Tag Archives: “Coming out”

Huffington Post: LGBTQ kids living their truths at camp

11 Mar
Meet Rose.

Meet Rose.

I recently wrote a piece in the Huffington Post about Rose and how her involvement in the Ten Oaks Project changed her life.

Rose always knew she wanted to be a girl. She wanted to dress like a girl, play with dolls and wear pink clothes.

Secretly, she could be a girl at home. But outside of her house, she lived a lie and her life as a boy. Rose wasn’t safe enough to live her truths and authentic story.

“I was unhappy and sad before I transitioned,” explains Rose in a beautiful letter. “I wasn’t who I thought I was to be.”

Her life drastically changed when she went to Camp Ten Oaks, a one-week, sleep-away camp for children and youth from LGBTQ identities, families and communities. Camp Ten Oaks is part of the Ten Oaks Project, a Canadian-based organization that engages and supports young people from LGBTQ communities through camp.

Something changed in Rose at camp. She was in a supportive environment and surrounded by others like her, which gave her the courage she needed to live as a girl.

“In that moment, I could see a different future for myself,” Rose says. “If it weren’t for camp, I think I’d still be a boy. And unhappy about my life.”

When I think about the young people who go to Camp Ten Oaks and Project Acorn (Ten Oaks’ other camp for youth), my heart is filled with so much joy. These young people can experience community, belonging and live their truths.

That time I hated dresses and only wanted to play baseball.

That time I hated dresses and only wanted to play baseball.

I think of the Jenna of my past and how my life would’ve been so different if I had a place like Camp Ten Oaks or Project Acorn to call home. Perhaps I would’ve seen a different future for myself at a younger age, which would’ve helped me accept all the pieces of my story sooner.

The sooner these young people can experience this freedom, acceptance and belonging, the sooner they can blossom into the beautiful roses they are meant to be.

Ten Oaks’ bowl-a-thon fundraiser is also coming up on March 21. The group is hoping to raise $40,000 to help send kids to camp. This year’s bowl-a-thon will help subsidize camper registration fees (80 per cent of participants access the sliding scale) and send 10 extra participants to camp.

Please support my bowling team, the Team Players here, so we can help send children and youth like Rose to camp. I’ll write you a personalized haiku or poem based on how much you donate!

On another awesome note, I know I know I know you want to hear this news. Tegan and Sara have also donated several prizes to our bowl-a-thon, including an autographed poster, varsity jacket and a rare vinyl box set collection. You can check out the awesome awesome swag here!

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My op-ed in the Ottawa Citizen: why coming out still matters

18 Feb

Ellen Page, the Canadian actress and star of Juno, recently came out as gay. Since our society is obsessed with other people’s sexuality, the media exploded with this news.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer (LGBTQ) visibility is so important, but I couldn’t help but feel bothered by the amount of coverage she received. Why did people care so much about her sexuality?

It’s because coming out still matters.

We live in a heteronormative society in which opposite-sex attraction is seen as the norm. People are seen as straight until proven otherwise.

When I was struggling to come to terms with being gay, I spent countless hours crying in my bedroom and desperately searching the Internet for stories about people who were LGBTQ. These brave people – real or fictional – helped me realize I wasn’t alone and their experiences made a huge difference for me.

I could see myself in their stories. I could see myself in Page’s story.

There’s still so much stigma associated with being LGBTQ, and Page’s coming out highlights the need for us to continue sharing our stories without any shame. You can check out my op-ed in the Ottawa Citizen here and in the paper tomorrow.

I will continue speaking my story. (Caro Ibrahim/Pecha Kucha)

I will continue speaking my story. (Caro Ibrahim/Pecha Kucha)

When you have a few minutes, please watch Page’s speech. It’s beautiful, powerful, courageous and honest. Our stories can help people understand the world around us and help individuals know they aren’t alone in their experiences.

Page wanted to make a difference by telling her story. I hope I can do the same by continuing to share mine. 

Some birthday reflections on coming out publicly last year

16 Oct

My birthday is coming up again, which means I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting lately! Last year at this time, I stepped out of my comfort zone in big, exciting and scary ways.

I finally shared my story of being gay and Christian publicly on my blog.

Leading up to those three posts on lessons I’ve learned from coming out as gay, I went back and forth on whether or not I would share them. Deep down I knew I had to post them, but the fearful and put-together Jenna was afraid of the potential consequences, judgment and disappointment. This is what was running through my head in my journal the day before my post:

“Aaaaahhh I’m finally doing it! I’m nervous and scared, but so excited! … I can’t believe I’m doing this. It just makes sense and I’m ready. I’ve gone back and forth this past week, but I can’t doubt myself. I’m never going to be any more ready than now. I’ve given myself months to mentally prepare for these posts. This is for me. I’m regaining my voice and it’s such a beautiful thing.”

And then the posts went out. I could have never predicted what the response would be like. I was completely overwhelmed with the love, encouragement and support I received from so many people.

