Embracing My Identity in The South

I have always had an odd relationship with religion. Coming up in the rural South, there was a church on every corner. My high school post-football game tradition included a fellowship night at the local Baptist Church. Baccalaureate was a rite of passage, and Fellowship of Christian Athletes was the most popular club in school.
I am not an overly religious person, but the community of the surrounding local churches was always appealing. After my first year of college, I found myself struggling with multiple identities, particularly being out in the South, and nervous about how to find community and the warm embrace from a group of people who gathered just to love. I certainly thought this would be impossible to find in a religious setting, until I found a local LGBTQIA+ inclusive church. What started out as a class project, transformed into a full-fledged community partnership. I attended same-sex weddings and my first Ash Wednesday service. I shared my first of-age beer at a local BBQ joint with my pastor and even welcomed the congregation to one of my own drag shows.

I found a community that loved me for me, and on days where that was hardest the community was only ever a text or call away. Being out in the South is a case of multiple identities. So often being “Southern” comes with all these assumptions, but inclusivity is often thought to be missing. My time with this community proved all these sentiments wrong. To be out is to fully embrace myself – to fully love myself – but that shouldn’t be a road I have to travel alone. I’m fortunate in that it never has to be.

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