Growing up in conservative Southern California is not easy for anyone these days, especially those in the LGBTQ community. Middle school and high school can be especially though, as it is the time when we all start to discover who we really are. It is important for students to feel accepted and supported by those they need the most: family and friends.
Since the age of 5 years old, I have lived with my Republican grandparents, making my self-discovery process a little difficult. For as long as I can remember, I attended a Lutheran church with my grandparents in Mission Viejo, Calif. They have a strong youth program and at one point had a youth choir that would travel around on tour. I was part of the choir for several years before my sexuality became an issue.
In 2009 we went on tour to Oregon, Washington, and Canada for one week. One night, while in Washington, my three friends and I were called into the meeting room at midnight. We were greeted by the choir directors and youth pastor. They accused me and my friends of all being in a relationship together. We repeatedly denied it, because it was not true. The pastor then stated, "We know you guys are gay. No one is leaving this room until we hear the truth from one of you." After another hour of arguments and unrelated conversations, I stood up and said, "Fine! I like girls. I like girls a lot! Now I am going to bed." I walked out, went to my room, and went to sleep.
We had the next day off, so they planned a trip to the water park. I was not allowed to go; instead, they made me stay behind to discuss my "punishment" for being who I am. They told me that I was no longer allowed to perform, and they were thinking about sending me home, which they never did.
Following this incident, I stopped attending church and decided to focus on me and figuring out who I am, without the influence of others. About a year and a half later, around the age of 18, I realized that there was something off about me; I just didn't know what it was or what to do. I did know that I did not like who I was or my appearance. I did not recognize the person in the mirror. I asked myself, "Could I be transgender? Would that be OK? Would I be accepted?" I was terrified of what my friends would think, but especially of what my grandparents would think.
I am now 20 years old and living the life I am meant to live, as a straight male by the name of Justin. At this point I still have not told my grandparents, but they know who I am, and they support me to the best of their abilities.
I, along with so many other youth going down the road of self-discovery, have gone through depression and have attempted suicide. This October I will be turning 21 years old. I never thought I would make it to 21, and I never wanted to. I am so glad that I have stuck around to see things change. Life does get better. If you ever feel alone, please reach out to someone.
It gets better. Things are changing. A storm is coming.