Essay: I didn’t have to choose between religion and becoming who I really am. I chose both
In this personal essay, RadioActive's Rhea Beecher reflects on identity, family, religion, coming out, and embracing your true self.
[RadioActive Youth Media is KUOW's radio journalism and audio storytelling program for young people. This story was entirely youth-produced, from the writing to the audio editing.]
Rhea Beecher: Hi, my name is Rhea. I’m 17, and I'm gender-fluid.
Right now, I'm in a place and surrounded by people who love and support me. I'm in a place where I can be free and express myself without being looked at differently or judged. But it wasn’t always like this.
There was a time when I wasn't in such a positive environment. There was a time when I didn’t know who I was. Or, maybe I did know, and I just wasn’t honest with myself.
I grew up in a different home than I’m in now. Until I was 10 years old, the environment I was in made me feel small. It made me feel like the rules were set in stone, and that I could never bend them or question them.
When I say environment, I mean our religion. But it wasn't just Christianity. It was also my household. You couldn't be who you wanted to be — it was against the rules.
Since I was very young, I grew up with Christianity so prevalent in my life. I didn’t really hear "love is love" and "be who you want to be." Instead, I mostly just heard people being bossy and influencing me, and telling me who I should be, instead of encouraging me to find out who I really am.
Growing up in my family’s church, things were strict. I mean, even if you were caught talking, or just not paying attention, it was socially acceptable for an adult to yell at you. The way you talked and dressed all had to be a certain way. And if you didn’t follow these rules, you got guilt-tripped.
When you’re very young, you’re easily influenced by adults. When adults tell you to do something or you’ll be punished, you do what they tell you to. Looking back, this makes me feel like I was bullied. I was told, "If you don’t act this way, you’re not going to go to heaven."
When you hear that when you’re young, you internalize it and believe it.
When I was in fifth grade, I moved in with my aunt who is now my mom. My mom would tell me that it was okay to talk about what I was feeling. After so many years of not being able to express who I really was, coming into an environment where I could be free felt amazing.
You’re being told one thing your whole life, believing it because that’s what you’ve been told since you were little. It felt like stepping into a new world. In my new household, I was surrounded by people who knew who they were and who they wanted to be. I was in a new school too, and I saw Pride flags there and heard people saying positive things about the LGBT community. This was all new for me.
From fifth to eighth grade I was still suppressing who I really was. I was in a safe space, but I didn’t feel ready to share who I was with others, or even myself yet.
Dear eighth grade me, it’s okay to come out. You’re gonna be okay. I know you’re stressing and you think people are going to judge you. But the people that judge you aren’t your real friends. The people who are your real friends are gonna stay with you no matter who you are.
I know you’re feeling insecure about dressing more feminine, even though you wish you could. I remember there were times when you were so scared to express yourself, times when putting on a crop top seemed like climbing Mount Everest. But now I have a safe space to dress how I wanna dress and talk how I wanna talk, and I’ve never felt more free.
Up until ninth grade I was in denial about my sexuality, and I had to push myself to come out of the closet.
In ninth grade was also when the pandemic started, so I had a lot of alone time. There was no looking the other way. I had to face my sexuality. When I finally came out, it felt like I was carrying a giant bag of rice and I took it off my shoulders.
A part of me wondered why I didn't do this sooner. I had a lot of feminine clothing that was just sitting in my drawer. During quarantine, I was bored so I decided to just put some of it on. I felt comfortable, confident. Like, "Huh, this is pretty cool."
When I finally accepted myself for who I was, I remember it like it was yesterday. It was like there was a broken mirror, and I had to put those pieces together to see who I really was. When I did that, it made me catch a glimpse of myself.
I grew up in a religious environment that made me feel like I wasn’t allowed to be who I truly was. But when I finally started to accept myself, I found people that loved me either way. I felt so relieved and comfortable.
I finally found people that helped me connect to Christianity while making me feel safe and loved at the same time.
Liz Krantz is one of those people. I met her at a parade on Lopez Island when her family drove by me and randomly asked me to join their float.
When I met Liz and her family, I immediately felt like I was home. They treated me like I was their family. They were so kind and accepting, so coming out to them wasn’t a scary or hard thing. I asked Liz if she remembered how her family reacted when I came out.
Liz Krantz: He's still like, you know, basically my parents' fourth child. We all love him. And he comes and he visits every year, and he stays at our house. You know, he prays at the dinner table with us. We all totally welcome him and enjoy his company, regardless of his sexuality. So yeah, basically just nothing changed when he came out to us. My parents were like, "Cool, yeah, I'm happy for you." You know, they gave him a hug and they said they loved him. And that was kind of it.
Rhea Beecher: Now I’ve done a lot of self-discovery, and just looking at myself and who I want to be. I’ve found a place where I can feel comfortable, and I’ve found people who are involved in Christianity that I feel comfortable around.
If I could talk to my younger self, this is what I would say:
Dear younger me, I want you to know that I've grown as a person and that I'm not afraid to be who I want to be. All of the times I was so scared of what people thought became really small.
I want you to know that I've not only accepted myself, but I've embraced myself. I’ve surrounded myself with people who lift me up instead of tear me down. I want you to know that I didn’t have to choose between religion and becoming who I really am. I chose both.
It’s so much better now. It’s like breathing a breath of fresh air.
Dear current me, there is also calm after the storm. The sun comes out, and there’s a rainbow.
This story was produced in a RadioActive Youth Media Advanced Producers creative audio workshop for high school and college-age youth.
Production assistance by Dayana Capulong and Iz Ortiz. Prepared for the web by Kelsey Kupferer. Edited by Lila Lakehart. Consultation support by Morgan Sherm.
Support for KUOW's RadioActive comes from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Discovery Center and BECU.
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