I’M SPEAKING UP.

Posted by on Dec 9, 2017 in LGBT | 26 Comments
I’M SPEAKING UP.

For priding myself on being a storyteller, I’ve intentionally left a large part of my story out of the public eye. Not just online for obvious reasons, but I’ve kept it from people in my life for almost 2 decades. I can no longer keep it to myself…it’s time to speak up.

Recently, I’ve been reading stories of brave individuals sharing their experiences of sexual harassment, abuse and assault. I read one specifically that triggered some old memories and changed something inside of me. I sat there wondering, “what got them to the point where they decided to speak up?” I envied them for having the courage to do that. I had told myself for years that this was different. It wasn’t a big deal. So many people have it worse. I should suck it up and move on….but imagine if we all did that.

When I was 16, I was in a sexual relationship with a woman in my church. She was 10 years older than me and married to a man. She was someone I had looked up to since my 6th grade Sunday school days which she and her husband taught. This would be my first sexual experience. I didn’t know this at the time but that experience would go on to shape my future relationships. It would affect how I viewed love and how I viewed myself. This “relationship” went on for years. I remember falling asleep during class in high school because I spent so much time with her. We were very rarely apart and everyone knew that. My concern is how did no one in their right mind question this? My parents. My youth leaders. Her family in the church. Her husband in the next room. Gross.

To this day, I chalk it up to it being easier to turn your head or sweep things under the rug than to have actual discussions about the hard things in life. I’m pretty sure the only person who ever questioned her a couple years later was a married man in the church. Another person who I respected in a leadership position. When he confronted her she told him everything about our relationship including details about me sexually. Literally EVERYTHING. I found that out from her directly and I remember THAT feeling like it was yesterday. It would be the first time I would experience heartbreak and betrayal. She began cheating on her husband with this married man while carrying on a relationships with me. Every single week…several times a week we would all three be on stage at our church in the choir and on the music team like nothing was wrong. All while I stared at her husband and his wife in the crowd. They were all good friends. Probably still are. The person I am today would’ve exposed this right then and there, but at the time (as a closeted teenager who was terrified of her parents finding out she was gay) fear and the lump in my throat kept me silent. It was really easy for me to keep quiet. Especially when I was confronted in the church parking lot and blackmailed by a grown man in a police uniform (the man she was having an affair with). I remember leaving classes early on several occasions to run home and frantically check our mailbox because he threatened to out me to my family. I never knew when or if it would happen but that sick feeling, it lingered for a long time. I knew it was the real deal when he made me meet him (and her) in a motel room near our church to further intimidate and threaten me. I didn’t fully understand back then why they did this until I finally went to see a therapist LAST YEAR. She said, “they were trying to scare you and keep you quiet.” All I could think to say to her, almost 20 years later was, “well, I guess it worked.” I haven’t seen these people in years, but I doubt they would ever think that I would be an out and proud lesbian woman centering both my entire career and existence on doing my best to make sure no kid ever has to feel alone when coming to terms with who they are. Especially within a religious setting.

It really started to sink in when I turned 27. I was now the same age this woman was when she began a sexual relationship with me. I would see a 16 year old kid in our youth group and be completely sick to my stomach at the thought of a grown adult finding them sexually attractive. They were just children. Right then I knew something needed to be addressed but I still could not bring myself to say anything because I was protecting these people and their families. I couldn’t even allow myself to be angry at them…I couldn’t feel anything about it until I would drink some wine. That’s when the memories of what took place, the memories I had blocked out for so long, would come flooding in. I would fill pages in my journals. I would give myself permission to cry then I would beat myself up about it and hope the next day was better. It usually was. It was pretty easy to convince myself that I deserved what had happened and that it was absolutely my fault since I had feelings for her and looked up to her so much. I trusted her completely. My punishment was to live with this for the rest of my life while they moved on.

I’ve moved away. Started over. All the while carrying this secret around with me… to the point where the weight of it almost felt comfortable. For years, fear controlled me. Fear of disappointing, fear of being innately flawed, fear of abandonment, fear of not being able to love or trust fully, fear of burning in hell. The list is like a scroll. Years of emotional and sexual abuse had damaged my ability to have healthy and meaningful relationships.

It’s important to me that I’m very clear on this: I AM GAY. I am 34 years old. I have always been gay. Nothing happened to “make me gay”. I didn’t have a word for my feelings when I was younger but I knew I was not interested in boys and that was never once a doubt it my mind. I was innocent and sheltered. Even at the age of 16 I didn’t know much about sex…what I did know is that I had crushes on women. Admitting that I was gay did not even cross my mind until I was 24. I had already been involved with women for 8 years but still I was in denial that I was gay until I met my first group of lesbian friends. I was both relieved and terrified. After all of these years it finally made sense, but now the issue was trying to wrap my head around what that meant for me. I was alone and dealing with some pretty heavy issues that no kid should ever have to deal with by themselves.