Although I was already out to everyone who needed to know, it was pretty special to receive that level of support from so many others. For someone who thrives on using her words, my journal the day after demonstrated my loss for them.

“Wow. I can’t believe yesterday just happened. It’s overwhelming. So much love and support. I just never imagined it’d be like this… I’m so overwhelmed by everything. It’s a relief and freeing, but I think I’m also crying for the Jenna of my past. Man, did she have a rough go at life. But I can let it go. I don’t have to hold onto any of it any longer. I’m free. I’m so free.”

I never knew freedom could taste so sweet.

This is how great I felt. (Kyle Vaughn Roerick)

Freedom is dancing by yourself and still feeling awesome! (Kyle Vaughn Roerick)

Over this past year, I’ve grown in many new, exciting and difficult ways. I’ve learned so much about myself, as well as from those around me. My blog posts opened up some really beautiful relationships with people, reconnections with old friends and hopefully helped foster a number of respectful conversations.

Thank you so much for being part of my journey and sharing your stories with me. These posts reaffirmed my passion of helping people speak their voices, as well as my desire to promote respectful dialogue between different communities.

I have a busy upcoming week, but will hopefully share a post on the power of a single story over the next few days. Until then, check out my three-part series of 30 lessons I’ve learned from coming out as gay.

//

A letter to my younger self: coming out, supporting LGBTQ youth and a bowl-a-thon

13 Mar

Dear Jenna,

First off, I want to tell you just how awesome you are. That’s right…

YOU. ARE. AWESEOME.

True story. (Kathleen Clark)

True story. (Kathleen Clark)

Now that your awesomeness is out of the way, I want you to know there’s nothing wrong with who you are. You’re beautiful and amazing just the way you are, and there’s nothing broken or damaged in you that needs to be fixed. Trust me on this one.

Unfortunately, you’re going to hear some really hurtful, hateful and judgmental comments that are going to make you think otherwise. Please don’t believe those lies.

These words are going to make you cry.
These words are going to make you hate yourself.
These words are going to make you wish you could be someone else.

No matter how much you try to pray away being gay, it won’t go away. 

You won’t be able to say those words now or admit this part of your story, but one day you will. And don’t worry, there’s no pressure to admit these words until you’re ready.

I’m not going to sugar coat your journey or pretend it’s going to be easy. It’s going to be really hard. You’re going to spend many nights crying yourself to sleep. This struggle is going to consume your thoughts and you’re going to wonder if it’s even possible to tell people your secret – let alone your story.

But one day, you’ll muster up the courage to write those three words in your journal. Another day, you’ll gain even more courage to tell the first person. And another day, you’ll share your story online and many people will read about your fears, thoughts and lessons learned.

And you’ll be okay.

In fact, you’re going to be excited to share your story. You’ll also be deeply moved by the encouragement and support you receive.

You’ll be scared to open up like this, but you’ll want other people to know there’s nothing wrong with who they are. You’re going to learn about the importance of telling your story and helping others know they’re not alone in their experiences. You’ll want them to know just how awesome they are.

One day, your passions and gifts will come together in exciting ways. Believe it or not, sports aren’t going to be your life. Your knee injury will prevent you from playing hockey and soccer competitively again, but you’ll find your voice through poetry and music.

The pain and loss will be worth what you’ll find.

You’re even going to share your work with those around you. Not only will it be a healing space for you to find and speak your voice, but you’ll encourage others to do the same as well. This will be a huge passion of yours.

You’ll get connected with an organization called the Ten Oaks Project, a volunteer-driven group that supports children and youth from LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, two-spirit, queer) communities. You’re going to lead a spoken word workshop at Project Acorn, a camp for LGBTQ youth, and provide a space for young people to speak their voices.

At the camp, you’ll see beautiful spaces of acceptance and young people able to express who they are. You’re going to wish you were involved in an organization like this when you were younger, and maybe you wouldn’t have hated yourself for so long. But you can’t look back and you’ll be happy this space is available for other LGBTQ youth.

You’ll love all the amazing work the Ten Oaks Project does and will want to support them in other ways. You’re going to gather some awesome friends together to get involved in the Ten Oaks Project’s bowl-a-thon fundraiser and call yourselves, The Crayolas. You love bowling, awesome friends, important causes and want to dress up in a fun outfit (and maybe wear a cape).

Costumes aside, many of the masks you used to hide behind will be removed. Once you stop fighting this part of yourself, you can start being, living and tapping into all the beautiful pieces of who you are.

After all those years of guilt, shame and fear, you’ll realize just how awesome you are and will finally be comfortable in your own skin. You’re no longer afraid to share who you are with those around you.

Keep being you and don’t let anyone take that away from you.

Your older, wiser and still awesome self,
Jenna

***

I wish I could go back in time and tell my younger self just how awesome she is. Since I can’t do that, here’s to all the “Jenna’s” out there who believe they’re damaged and not worth loving. Please don’t believe those lies.

