My Hometown vs Me

August 15, 2022 /

I’m moving out next month; I will be the first of my parents’ three kids to do so. I’m starting a new job, paying my own rent, and, in the spring, I’ll be attending community college. For all intents and purposes, I’ll be opening a whole new chapter in my life over two and a half thousand miles from my hometown. And honestly? I couldn’t be happier.

An illustration of a person sitting alone on a train

(Illustration by Malachi Sanchez)

I’ve lived in Merced for as long as I can remember, and I’ve always been surrounded by family. My grandparents live down the street, my uncle owns the church my family attends, every summer we go to my aunt’s house to swim, etcetera. In any other situation, this would be a perfect family dynamic, however, it’s always been incredibly stifling to me. Growing up queer in a close-knit but deeply religious household made me constantly hyper aware of how different I was from how everyone else in my family wants me to be. I’ve sat in on many sermons talking about how gay people are evil manipulative creatures who prey on lonely people, and not just from my uncle at church.

However, while my parents didn’t raise a straight cisgender girl, they did raise someone who wasn’t ashamed to be themself. While I didn’t tell my parents or family I was queer for a very long time, that didn’t stop me from telling anyone else who would listen. In middle school I would openly tell all of my peers my sexuality, and eventually in high school I would tell my friends and teachers about my gender identity. I met with more LGBTQIA+ people in my community, and for a really long time, I thought that was as free as I could get. 

And then I got outed to my parents. 

Immediately, a lot of my previous freedoms were stripped from me. My parents took me to church more often, openly said negative things about my gender identity and sexuality, and they told everyone else in my family about it too. It didn’t help that we were at the height of the pandemic at the time, so I was already much more isolated than I had been in years. All the freedom and community I had ever felt in my hometown dried up almost overnight. It’s been over a year and even though the proverbial reins have been loosened, I haven’t been able to feel rooted to my community ever since. Being outed before I was ready to come out shook me in a way that I don’t think I’ll ever be able to come back from.

Enter Klaus, an eccentric hippie going into college to study music and history and lives in Virginia. Klaus, open and unabashedly queer and with a full support system and loving family. Klaus, who offers to introduce me to their friends and welcomes me into their safe space without a second thought. It was shockingly easy to fit in with them and their friends. Beyond common interests and surface level pleasantries, everyone welcomed me for who I was and who I am becoming, flaws and all. I had never felt so much support before. Offhandedly Klaus mentioned how nice it would be if I lived in their area. Without my conservative parents and observant family leaning over my shoulders to watch my every move, I could just be myself. Although they didn’t intend for me to really think it over, I did. Which brings me back to where I am now, a month away from moving out, with a job, house, school and friends all waiting for me. I can’t wait to plant down roots again: This time, I don’t think anything is going to shake me loose.