When I look at 16 year old Steph I don’t see a kid…which is why I had such a hard time admitting that I had been taken advantage of. I was timid and innocent but I seemed mature because I had been around adults most of my life. I was not taught to think for myself. I invented the art of people pleasing. I just wanted to be loved and accepted for me. But who was I? I could adapt to any situation. I could be anything anyone wanted me to be at any time. I felt like a shell of a human being but no one ever saw that.

You’re probably wondering…so why now? Two reasons: 1. I am hopeful that my story will help at least one person. 2. In my mind and in my heart this situation has defined me and I am no longer willing to allow that to happen. I need to get rid of this. I will not take this to my grave and let it control areas of my life. I refuse to continue protecting the people who did not protect me. These people may have robbed me of my innocence years ago but they will no longer have any hold on me. In speaking up, I am taking the control back and moving forward. Now is the time to speak up and shed a bright light on some very dark places. Speak up for yourself. Speak up for the kids who feel like they have no voice.

Parents/Adults/Leaders in the church etc: Talk to your kids. Ask them questions. Love them for who they are. Protect them. But most importantly…fight for them.

“Don’t let fear keep you quiet. You have a voice, so use it. Speak up. Raise your hands. Shout your answers. Make yourself heard. Whatever it takes, just find your voice, and when you do, fill the damn silence.”

“The thing people forget is how good it can feel when you finally set secrets free. Whether good or bad, at least they’re out in the open, like it or not. And once your secrets are out in the open, you don’t have to hide behind them anymore. The problem with secrets is even when you think you’re in control, you’re not.”

 

steph grant story speaking up promote love

26 Comments

  1. Alexa
    December 9, 2017

    You’re incredible and brave and I’m so proud of you for your strength and courage to Speak Up! < 3 Iloveyou xxx

    Reply
  2. Amy Santana
    December 9, 2017

    Thank you for sharing. This was incredibly brave and you are so brave!

    Reply
  3. Sarah
    December 9, 2017

    This is both terrible and beautiful… I admire your strength and cry for your stolen innocence. It is so unfair that adults would use, abuse and intimidate children in this way and sadly it happens everyday. Thank you so much for speaking out, being you and standing up for those of us who cannot stand for ourselves. Your honesty and vulnerability are so inspiring. Much love ❤️

    Reply
  4. Megan
    December 9, 2017

    Ditto Alexa’s comments. The world is a better place with you roaring like a lion. So in awe of the joyous woman you are. You’re the Phoenix, owning your rebirth. So proud of you and grateful for your courage to share the painful story.

    Reply
  5. Megan
    December 9, 2017

    Ditto Alexa’s comments. The world is a better place with you roaring like a lion. So in awe of the joyous woman you are. You’re the Phoenix, owning your rebirth. So proud of you and grateful for your courage to share the painful story.

    Reply
  6. Kristy
    December 9, 2017

    Thank you for speaking out, Steph.
    #MeToo

    Much love,
    Kristy

    Reply
  7. Lori
    December 9, 2017

    I wish you much healing on your journey. You are strong. You are love. Thank you for all you do for the world. ???❤?

    Reply
  8. Jawn ;-)
    December 9, 2017

    Wow.. Steph….I feel like I have to apoligize. Not that I was apart of anything, but I had NO idea it was that intense. I’m so sorry things were that terrible. That was so very wrong. I’m so happy to see that in all the evil and yucky, even though years later, you are brave enough to open up and find healing that you deserved too long ago.. or should have never been put through at all! You worded it so wonderfully. Im still dumbfounded actually. I’ve heard a saying, “your misery can be your ministry” which in a round about way, it is. You can help/have helped already SO many others who probably think they are the only ones who have ever gone through something like this. And this is proof, they can come out better than expected….because they see that you did. So proud to call you a friend Greph. Truly.

    Reply
  9. Katie
    December 9, 2017

    Steph, thank you for sharing your story. I know your story will help at least one person, probably more. You are brave. You’re a love warrior. (Have you read that book? Bet you’d like it.)

    “Until you heal the wounds of your past, you are going to bleed. You can bandage the bleeding with food, with alcohol, with drugs, with work, with cigarettes, with sex; But eventually, it will all ooze through and stain your life. You must find the strength to open the wounds, Stick your hands inside, pull out the core of the pain that is holding you in your past, the memories and make peace with them.”
    Iyanla Vanzant

    Reply
  10. Helena
    December 9, 2017

    Thanx for sharing your story Steph, and filling the silance, you give me courage to one day come around and be true to myself and everyone else. Again thank you.

    Reply
  11. Rachel M
    December 9, 2017

    Thank you for sharing ❤️ I too grew up in a very religious household and while thankfully I was never abused by an adult in church, I know it happens all the time. All of these stories need shared to help. Thank you for being brave enough to share yours!
    #metoo

    Reply
  12. Linda Reyes-Hart
    December 9, 2017

    Steph-that was amazingly brave. Thanks for speaking your truth.

    Reply
  13. Zac
    December 9, 2017

    Steph… all of this makes so Lochland sense. Even before you wrote this article, your adult life has been about your journey, healing and love. Your bravery, compassion and your love are allowing you to face your fears and not survive but flourish. You are an jsnlairstion to me and to so many others. A heartfelt congratulations to you for embodying the power of #’metoo. You are woman. hear your roar! I love you sistah!