If you’re struggling to come to terms with your sexuality, please check out a three-part post I wrote, 30 lessons I’ve learned from coming out as gay. You’re not alone in your experiences.

There are many LGBTQ youth who suffer so much shame, stigma and marginalization. They need to know there’s a space for them and there’s nothing wrong with who they are.

Please support all the amazing work the Ten Oaks Project does and help my team, The Crayolas, reach our goal of raising $1,500. You can click on the link here and donate. Every dollar counts and we appreciate all your support!

When being right ruins your relationships

19 Feb

Who likes to be wrong? No one. Who enjoys being right? Everyone!

But have you ever chose being right over having a relationship with someone? I’ve done it and it has also happened to me. The person on the receiving end is left feeling hurt, unloved, defeated and voiceless.

When I came out as gay, I had some really tough conversations with people who were close to me. They deeply hurt me, and made me feel like I was wrong and worthless:

–       Jenna, you’re not gay.
–       This isn’t who you are and God didn’t make you this way.
–       The Bible is against homosexuality and I’m going to pray for you.

Put yourself in my heavy and shameful shoes, and imagine what that felt like.

The Lennon Wall in Prague. (Jenna Tenn-Yuk)

How often do you imagine the other side? (Jenna Tenn-Yuk)

After having some really tough conversations with one of those people, they finally realized how much they were hurting me. I vividly remember when this person apologized for their actions and what they said to me:

“Jenna, I chose being right over having a relationship with you.”

This person was so caught up in ensuring I knew what the Bible says about homosexuality and being what they saw as right. We were drifting apart, and there was a lack of openness and compassion in our conversations.

I also realized I wanted to be right over having a relationship with this person, as well as other people. When others wouldn’t accept that I was gay, I interpreted their comments as they didn’t love and respect me. I needed them to know they were wrong and the pain they were causing me.

I’ve seen the damage that happens when we aren’t willing to listen and hear the other side. I’m not saying we simply brush off difficult conversations or don’t hold people accountable for their words and actions. However, if the principle of being right ruins our relationships, I have trouble believing that’s always the best road to take.

It has taken some time, but I’ve come to realize it’s not about having people necessarily accept my sexuality. I know there are many people out there who won’t accept this part of me. However, it’s about listening and respecting me, and attempting to understand my story.

I also desire to offer that same respect.

I want to have that dialogue, even if that means having people ask if I’m sure I’m gay and telling me what the Bible says about homosexuality. These aren’t my favourite conversations, but they’re worth having if I want understanding and change to happen between Christian and LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer) communities.

When you have a chance, check out a recent doc on CTV’s W5 on the importance of parents embracing their gay children. The doc is about Scott Heggart, an Ottawa hockey player who is gay and the support he has received from his family. It was also neat to see Kevin Newman, a CTV journalist, insert himself into the story and share his experiences of having a son who is gay.

It’s always beautiful to see parents support their children who are LGBTQ. Unfortunately, that’s not the experience for everyone and many LGBTQ people experience shame, guilt and self-hatred due to that lack of support.

If you are someone who has had little contact with people who are LGBTQ, please take the time to watch this doc. Do your research. Talk to people who are LGBTQ and put yourself in their shoes. If being gay meant having many people see you as the “other” and less than human, is that the road you would want to take?

When have you chose being right over having a relationship?

The first time I came out as gay in my poetry

25 Jan

You know what’s scary? Performing spoken word poetry in front of strangers. You know what’s even scarier? Performing spoken word in front of strangers at a slam competition, and telling them your deepest fears and secrets.

That happened to me last year at Ottawa’s first Women’s Slam Championship. It was the first time I shared my difficult struggle of being gay and Christian in front of a large audience and at a slam. Terrifying, right?

Last January, Ottawa held its first Women’s Slam Championship to create a higher profile for women in slam and spoken word around the city. Ottawa’s slam scene is known to be competitive and male dominated, and VERSe Ottawa, the organizers of VERSeFest, hoped to showcase the breadth of talent among female voices and encourage more women to get involved.

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Some “movers and shakers” at Ottawa’s first Women’s Slam Championship. (via Mia Morgan)

The 12 poets were chosen as some of the “movers and shakers” from throughout the history of the spoken word scene in Ottawa. I was honoured to be part of that list and to share the stage with such talented poets.

Leading up to the slam, I knew I wanted to share a piece I wrote about being gay and Christian. I had never shared that poem in public and it was an issue deep on my heart. I hadn’t heard many poets in Ottawa talk about the complexities and difficulties of negotiating one’s faith and sexuality, and I felt compelled to speak.

I knew I wasn’t the only one who had experienced this struggle, and I couldn’t be silent when I had this platform to speak from and knew many people wrestled with these issues. I wanted to help people know they weren’t alone and to also challenge the notion that it’s impossible to be gay and Christian.

