July 6, 2016 — I’ve always considered myself to be an open person, particularly as it relates to being an ally to the LGBT community, although it was always from afar. I attribute the distance of my support to growing up and living in a very conservative community where almost all of us went to the same church, married young, had kids, and did nothing to challenge a comfortable existence. Sure, I had college friends who were gay and bisexual, and I was comfortable and happy to have them as friends, but my allyship never extended to outwardly expressing that I was, in fact, an ally. Little did I know that my hesitance about being an outwardly supportive ally of the LGBT community was about to change as a result of a revelation in my personal life.
A few years ago, I became happily married to a wonderful person from my hometown. I was enjoying being a newlywed and finding a balance between settling into life as a couple, while remaining comfortable in my own skin as an individual. Then, one evening during a family vacation, my husband of a mere two years shared with me his deepest, darkest secret: he was transgender. I think time stood still and I felt as if my entire life screeched to a halt. I felt like I could hear the whole world crashing around me.
We kept his secret between the two of us for nearly a year.
They say that when a spouse comes out of the closet, the other spouse goes into one, and on some level that’s been true for me. I struggled with my feelings about what it meant to be an ally and a wife, and asked myself several deep questions such as, “What does being transgender even mean?” “Do I support all lifestyles only when they’re outside my immediate circle?” “Do I truly live up to being an ally who accepts everyone?” and, “What does being an ally even look like?” For the first time, I felt like a fraud. I was calling myself an ally and joining a movement I believed in, but I didn’t want to deal with it on the home front, where I still battled anger and uncertainty almost daily.
I also thought about my husband. My heart broke for him at the realization that he had denied his identity for nearly 30 years and was only just feeling safe enough to come out. Yet when my husband decided to share his truth with family, his greatest fears were realized when they responded with anger and negativity, which led us to move across the country in search of a safer, more diverse community.
My journey in allyship taught me that the LGBT community needs to hear us allies stand up and speak out, not just quietly in our living rooms, but out loud in our communities and on our platforms. I’ve found other unexpected allies in my parents, sister, and best friend—all from my hometown—but I never confided in them until it became necessary. Too many people live in quiet fear because they don’t have someone advocating for and alongside them, especially in communities where differences are swept under the rug and spoken about in hushed tones.
That needs to change.
I believe that being an ally means different things for different people. For me, it means being real about my situation—it means supporting my spouse through the decisions he has yet to make and the ups and downs that inevitably come, while also allowing the truth of my conflicted feelings. Do I believe in equality and rights for everyone regardless of orientation? Yes! But does that mean I need to have things all figured out at home? I don’t think so.
This year, during last month’s Pride Month, we were asked to be allies not only in name, but in voice as well. My hope is that we as a local and international community begin to live an “out-loud allyship,” not just during June, but throughout the entire year. We’re each on a journey, feeling out a path to authenticity. What matters is standing up and speaking out. Together.