In recognition of Pride Month, young adult, Amnoni, shares her personal story.
‘As I look back on my coming out experience, I recognize that learning about who I am is a lifelong process that will continually evolve, grow, and change.’
My name is Amnoni, and my families are African-American. Most of my childhood was spent in foster care. I always felt robbed of the opportunity to be raised by my own parents. I felt that I did not have a natural support system to help aid in my success. I grew up with the idea that I could not achieve much in life because I was constantly reminded of my birth parents’ mistakes and failures. I did not have the opportunities that most young people have to explore who they are within their biological family system. Instead, I grew up with a sense of not knowing who I was because statistics and stereotypes dictated my life. I did not have the space to question or explore who I was as an individual because throughout my life, I was focused on my survival.
I knew that I was different from a very young age; I did not fit into ‘the box,’ nor was I the typical standard. My life was not traditional, but I was not allowed to be anything different from what I was taught to be. I grew up as a Christian in a fairly conservative household, and there were expectations placed on me from the beginning of my life. Because my identity was shaped through this lens u2013 exploration, questioning the norms, and having the ability to fully engage with who I was were out of the question.
One afternoon, when I was 24, I sat in my therapist’s office frustrated and overwhelmed with everything happening in my life. Dealing with years of trauma, the effects of childhood sexual abuse, and lifelong abandonment were issues I was constantly working through. Deep down inside, I was frustrated because I was afraid and ashamed of what I was about to share with my therapist. But I knew that today was the day I needed to finally share this. These feelings were something I could no longer shake off or hide behind, despite years of suppression and shame.
As my therapist and I continued to talk she encouraged me to begin exploring my sexuality because it was an important step in getting to know that part of myself. ‘ARE YOU KIDDING ME??!’ I exclaimed. ‘I can’t explore that. That goes against my beliefs as a Christian.’ I was trying to put myself deeper in the closet, while she was trying to bring me out. If I’m honest, I was deeply afraid of abandonment and rejection. I was also very nervous about how people would view and treat me if they knew the truth. Growing up the way I did, abandonment and rejection was my norm, so I was afraid of coming out because of the fear of being rejected yet again.
For years I had struggled with my sexual identity, and each night I would pray and beg God to erase my ‘sinful’ feelings of liking women. I thought I was an abomination because I was attracted to something other than what I thought I was created to be attracted to. I dated men just so I could prove to myself that I was straight, and I was constantly in a state of depression because I blamed myself for not being able to fit into the norm of heterosexuality.
As I thought about my therapist’s suggestion of exploring, I was not sure what that entailed. I wondered if I would fail at it, or if it was better for me to play it safe. I finally took a risk. I started hanging with groups of people who were more affirming, attending LGBTQ events, and I joined a dating website. I enjoyed these experiences because I was beginning to challenge and question the very ideas and beliefs I’d been raised with that caused me to hate myself. I could not quite understand how God could love me unconditionally but stop loving me because I couldn’t help who I loved. I had been living under the impression that I could not reconcile this conflict, but these experiences taught me that I could.
Even though I was enjoying the freedom of exploration, I remained anxious about ‘being found out.’ I was afraid that someone would ‘out me’ (call me out publicly for being gay) so I hid within spaces. My identity was often tied to other people. I cared more about what other people thought of me than what I thought of myself. Furthermore, I continued to not have permission to think and do for myself, and that reality often dictated my actions.
As time passed, my confidence grew as I explored my identity. I became increasingly unapologetic about who I was and cared less about what people thought of me. I realized that if I did not fully accept who I was, how could I expect others to? I started challenging myself to speak out about issues that are important to me, after remaining silent for years, fearing what others would think. This was an important step for me to take because I learned to stand up for myself and that my existence was important, no matter whom I loved.
On February 14, 2017, I publicly came out as Lesbian. I purposely chose Valentine’s Day because it was an act of self-love. I also knew that for me to help liberate others, I first needed to liberate myself. I was tired of hiding, and I soon learned that if people were not going to accept me for who I was, then they did not need to have me in their lives. To my surprise, I had a pretty positive experience. People whom I expected to have a hard time with my sexual identity embraced me with no questions asked. Many others also came out to me and thanked me for inspiring them to do so. I never imagined that this would have been my experience, yet I am thankful.
At the same time, I did not expect to be rejected by my foster family, the people who claimed I was family for over 10 years. Because I could no longer be what they wanted for me, I was no longer relevant in their lives; I quickly became a stranger. Even though I lost people who were very important for me, I was determined to live my life according to my own standards and no one else’s.
As I look back on my coming out experience, I recognize that learning about who I am is a lifelong process that will continually evolve, grow, and change. Thinking back to my sessions with my therapist, I am thankful for her leadership and role in my life because she gave me the courage and permission to explore. She gave me permission to be my true self and more importantly, she challenged me to take unbelievable risks. Each day I am learning that if I hold myself back from being all that I am, I stop myself from loving all of who I am.
Knowing who you are is truly important and necessary for your life’s journey. The task of understanding oneself can often be complex, scary, and overwhelming. But what I’ve learned is that taking the risk to love myself, no matter what, is a true honor. Growing up, my identity was shaped on false beliefs, and standards that I was not able to identify with. Each day, I give myself permission to establish and define who I am; I set my own standards at my own pace, and I create the life I want, not the life I was given.
Written by Amnoni Myers, a former C.A.S.E. Star of Adoption and a young adult who originally shared her story as a contributor to C.A.S.E.’s teen workbook, Beneath the Mask: For Teen Adoptees, Teens and Young Adults Share Their Stories. This incredible workbook includes more than 20 additional raw, unedited, heartfelt stories from other teens and young adult adoptees, as well as journaling pages, and reflection exercises. Amnoni also shared an endorsement for C.A.S.E.’s W.I.S.E. Up! for Children in Foster Care publication.