However, the thought of coming out in such a public space petrified me. I tried to convince myself I couldn’t do it and it was too vulnerable, but I knew I had to speak this story. 

I knew I had to speak my story.

I had already been out to everyone who needed to know, but I’d never shared my sexuality in front of a huge group, let alone more than 100 people at the Arts Court Theatre.

What would people think of me? Would they judge me?

As I stood in front of the sold out crowd at Arts Court, I knew I couldn’t turn back. No matter what the score, reception or outcome would be, I had to speak my story. I had to gain my voice back in this area of my life where I’ve experienced so much shame, guilt, self-hatred and fear.

After I performed my piece on my struggles of being gay and Christian, some powerful and liberating words repeated through my head.

I AM FREE.

This is what freedom looks like. (Pearl Pirie)

This is what freedom looks like. (Pearl Pirie)

I had taken a huge step and it didn’t matter what people thought of me. Maybe they judged me for being gay. Or perhaps for being Christian. Or maybe they connected with my story and knew they weren’t the only one trying to negotiate these parts of their identities.

I had never been to a slam like that before. Everyone was so supportive and the competition wasn’t at the forefront – an aspect of slam I don’t like. You can check out a recap of last year’s slam, written by Averie Macdonald.

I’ve always struggled with my feelings for slam. It’s a beautiful space for people to speak their voices and talk about issues they deeply care about. However, it’s also a space of competition where poets may perform certain poems in order to get high scores.

Despite the politics I dislike about slam, this platform has opened up spaces for myself and many others to speak powerful stories. I hope this slam does the same for the other poets performing on Saturday, as well as inspire those in the audience to see ways they can use their voices.

Please come and support this slam. Rusty Priske, the slammaster of Capital Slam, wrote a powerful piece about the lack of support for women in Ottawa’s slam and spoken word community. It’s going to be an amazing show and you don’t want to miss out!

I also have some upcoming shows I’d like to share with you.

Consent Is Sexy Week closing celebration – Friday, January 25, 2013 at 8pm at the University of Ottawa.

Ottawa’s second Women’s Slam Championship – Saturday, January 26, 2013 at 7pm at the Mercury Lounge.

Mary Lambert’s GOOD FEELINGS MUSIC AND POETRY 2013Mary Lambert is a talented spoken word artist and musician from Seattle, and sings on Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ song, Same Love. I’m excited to be part of this show on Tuesday, February 12, 2013 at 9pm at the Rainbow Bistro.

The POWERofWORDS (SLAM) – Saturday, February 16, 2013 at 6:30pm at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian.

Part 3: 30 lessons I’ve learned from coming out as gay

19 Oct

This past week has been quite an emotional ride for me. Two of my closest friends got married over the weekend and I felt so honoured to be part of their beautiful day.

I sang. I laughed. I cried. I danced.

After they were announced as husbands, I fought back tears as a beautiful rendition of The Prayer was sung. I obviously didn’t want my makeup to run or get puffy eyes! My friends never thought this day was possible for them. I thought about the Jenna of my past who never imagined she could accept her sexuality, let alone believe this was possible for her, too.

Some of my favourite people.

I’ve been so touched by the overwhelming love, encouragement and support I’ve received over these past few days. Like Anderson Cooper who publicly came out a few months ago (yes, I just compared myself to Anderson Cooper), those who needed to know I was gay,* knew my story. This wasn’t a part of me I was hiding, but it has been really encouraging to see many people (including those I haven’t spoken to in years) express their support.

It has also been exciting for me to share the lessons I’ve learned from coming out as gay. I always knew I would share my story, but it always felt like a burden and I never thought I would be eager to open up. Each step I’ve taken in my journey has moved me to this point where I’m proud to share who I am with you. Believe me, it hasn’t been easy getting there!

In my first post, I shared lessons I wish I knew. In my second post, I talked about some mistakes I’ve made. In my last post, I’m going to share 10 lessons that have helped me come out as gay.

*Note: When I say gay, feel free to substitute LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer) or your experience into that spot.  

