For as far back as I can remember, my mom always told me, “Amber, friends will come and go, but your family will always be there for you.” Believing what she said, I trusted her and shaped my view of the world around that fact. It wasn’t hard to do during childhood–I was the epitome of a Christian poster child. My dad began working at Focus on the Family (a global anti-LGBTQ evangelical ministry) when I was three, I acted in Adventures in Odyssey as a kid, I was home-schooled K-12, and I vowed myself to the “True Love Waits” campaign by putting a purity ring on my finger at the age of thirteen.
My parents embodied all the values and morals James Dobson and Focus on the Family teaches, and implemented them into our lives at home. We memorized Bible passages at the breakfast table, we had family devotions, and personal quiet time with God was an expected daily occurrence.
Because of the tight-knit family values that James Dobson taught and my parents’ deep-seeded beliefs in them, my childhood was, in many ways, quintessential. My mom was very gifted at making the holidays special and creating a warm and welcoming atmosphere in our home. My dad, although he traveled quite often for work, was always present in our lives and there to support us at all our recitals, competitions, and performances. They never shied away from telling us how much they loved us or how proud they were to be our parents.
I imagined that when I grew up, my family would be very similar to the one I was raised in. I did not dream that I would be married to a woman and that my dad’s position at Focus would divide me from my family rather than keep us focused on it—but that’s what happened.
In my early twenties, I began falling in love with my female roommate. It hit me like a slap in the face. Being cocooned in a Christian bubble all my life kept me naïve and oblivious to even the slightest inkling that I might be gay. For ten years after I’d placed that purity ring on my finger at the age of thirteen, I’d believed the myth that if I didn’t date, saved myself sexually for my some-day husband, and stayed on the path of God’s will for my life, that one day God would reward me with my knight in shining armor and we would live happily ever after. But that’s not how things played out.
Instead, I was dumbstruck the day my roommate kissed me and I felt sparks go off inside. As a Christian, evangelical, homeschooled daughter of a Focus on the Family executive, gay was the one thing you were never supposed to be. I was taught to strongly oppose the “gay agenda” because they were a sexually loose group of people who were destroying God’s design for the family unit. The word “hate” may not have been spoken aloud, but it was implied, and now that person I was taught to hate, was me. Depression and anxiety turned into self-loathing, self-harm, and suicidal ideations.
In one final attempt to resolve the war in my soul between my faith and my sexuality, I stepped outside my evangelical bubble and the world in which I was raised, to search for answers. For the next two years, I researched, read, studied, and questioned. I deconstructed and reconstructed my faith, and eventually formed a new belief system that supported all of me as a gay, Christian, woman of God.
It was freeing in so many ways, but…I wasn’t out of the woods yet. Although I was now able to embrace and love myself for who God made me to be, the most terrifying part of the journey was still ahead: coming out to my family.
I’ll never forget that day. I’ve relived it hundreds, if not thousands of times. The day I told my family I was gay changed the course of my life forever. Comparing me to murders, pedophiles, and bestiality, they told me I was selfish for doing this to the family and revoked my keys to their home. I’ve never felt more pain in my life than I did in the months that followed as they subtly, yet blatantly, pushed me to the outside and shunned me from the family. Eventually, ties were cut completely.
For the next couple years, my life felt like a teeter-totter as I fell in love with the woman of my dreams, but fought intense nightmares about the way my family was treating me. I married the love of my life, but had no family present at our wedding. Life was a series of ups and downs; celebrating big milestones, while simultaneously grieving huge losses.
I reflected on what my mom told me growing up, “Amber, friends will come and go, but your family will always be there for you,” and I realized it wasn’t true. In my hour of greatest need, my family abandoned me. And now, friends were rising up to take their place, standing in where my family should have been.
Losing everything I’ve ever known and loved has been by far the hardest path I’ve ever journeyed on, yet in the process of refocusing, I’ve been led into a place of joy and peace I wouldn’t have otherwise known. The ability to love and embrace myself and others for all the beautiful parts that bind us together has granted me so much freedom. In the end, authentic living has led me to the reward of having a stronger faith, and an even more focused family.
You can read more of Amber’s story in her new memoir, Refocusing My Family: Coming Out, Being Cast Out, and Discovering the True Love of God. Available now (almost!) everywhere books are sold.
Amber Cantorna is the author of Refocusing My Family and the founder of Beyond, a non-profit organization offering support to LGBTQ people through their coming out process. You can see Amber at one of her 20+ tour events nation-wide by checking out her tour schedule, and follow her on Facebook and Twitter @AmberNCantorna.