When did you know your identity or orientation? I feel as though we in the LGBT community have this question asked of us countless times. For some, they knew at an early age where as others didn’t realize until much later in life, but that doesn’t make their identity invalid. When I was 3 or 4 years old, I told my mom that I wanted to be a boy. This was the first memory that I had where I can look back and say it was a sign that I was transgender. But not everyone has that experience. I fought my orientation/gender identity for many years. I wasn’t brave enough to come out on my own.
I first came out as a ‘lesbian’ to my friends at a get together. I can’t remember the conversation, but somehow it got on the topic of ‘Have you ever kissed another girl?’. We were a bunch of 19 year olds hanging out and giggling. But when they asked me if I had ever kissed a girl, I immediately became pale. This started all of my friends freaking out because my response was enough for them. I immediately ran to the bathroom and locked myself inside. I was having what I later realized was an anxiety attack. The room was getting smaller and my vision getting darker.
When I think back on my first coming-out experience, I cringe at the memory. I can still feel the gut-wrenching pain of fear. The sad things is, I was raised by a pretty accepting family. My grandmother was friends with an old drag queen, yet I still was afraid. I was brainwashed by the society I was surrounded with; growing up in the South does something to a young closeted queer person. I wasn’t alone in those feelings. I had the pleasure of interviewing a guy I’ve been following on Instagram for quite some time, Valen Cole (@justt_valen), a trans man living with his girlfriend in Washington state. They have two adorable dogs that may or may not be the reason I watch his stories. Valen had experience growing up in a toxic culture. He grew up in Utah, which is made up of a religious group know as Latter Day Saints (LDS). He was raised Catholic, which caused him to have another barrier to his eventual LGBT identity.
Like Valen, I was also raised Catholic, as well as alter served to which the both of us can relate. Given that Valen and I ended up transitioning to men, the alter serving can be a pained memory due to the fact of how gendered the Catholic community can be with just about everything. I found out later in my interview with Valen that he actually wanted to be a nun, which I find very interesting given that he now doesn’t identify with religion. When I probed a little as to why he left Christianity he had this to say, “…I do not have any religion in my life. I am 100% atheist. I respect all religions and practices. But I’m just a strong believer in science proof and facts. Which religion has never been able to provide me. My overall experience with Christians has been positive for the most part. I, like many others have had the run around with some Christians that think I’m going to hell and whatnot. But I’ve never really got too worked up over it because I just feel like they’re brainwashed and need something to Believe in which unfortunately drives them in a hateful direction. Ultimately the only thing that has pushed me away from religion is not being able to provide facts and proof. I’ve studied many religions and beliefs. To me, (my belief here) it just seems religion was only created to keep people in line and to give people that sense of meaning. Like they have a reason. To give them hope. Which I think is great because I know-at least for my mom, without religion I don’t even know what she would do or who she would be. I definitely know she would have a lot of issues with depression. Because she tends to leave everything up to God. Sometimes I wish that I could believe the stuff she does and have my head in the clouds. I’ve just seen too much in this horrible world…and I’ve thought, if there is a god …well then he is horrible and I could never worship something that allows so much suffering and pain. So much going on outside of our sheltered bubbles. I definitely believe there is other life forms out there…but as far as someone that watches over us or something happening after we die-not a chance.”
I use to believe exactly as Valen does, I couldn’t find a way to justify the Christian faith with my understanding of science. I do realize that my platform is Christian based, but I feel it is important to show different point of views. Even if we don’t fully agree with each other, how else are we going to be able to learn and grow as people? It is an unfortunate thing that the church has done so many horrific acts that it has pushed so many individuals away. With Valen, this may not have happened directly, but I wonder what the world would look like if people stopped using their faith as a justification to harm others. I appreciate Valen for taking the time to speak with me and discuss his views on this topic. I look forward to working more with him in the future.
Written by Alexander Mason Burchnell
Edited by Christopher J. Burchnell