Part 3: What helped me

  1. Keep breathing. There were many moments where I was paralyzed with fear, guilt and shame. I had no idea how I would tell anyone my secret and never believed people would accept this part of me. In those moments, all I could was just breathe. That’s all I needed to do. And I listened to Ingrid Michaelson’s song, Keep Breathing, many times.
  2. Let people love you. I used to be very closed off and saw vulnerability as a sign of weakness. I hated myself and didn’t believe I was worth loving, so I didn’t let people into this part of my life. Since no one knew, I didn’t have anyone to tell me how much I was loved, and being gay didn’t change my worth or value. However, when I stated opening up and allowed people to love and support me, I started to believe I was worth loving. One of my friend’s has always said to me, “Jenna, I wish you could see yourself through my eyes.” I know I’m getting there. Let people into those “dark” and lonely places – it makes them less scary when you know you’re not alone.
  3. “I’m not that gay.” Yes, you’re that gay and that’s totally fine. I told my best friend I wasn’t that gay because I wore dresses, painted my nails and “looked girly.” We laughed and both knew how ridiculous I was being, but I needed to be “not that gay” in those moments to simply survive my story. Eventually, you’ll be become more comfortable and will tell that same friend just how gay you are. Baby steps. It may take you a little while to get there (whatever your “there” is), but everyone (including you) misses out when you’re not fully you.
  4. Laugh or else you’ll cry. This was awesome advice from another best friend. Laughing is one of my favourite things to do, but the weight of my story robbed me of that joy in many situations. I spent many nights crying myself to sleep, hoping my feelings would just go away. They didn’t. There were many difficult moments I had to laugh at or life would be too heavy – like coming out to my parents in a car, on separate occasions.
  5. It’s okay to cry. Laughing is great, but you also need to cry. When you suppress and hide a secret for a long time, there’s a lot of baggage and hurt that needs to be released. Let your emotions out and allow yourself to feel. It’s draining and exhausting, but you need to get it out and you’ll feel better in the long run.
  6. Saying three words out loud. I kid you not, I actually practiced saying, “I am gay,” in front of the mirror. I felt silly for doing it, but every time I said those words out loud or came out to someone (and not just to my reflection), the next time was easier. I realized these weren’t words to be afraid of and I was no longer going to let them bring me guilt and shame.
  7. Just escape. I’m a thinker and dealing with my sexuality constantly consumed my thoughts. Find other outlets that will help you turn off, so you won’t always feel the intensity of the situation. Exercising helped. Listening to music. Watching mindless TV. Travelling and going to different environments. It’s okay to escape – in fact, it’s almost necessary in order to survive those really tough moments. And one day, you’ll wake up and this won’t be the most pressing concern in your life.
  8. Visibility and people’s stories. I can’t tell you how many nights I spent alone in my room, searching the Internet for stories, books, movies, shows, websites, etc. about people who were gay. It was encouraging to know I wasn’t the only one in my situation and even helpful to discover there were lesbians out there who wore dresses (thank you, Portia!) When you don’t know a lot of people who are gay, the Internet is a great start to know you’re not alone. But when you’re ready, meeting gay people in real life helps out a lot more.
  9. Finding my voice. I’ve always been a passionate person who has excelled at many things. Despite these talents, I didn’t really know who I was and was definitely afraid of discovering the real Jenna. As a result, I didn’t know what my voice sounded like because I was too concerned about saying the right words and pleasing those around me. As I discovered who I was and learned to love myself, I found my voice through spoken word poetry and music. These venues allowed me to write, process and work through the difficult parts of my story. I encourage you to get to know your voice and to find those passions that bring you alive. It’s amazing what you’ll discover, and the amount of potential and power you have when you are fully you.
  10. Speaking my voice. For a long time, I didn’t know what my voice sounded like and I was afraid of using it. I was scared that my voice and story would be rejected, so I kept silent in certain areas of my life. As I stepped out of my comfort zone and shared my story, I’ve experienced so much freedom, healing, power and redemption. I’ve also seen parts of my journey that have caused shame, bring hope and freedom in the lives of those around me. The more I shared my voice through poetry, music, lectures, workshops and coffee dates, the less shame I felt in sharing my experiences. Speaking my story in front of one person has been just as crucial in my journey as opening up on my blog, so do what works for you and don’t devalue those little steps. It’s incredible what happens when you’re willing to risk and be vulnerable, which can give others the freedom to do so as well. We all have something beautiful to share with the world, so don’t be afraid of the power of your voice and story.

I wouldn’t be the person I am today if I wasn’t gay. Perhaps I wouldn’t write poetry. Or maybe I wouldn’t be passionate about helping people find and speak their voices. I know what it’s like to be voiceless and I never want to go back to those places – and neither should you. It’s so empowering and freeing to speak your voice and break the silences in your life.

If you’re someone who is struggling to come to terms with your sexuality, please tell someone. You shouldn’t go through this journey alone. If you don’t know anyone you can tell, please tell me.

I’ll give you a virtual or real high five depending on where you live!

If you’re someone who has had little contact with people who identity as LGBTQ or believe it’s wrong, please listen to their stories before you jump to any conclusions about who they are. Even if you don’t agree, your words have power and can cause a lot of damage in people’s lives.

I’m still letting go of the past hurts and bitterness I’ve accumulated over many years, but I know it’s not worth holding onto. We need to listen to each other’s stories and attempt to understand where each person is coming from.

How can we expect change to occur if we’re not even open to hearing the other person out?

I also want you to know these lessons aren’t only for people who are LGBTQ, unless of course you need to practice saying, “I am gay.” We’ve all had those moments of fear, shame, feeling different and believing we’re the only ones going through our experiences.

