come about this way, and I hate that I hurt you. I hope you know it was the last thing I ever wanted to do. The journey I’m taking has been a difficult one because for many years I denied myself and lied to myself for love of my family, for love of you. But you had made your opinions painfully clear on numerous occasions and I was terrified to be what you hated. So I decided maybe you were right, maybe it was a choice and I could do that for you. So I dated, and I tried to see the world through heterosexual eyes. I ended up hurting a lot of people and getting hurt by a lot of people. I never seemed to see anyone or anything clearly in my relationships. I dated more guys than I ever mentioned to you because you tended to make such a big deal about boys that I only wanted to mention ones that would stick around. Sadly, there were few that ever did. At the time I was unsure what was wrong with me. I never connected well with guys and any physical interaction felt weird, dirty, awkward, or just wrong. I had never even felt attracted to a guy I dated until Josh. I kept choosing to be straight after that, but I was still so unhappy and so dissatisfied in dating men that I basically decided if my choice was between being with a man or being alone, I’d choose to be alone. The first year I really lived in that choice was during my first year of teaching and I tried not to show it but I was very unhappy. I had become so isolated and depressed that when my job ended there I felt overwhelmed with the urge for change.
In some ways I think I traveled to Uganda the following fall to metaphorically travel back to the person I was when I knew the family I’d be staying with from when I’d done missions with them in Colorado a few years before. Unfortunately, you cannot run away from yourself and in the quiet of those mountains, sitting in that dark hut, I was overwhelmed with uncertainty because I refused to face what I’d been denying for years. Everything remained out of focus, and I suffered in all my relationships there because of it, because I couldn’t connect to anyone for fear they would see who I really was. It was oppressively saddening and lonely. Once I returned, I decided Africa didn’t hold the answer and that I would focus on my career. But that’s when I came to the understanding. It was actually on a drive back from my new school that I was struck with the realization that I could no longer delude myself into believing my own lies. I had a crush on a girl who made YouTube videos, and I couldn’t deny that fact any longer without beginning to question my own sanity. Then I proceeded to cry because I knew this meant that, on one unknown day, I would hurt you so badly. It took me a long time to say it out loud, to accept it about myself, and even longer to come to the place of telling you all because I knew how you felt about it. I don’t know if you are going to say that I’m being selfish, but if it’s considered such, I want you to consider all the hours and hours I racked my brain and poured out my soul to God to find a way not to hurt you like this. But I cannot change who I am. And I won’t change.
After I finally accepted it to myself I began looking back over the decisions in my life and it was as if everything snapped into focus. I often recall the anecdote you shared when you got your glasses for the first time, Mom. It was as if the trees all of a sudden had leaves, and I could see how my denial of self had negatively affected so many of my choices and my relationships. Once I knew this I began to educate myself about the community I would now identify with and what that meant for my life. I watched countless documentaries, read articles, and sought counsel in online videos and friends. Once I had a house and a new job it didn’t take long to meet someone, and that girl was my first girlfriend, my first love, K.
I couldn’t tell you right away and I’m glad this happened after I’d already been in a relationship, because I can now say with 100% percent certainty that this is definitely who I am. From the moment I met K I was giddy, nervous, idiotic almost in her presence. I had read descriptions in teen fiction of this feeling, but then it occurred to me that I had never felt it. It was as if I finally knew what it was to feel normal. I was getting to experience what everyone had been talking about my whole life: falling in love with someone you really care about and are attracted to. I finally felt normal, felt happy, I finally felt right. We were together for almost four months, but we broke up and she moved to California to be a linguist for the military.
I have built stronger friendships and relationships in almost every aspect of my life since I learned to accept myself. I have become more creative in my art and a more compassionate teacher in my classroom. I think that accepting who I am has only made me a better person. While I was in denial I was constantly told of my anger and manipulation and negativity, but almost daily I am encouraged now with affirmation of my character, my caring heart, and kind concern for those around me. My students know full well who I am and love me anyway. We had the beauty review this last weekend and half the kids on that stage listed English as their favorite subject, not because I don’t make them work (they have teachers that don’t make them work) but because I make learning fun and I’m always excited about the material and I’m excited to share it with them because I think they’re awesome. I am so grateful they feel the same. In truth, I had been terrified to tell them but I had promised them fairness and honesty and I would not lie to them about something I wasn’t ashamed of at all. My favorite response so far has been from a boy in the senior class, Jake. When asked what he thought, 6’2 hulking football player Jake leaned forward and said, ‘it doesn’t change who she is.’ The world around us is growing and learning so much.
I have known love and I have known heartbreak, and it took me 26 years to get there because I was denying who I am. After K I know I can never go back to pretending. I want to find someone to be in my life, and I want that person to be a woman. I understand what it means if you don’t want to know about that part of my life, but I want you to understand what ‘choosing your convictions’ over your daughter in this way means. It means we will drift and it means we will never be close, and eventually instead of visiting you regularly it will become a once or twice a year obligation. Even if we never mean for it to happen it will. It means you will never know the person who makes me happy or makes my life worth the living. It means you will never fully know me. I am not currently seeing anyone but that could change anytime. I hope that one day you can love me for exactly who I am and find a way to be proud rather than ashamed of me. I love you and I am willing to find common ground between us but I am not willing to do this if you ‘understanding’ is me slipping notes between the cracks in your walls. I can’t be your dirty laundry, and I can’t stand the idea of feeling shame every time I try to be with my family. To be with the people who are supposed to love me no matter what. I hope we can find a way through this. In so many ways I’ve always considered family to be the only permanent history we have because you taught me family never leaves. I hope that is still true. I love you no matter what, and I forgive you. I am always here to answer your questions in fairness and grace and I hope you can find grace and love for me too. We are all human and where would be if we couldn’t show each other a little grace once in awhile.
Jay Dresden is a 26 year English teacher from Mississippi. She is currently working on her first novel and other projects.