I came out at the age of 23. After my 1st tour to Iraq. Now in order to know how I got to that point, we have to go back away. I was born in Staten Island, New York to Mormon Parents. They converted right before I was born and their families were not happy with it but, they learned to accept it…somewhat.
I was born with a facial birth defect known as a Bilateral Cleft Lip and Palate. My upper lip, my nose and the roof of my mouth was not fully formed at birth. That right there was the start of my fight for my life. When I was in school in the early 80s l was diagnosed with Dyslexia and due to my speech impediment, I was labeled emotionally disturbed and learning disabled and was pigeon hold into a special education class where I didn’t belong. I won that fight and ended up doing relatively well all through-out school.
In high school, I was your average teenager. I played sports, I was in ROTC, I was on the yearbook and newspaper and I had a crush on one of the volleyball players which happened to be a girl. Being Mormon and having a cleft kept me very busy with surgeries, church-related activities, and not really having any friends I didn’t know the term gay or what it was. So, I push it aside for the next 5 years.
After high school I didn’t think I was smart enough for college. Even though I was a solid B average student I had to work hard to maintain that. I enlisted in the Army on Sept 10, 2001. The next day my world flipped upside down. No one knew what way was up and for months everyone took care of everyone. The same was true for those I meet in Basic Training. I didn’t realize then they would be my friends for life and the ones who knew I was gay even back then. I can laugh at it now and did so with them when they came to my wedding in 2018.
During my time in the army, I met a lot of people. Some who I didn’t realize at the time would have an impact on my life. I can admit I was a naive Mormon and that’s ok. My friend Charlie was a gay kid and I can say that because he was younger than I. Before we deployed to Iraq in the summer of 2005, I took him home to meet my parents and to be himself. He was from the south and being gay in the south was nowhere he wanted to be. My mother loved him, then again, she loved everyone. He got to see the lights of NYC, I took him to Christopher St. and allowed him to be free for the first time in his life. I wish I knew where he is today. I miss him and being his friend and talking with him overtime made me realize I was like him.
When I came back from Iraq, I had a lot to think about. Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was still an active policy. I had to figure out 1) how to be gay since I had no clue, 2) how to keep it from the army and 3) how to continue to be Mormon. All 3 kept me up at night. I did the only thing I could do. I married a friend, moved off post, and quit going to church. There that solved everything! Well, not everything. I had to tell my parents and that wasn’t going to be easy. Back then cell phones weren’t what they are today. I would talk to my little sister (she is 6 years younger than me) through AIM (AOL Instant Messenger) at least once or twice a day.
My mother wasn’t good with computer’s and I would know if she was spying on me to pretend to be my sister (her typing was atrocious). I would talk to my mom on the phone 2-3 times a day everyday but, this I kept a secret. During my leave after Iraq, I was home in NYC. I was hanging out and talking to some high school friends and one day I was mad, the next I was happy. My emotions were all over the place. I knew it was because those who had crushes on me back then (females) were telling me since they found out I was gay. I couldn’t handle it; I didn’t know how to. I eventually went back to my unit and a few weeks later on the phone with my mom she just came out and said, “ARE YOU GAY”? She knew things were off and I couldn’t lie anymore and said “Yes” and hung up the phone.
I didn’t see her until Christmas a few months later. We had talked but, it was mainly because I know had custody of my little sister. She never mentioned anything to me about me being gay for the next 2 years. In those 2 years while in the army I switched units and went for a 2nd deployment to Iraq (I wasn’t suppose to deploy a 2nd time). During this deployment, my Battalion Commander received an anonymous letter threating my life. Someone found out I was gay and stated if I don’t go home, I will go home in a body bag. A few weeks later I was home in the states being kicked out under DADT with an Honorable Discharge. I never said or did anything for anyone to know about me. Turns out my squad of brand-new privates where behind it the entire time with statements of lies that I said and did things to them which I had not (I saw my packet for the first time with everything in 2018). My husband at the time was shocked it had happened. He was a civilian and he was pissed. He wanted to fight the army. I convinced him not too and to just go on with our lives. I moved back to NYC with my parents and that was hard. I was out on my own for the past 6 years and now I am home, and I am gay. My parents did not have an easy time with me. I wasn’t going to church, I was drinking, and I was dating women. My mother finally talked with me and told me why she was so distant in the last 2 years. She was afraid for my safety. My once long hair was really short, I had tattoos, and I was dressing in boys clothing. She was afraid someone would kill me because of how I looked. (To be fair I always wore boys clothing it’s how I always felt comfortable) I reassured her that I was still the same person, she had nothing to worry about as I am more aware of my surroundings one of the many traits the army taught me and that no matter what I was still her daughter.
My father on the other hand had a different approach to all of this. He has always assured me that I am still me inside and that being gay was not the only part of me. Once I realize that I will be a better person not just for myself but, for others. I never told my parents they figured it out. Not every story starts and ends the same way. My story might have a lot of fights in it but, it has a happy ending.
I am currently getting ready to enjoy my 2nd wedding anniversary to my wife Daria. We meet on a social media dating app. I have my bachelor’s degree in Community Health Education and starting my Master’s in Social Work. My mother passed in 2015 and was not at my wedding but, her spirit was there when my father walked me down the aisle. I work for the veteran community and in the process of fighting for my discharge of homosexual conduct to be overturned as it was done in a poor taste and I still go to the Mormon church. My ward is amazing, and a few were at my wedding. I found Affirmation in 2013. It’s a group of LGBTQ Mormons who look to stay in the church or find comfort among those who grew up in the church and are in the gay community.
My fight is never over. I continue to fight for myself and my community. My dad was right. I am more than my sexuality and I embrace it every day. I am a lesbian, Mormon, army vet with a learning disability. I use all my platforms to help others and make this world better for all of us.