When we can recognize our shared humanity and how much we have in common, I believe we can begin to see people as people – instead of the limited boxes and labels we put others in. I don’t think any of us want to be boxed in, so why would we pass those judgments on those around us?

I also want to thank all the amazing friends, family and even strangers who have helped me gain my voice back. You have no idea how much you’ve impacted my life by allowing me to speak, letting me be me and simply being there as I cried. For someone who loves and thrives on using words, I can’t fully communicate my gratitude for your love, encouragement, support and laughter in those tough (and awesome) times.

This post has been on my heart and mind for a very long time and I appreciate you taking the time to hear my story. I hope you can give the same respect to those around you and listen to their stories, as well as sharing yours. Your voice and story matter!

If you’ve enjoyed my posts and perhaps some spoken word or music you’ve stumbled upon, please subscribe to my blog and/or send me a message. I would love to hear from you! There’s so much beauty and power when we can connect and learn from one another’s experiences.

One more thing… HAVE FUN! Life can be really hard, but there are so many beautiful, exciting and amazing parts of our experiences. The fall is my favourite time of the year, so if you have the option, go and throw some leaves in the air because you’re awesome!

What has helped you come out?

Up in the air. (Kathleen Clark)

So happy! (Kathleen Clark)

Part 2: 30 lessons I’ve learned from coming out as gay

17 Oct

In my first post, I shared 10 lessons I wish I knew, like the importance of taking those little steps and how acceptance starts with you. In this post, I’d like to share 10 things not to do when coming out as gay.*

Looking back at my journey, I made a lot of mistakes I wish I could take back. Come to think of it, I do a lot of silly things and don’t always make the best decisions. Last week, I wanted to go on a swing and actually felt nauseous after being on it for a few minutes. You know you’re getting old when…

Reliving my childhood. (Kathleen Clark)

Anyway, back to my post and my less-than-stellar choices. These experiences are now part of my story and if I ever become a comedian, some of this material is gold! I hope you can learn from my experiences and realize you’re not the only one negotiating these various parts of your identity.

*Note: When I say gay, feel free to substitute LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer) or your experience into that spot.

Part 2: What not to do

  1. Don’t go through this alone. If I could go back, this advice would have helped me the most. It’s scary, lonely and heavy to hold this burden all by yourself. You shouldn’t and you don’t need to. I kept my secret for many years, and the weight and fear affected many other areas of my life. So please find someone you trust or even call a helpline – just someone – and let them support you through this journey. It’s amazing how freeing it is to have even one person in your corner that you can talk to.
  2. Never come out while driving in a car. I came out to both of my parents on separate occasions in the car. It was much worse when I was driving. Picture this: the rain is pouring, you’re speeding on the highway, your emotions are exploding and you can barely see through your eyes because you’re crying. You may have to pull over because you’re endangering many people’s lives. Avoid this option at all costs. But if you ever become a comedian, this material is awesome!
  3. You are not a label. You are a sentence. These are some wise words from my best friend when I was really struggling to come to terms with my sexuality. Since I couldn’t accept who I was, I saw myself through a very limited lens and I didn’t believe others would accept me. It wasn’t until I began to love myself before I could see that being gay was a piece of me, but not all of me. I was still the same Jenna who played music, laughed a lot and was obsessed with Kettleman’s bagels. Some things never change.
  4. Don’t shut down the conversation. When you’re struggling to love who you are and finally open up, you just want people to accept you. Some people who were very close to me didn’t believe I was gay, let alone think it was okay for me to be gay. This was extremely hurtful and although they said they loved me, I didn’t trust their words if they didn’t accept this part of me. As a result, I was very defensive and shut down any dialogue, which really hurt a number of my relationships. However, I’ve come to realize it’s not necessarily about having people accept who you are, but more about giving you the same respect they desire. If I can help people realize gay people are people, and go grocery shopping, sit in coffee shops and may even be a friend, family member or co-worker, then it’s worth having the conversation. Fear, difference and the unknown prevent us from getting to know people as people. It’s crucial to listen – on both sides – if you want to be heard.
  5. It’s not your responsibility to help people get it. You may feel like it’s your responsibility to help people understand what it’s like to be gay. Visibility is important and you’ll have to share your story at moments, but you don’t always have to walk alongside everyone. Also, you may never be able to help some people understand what it’s like to be gay, which is really tough but it’s not your burden to carry. It’s absolutely exhausting. Believe me, I’ve done it many, many times.
  6. You don’t have to smile. I love to smile, but I had developed a bad habit of telling people I was fine when I was falling apart. I became even more polished when I was struggling to accept my sexuality, and didn’t want people to notice what I saw as “cracks.” People could see through my smile and if I wasn’t happy, I didn’t have to pretend. It’s okay not to have it together. None of us actually do.
  7. Gay or Christian? I grew up Christian and went to church, Christian school and was involved in a number of faith-based organizations. In these communities, it was very clear that being gay was wrong and one of the worst sins – despite the fact Jesus never talked about homosexuality and never measured sin. I suppressed my sexuality growing up, but I knew a part of me was missing. As I came out, I repressed my spirituality and also realized a lack there. I’ve seen too many people sacrifice who they are in order to fit because they don’t believe these parts can work together. I’m still negotiating these parts of my identity – pieces of me I’ve hated and been ashamed about at various times – but I’m hopeful I don’t have to choose one or the other. There needs to be a place in the church and in LGBTQ communities for everyone to bring all the amazing aspects of themselves to the table. And you know what’s interesting? I’ve never felt condemned by God. It was always people and the church.
  8. You can’t pray away the gay. I spent many years trying to pray away being gay. It was extremely draining and obviously didn’t work. Looking back, I wish I focused on asking God to help me love and accept who I was instead of taking away a part of me I hated. In those desperate moments, I just needed to know I was a valuable human being and there was nothing wrong with me.
  9. Support comes in different shades. When you’re figuring out who you are and struggling to accept being gay, you may take out your frustrations and confusion on those who are trying to support you. I remember this one conversation where I burst out in anger and tears at someone close to me. After I yelled at him, he said, “Jenna, why are you getting mad at me? I’m on your team.” In that moment, I realized his support looked different than others and I couldn’t expect him to say what I wanted to hear. That person hasn’t always said the right thing, but he has been there for me since the very beginning and loves me. You’re not perfect either, so don’t expect the “perfect” responses.
  10. Gay people aren’t scary. Since I couldn’t accept who I was, I projected my insecurities onto other LGBTQ people and told myself I wasn’t “that gay.” I was placing people into the same boxes I didn’t want to be put in, and I was afraid of being associated with them. As I opened up and started connecting with more LGBTQ people, I realized how much we had in common, instead of focusing on our visible differences. Many of the people I was afraid of are some of the most amazing people I know, and they ended up supporting and helping me out a lot. There’s something special and important when someone can look you in the eye and say, “I know what you’re going through. I’ve been there.”