    Reply
  14. Tiffyj
    December 9, 2017

    Good job gf:) I love you

    Reply
  15. LaurenG
    December 9, 2017

    <3<3<3

    Reply
  16. Kay
    December 9, 2017

    I too was assaulted by a church leader (married man with three children) when I was 15. He was a youth group leader and it was very confusing because he held a position of trust and power. Thanks for sharing your story. The cycle must stop.

    Reply
  17. Rhonda
    December 9, 2017

    As a #metoo#tooyoung lesbian woman I commend you this brave letter you’ve shared. I too felt deep shame, guilt and blame for being “groomed” by the men who were family and were supposed to be watching out for me.
    I held onto it for years, have done therapy, but this movement and our Predator in Chief has brought it to the surface once again.
    You will help others by this.
    Thank you!

    Reply
  18. Nicole Conger
    December 9, 2017

    Steph:

    Your lifestory is an example of the EXACT reason this world needs brave people like you who exist. Notice, lifestory is in two parts. When we live in the present day version of ourselves there are way more POSITIVE vibes than negative. Sure the past, is who makes us unique, but you’ve got to unwrap it to get to the best version of yourself. You must have an incredible support system of love and acceptance.

    Second, the story part is just that! When clients of mine come to me with facts that seem unheard of in sexual harassment, gender identity, sexual orientation, or any other ways they have been subjected to HATE, we cut it off as soon as it is off their chest by talking about it, and ways to not let their story define them. When we all work together and share ideas, concepts, and have difficult discussions, it opens the door to infinite HOPE. God created us to share our gift one human to another.

    #ItStartsWithUs
    #SpreadLove

    Reply
  19. Caroline Edwards
    December 9, 2017

    Steph, It breaks my heart that you have been so hurt. When I met you on the airplane, you acted like a very happy person. I am so glad that you are freeing yourself by telling your story. You are a brave and strong woman and I admire you. Caroline

    Reply
  20. Rosalind
    December 9, 2017

    You are an amazing woman. Thank
    You for finding the strength to share your story.

    Reply
  21. Donna S
    December 9, 2017

    Thank you for sharing your story. You truly are an inspiration.

    Reply
  22. Taryn
    December 10, 2017

    Proud of and inspired by you for sharing this. I know how hard it can be for you (or anyone really) to articulate such horrible realities, but it’s so incredible that you did. Just another reason why you are changing the world. Keep it up, girl. Love you. xoxo

    Reply
  23. Stephanie
    December 14, 2017

    It takes a deep sense of trust within yourself to share anything about yourself – especially, when it is part of your authentic self. The authentic self is only shown when the social self just cannot keep up with the facade and projections created by others. Thank you for bringing your story to the surface and for creating a ripple that can bring healing to many.

    With much love and gratitude.

    “Your story is someone’s enlightenment.” S. Wiant

    Reply
  24. Dani
    December 18, 2017

    I’m sooo sorry…I was there, I remember wondering about the relationship and I did nothing because you were older at that point. You are amazing and wonderful and I will never just wonder about something again…I will ask and make sure I truly believe the persons response before I just accept it. D

    Reply
  25. Cindy
    December 31, 2017

    Wow! So sorry for what you endured. The fact that so many people looked the other way is sad… very sad.

    Your story brought up so much for me. So much, that I’m not exactly sure what I am feeling now.

    I “fell in love with”a 28-year-old woman when I was 16. She was married to my high school history teacher. They were both chaperones on a trip to Europe that I took with other high school students, the summer after my Sophomore year in high school.

    Thirty years later, my parents told me they wondered about our relationship. I would’ve been so upset when I was 16, if they had confronted me, or the history teacher’s wife. In fact, I’m sure I would’ve been traumatized.

    And, yes, I already knew I was gay.

    I’ve told a few girlfriends through the years about the affair with the history teacher’s wife, and they’ve all insisted the relationship was inappropriate. I denied it for many years, and even now it’s hard for me to label it sexual abuse, even though I know it is.

    When I was 28, I “fell in love” with a woman who was emotionally abusive. We stayed together for 14 years, until I entered a severe depression, she had an affair, and I finally told her to leave.

    I’ve speculated that the abusive relationship in my teens left me susceptible to the emotional abuser. I’m sure it affected me in many other ways.

    Thankfully now, I’m in a healthy relationship, married to the love of my life, and the previous relationships seem like they were part of another lifetime.

    I pray you have found, or will find, a love as special as mine.

    PS: I photograph LGBT weddings, too.

    Reply
  26. Jonelle Minarcin
    January 17, 2018

    I cannot express how connected I feel to this blog. I have read multiple stories of childhood/teenage sexual abuse and have always hoped to find one where someone explains how they feel and i felt and still feel the same way. I normally don’t comment or engage but i thought you should know that it was very comforting to read this. Thank you for sharing your story! Glad I found this and those awesome shirts I ordered!

    -J

    Reply

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