I AM WHO I AM…

I often get asked “how are you so OUT? How did you tell your parents? How did you accept this lifestyle and deal with your faith?”  Well in short – I HAD too!  How else am I suppose to LIVE with myself if I can’t be proud of who I have become and who is in my life…

Growing up in a very BAPTIST town, Tulsa, Oklahoma, was not a place where I heard the word “gay or lesbian.”  I was part of a Baptist church that my high school home economics teacher got me involved with.  Then my life took a bit of a slide in 1995 and I found my self-arriving in Phoenix in June.  In 1997, I was still trying to find my way in Arizona.  I was lonely and the only friend I had passed away suddenly in a tragic car accident.  I then met a girl, Wendy, on campus at ASU who convinced me to come to her church to play some basketball.  Not so soon after I was being baptized, surrounded by tons of new friends, and was officially a member of the Phoenix Valley Church of Christ.   It was an answered prayer and I embraced it. It wasn’t long after I was baptized in the church that I realized it was a religious cult that would not allow me to go into the “world” unless I was with another disciple.  It’s a long and drawn out story, but it was part of my realization about faith. Even when I got out of the cult after suffering a major medical issue, I didn’t know I was a lesbian.  What I do know is that they threw stones at me and treated me like a leper when I decided to leave.  When you experience something like that, you begin to not have the faith you did in organized religion.  Instead, I decided to celebrate my relationship with GOD in my own way: on my long bike rides on Sunday morning – this was my new CHURCH.

Yes, I was girl who had the same society driven dream that most all little girls have: A husband, white picket fence, kids in the yard, and being an accomplished woman. You know, what they called the “perfect life” even as the divorce rate soared. The funny thing is, if you read the sentence above you will see that I have everything except the husband. Is that a bad thing?  So I started to figure out I was a lesbian in 1999, however thought it may have been a PHASE, so hid it in the closet for quite sometime…  I started dating a girl in 2001 who clearly liked me way more than I liked her, so when I decided it wasn’t for me, she sent out a mass email to my entire company OUTING me.  Yes, it was devastating and the most horrific thing anyone has ever done to me, but honestly I now appreciate it!  It pushed me to be OPEN and that was just the beginning.

I told my mother and her husband after telling my dear friend Keith.  They were super supportive and didn’t care, they just embraced it and accepted who I was.  When I told my father in 2003, that was another story.  I was a “disgrace and a disappointment.”  It was the heartbreak of my life, but I had to live with a decision to be who I was for ME in lieu of being what other people wanted me to be.  My father left that trip without saying goodbye and we didn’t talk for months. It was rough.  I struggled with the decision that I made to tell him, but it was what I had to do.  I was PROUD of my relationship and even more PROUD of whom I had become.  In 2004 my father found out he had cancer.  He called and told my brother, whom immediately called me, and then my father called shortly after.  It was our first conversation since the dark Saturday we arrived home after a game of golf and I told him about being a lesbian. I guess you can say this was the beginning of our new relationship, one that cancer was a 1st priority and my lifestyle would just be known, but not discussed.  In typical Type A fashion, I took the cancer on and made tons of medical decisions for my father. I gave him meal plans, sent him vitamins and minerals, made flight arrangements, and was the daughter he always knew and believed in.  On Jan 1, 2005 I was saying bye to my father on the phone, before we I hung up, I heard my father say “Hey Deester”, I said “Yes Dad” then to my surprise, he said ” I just want you to be happy,ok?” It was then that I knew the acceptance had come to the surface.  This was his way of saying he accepted me! I was more proud that day than any day before!  He then died in March…

So in short, I think we just need to be who we are, because we can’t wait for everyone to come and tell us its OK to be who we are.  We have to be OK with who we are.  We have to love ourselves.  We have to know that God is a LOVING GOD.  He doesn’t have a lick of judgment like the rest of the world does.  Specific religious interpretation of the bible is what puts a negative connotation on what is right and what is wrong.  We need to choose the religion that supports who we are by encouragement and acceptance.  GOD loves all people and the right religious message will convey that!

All I can really say is that you truly have to be ready to lose people in your life to gain the freedom and honesty you deserve.  What you will find out is that the people who really love you for you will be the ones who stay and support you.  You can’t really truly LIVE until you can truly LIVE TO BE WHO IT IS YOU ARE….

Make it Count by being true to WHO YOU ARE today!

Ashley Stevenson