As you can see from my mistakes, going through this journey alone may cause you to experience self-hatred and shame, and you may project your insecurities onto other people. Please don’t go through this process alone, and allow those around you to help you see just how fabulous you are!

It has also been a huge challenge for me to negotiate the various parts of my identity, especially growing up in communities that told me being gay was wrong, shameful and seemingly less than human. Although I’ve been extremely hurt by many Christians, shutting down the conversation and distancing myself from Christian communities won’t solve my own issues, let alone larger ones.

It’s still quite difficult for me to speak to people who spew homophobic comments and tell me what the Bible says about being gay (without exploring the passages themselves), but I’m willing to have the conversation. I’m willing to go to those hard places and regain my voice back.

I also want to be a voice for many LGBTQ people who have left the church and/or believe there is no place for them there. These spaces claim to be safe, loving and accepting, yet many people (not only those who identity as LGBTQ) don’t feel welcomed in those doors.

A huge problem I see in religious and LGBTQ communities is the lack of dialogue happening between these groups. I’ve been embedded and connected in both these spaces and have actually found many similarities – believe it or not!

If we want real understanding and change to occur, we need to talk about these issues and actually listen in a respectful way. We must have the dialogue and validate one another’s voices, even if it’s difficult, uncomfortable and painful. These conversations are crucial if we hope to move towards understanding and change.

Be sure to return for my last post this week where I’ll share 10 lessons that have helped me, including saying, “I am gay,” in front of the mirror. I’m not even joking – it actually helped!

If you could share some advice, what wouldn’t you do?

Part 1: 30 lessons I’ve learned from coming out as gay

15 Oct

Birthdays are a time of reflection for me and to see how far I’ve come in the last year. These past several years have been the most difficult and painful time of my life, yet the most beautiful, creative and healing.

For those of you who don’t know my story, I finally had the courage to admit to myself and to others that I was gay.* Cue the gasps and join the other 99 per cent of people who were shocked with this information.

It wasn’t an easy thing to admit, especially growing up Christian and constantly being seen as polished and put together. Being gay didn’t seem to fit the “Jenna” package I had created and thought I had to be – or so I believed.

This post has been forming in my heart, mind and fingers for quite some time. I’m scared to put such personal parts of my story out in the public and I don’t want to be reduced to simply being this label. However, I know the impact of people being vulnerable and sharing their stories, and the importance of knowing you’re not the only one going through your experiences.

I also think about all the other LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer) people who are suffering in silence and believe they’re not worth loving. You may be one of those people reading this post right now. I was one of those people for many years and I would never wish that experience on anyone.

As a result, I can no longer be silent in my story.

I’ll never have the opportunity to tell the Jenna of my past just how awesome she is and there’s nothing damaged in her that needs to be fixed. It breaks my heart to think of my former self who experienced so much unnecessary pain, guilt, tears and self-hatred. However, I do know there are other “Jennas” out there who don’t believe they’re valuable, beautiful and worth loving.

You are so awesome and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. 

It’s so true, I even made you a sign! (Kathleen Clark)

I also think about the amount of stigma around people who are LGBTQ and the alarming number of youth in this group who think about, attempt or actually die by suicide. This is a real issue facing many LGBTQ people due to the homophobia that is still rampant in our society, especially in certain communities.

I’ve learned so much in my life and I want to share 30 lessons I’ve learned from coming out as gay. This is part 1 of 3 posts, and I’ll share the other lessons over the next few days. I would love to hear what you’ve learned, and I believe it’s powerful when we can connect and grow from one another’s stories.

*Note: When I say gay, feel free to substitute LGBTQ or your experience into that spot.  

Part 1: What I wish I knew

  1. You will survive. Listen to Gloria, it’s true. I believed if I said the words out loud, my world would end. I thought people would hate and no longer respect me, and I was afraid of losing everything. So far, I’m still here and have had a lot of support from many people.
  2. You are amazing just the way you are. You may not believe how awesome you are now, but you are. Look at my sign! I tried to change and hide who I was, and it was way too much work micromanaging every word, action and even the types of people I associated with. There’s nothing wrong with you that needs to be fixed, so just be you.
  3. Give yourself time. Just because you tell one person doesn’t mean you have to tell everyone. Coming out is a process and it takes time to become comfortable in your own skin. Sometimes I would take one step forward and eight steps back, and would get frustrated with myself. It’s an ongoing journey, so give yourself some slack and time to work through the challenges you’ll face.
  4. The little steps matter. You won’t realize it in the moment, but every step counts. Like writing it down. Or telling the first person. Or the 19th person. Talking openly about your sexuality in a coffee shop without whispering. Buying a book about being gay instead of ordering it over the Internet. These steps may seem like nothing, but these little victories are important so give yourself a high five!
  5. Some people will give you a high five. True story. Receiving a high five was probably one of my favourite reactions after I came out to a good friend. When you’re hiding you never believe people will love you for this part, let alone give you a high five or love you even more. Many people do, so please don’t go through this alone.
  6. Others will hurt you, but they still love you. Here are some of my “favourite” reactions: “You’re not gay. Are you sure? No really, are you sure? It’s just a phase. But you’re so pretty. God didn’t make you this way.” I’ve had people deny who I was and tell me why I was feeling this way. It seemed like they had the solution for my experience and could “fix” me. Despite these hurtful words, I know those people really love me, but it took a while for me to get there.**
  7. Everyone is gay. Okay, that’s not true, but you’re not the only one. When I started coming out, it seemed like everyone was gay. I ran into old friends and acquaintances who I discovered were also gay. Amazing! They were always there, but I was afraid of getting too close and opening myself up to the diversity of people around me. Also, check out the website, Everyone Is Gay. It’s hilarious and a helpful resource as you come to terms with your sexuality.
  8. Lesbians wear dresses, too. I told my friend I needed to change my clothes, cut my hair, and act a certain way to fit in and “look gay.” She said, “Isn’t coming out, coming out as who you really are?” Her comment hit me. Coming out as gay wasn’t about conforming to a certain culture, community or way of dressing. It’s about being yourself and not being afraid to express who you are. I didn’t cut my hair and I still wear dresses. Everyone expresses who they are in different ways and you shouldn’t feel pressure to conform to any community.
  9. People can keep secrets. Think about how great you were about keeping your secret. Other people have secrets as well and can be trusted. One of my biggest fears was believing my friends and family would “out” me and tell others my secret. They respected where I was and didn’t tell other people. Unfortunately, some do gossip and many people are obsessed with a person’s sexuality, so find someone who you trust. They do exist.
  10. Acceptance starts with you. Since I hated and didn’t love myself, I never believed others would feel the same way. I was constantly afraid of people’s reactions, and didn’t believe my story and voice mattered. Fear, guilt and shame ruled my life.  One of my friends constantly reminded me if I couldn’t accept who I was, I would never believe others accepted this part of me. No matter how many times people told me they loved me and being gay wasn’t a big deal, I didn’t believe I was worth loving until I actually loved myself. Acceptance starts with you and there is no shame in being gay, despite what society, friends, family, religion, etc. may tell you.

What are some lessons you wish you knew?

**Note to people who aren’t LGBTQ: If and when someone comes out to you, many of them are already petrified you’ll reject them (especially if you’re one of the first people they tell). They simply need to be loved in those moments and know they’re valuable. In my coming out experiences – especially the initial ones – I vividly remember how people made me feel.

I recall those moments when friends and family simply hugged me, and told me they loved me as I cried in their arms. I also remember those times when others told me I wasn’t gay and God didn’t make me this way. I’ve let go of a lot of those hurts, but I’ll never forgot how terrible I felt in those moments. Even if you don’t agree, please have the discussion later and just let the person know how much you care for them.

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