Courtney Henry - A Coming Out Celebration
Courtney just happens to be one of my favorite human beings! She reached out to me this fall when she discovered Love Les. Since then, we've been celebrating each other's journeys. Courtney is one of the most affirming, joyful, and bold women I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. Even more exciting, this week's blog post is her coming out story!
"I celebrate that there is something good in every day" - Courtney
Inspired by the Confetti Project (one of the most beautiful projects celebrating life through confetti and photography), I doused Courtney in confetti and glitter and asked her what she celebrates.
The Heart of it:
When did you first start to realize your orientation?
The first time I started claiming my identity was in an introductory survey my freshmen year of college. One question asked, “How do you identify?” I stared at the question for the longest time. Longer than I probably should have. Finally, I marked “Questioning.” It honestly felt like such a relief to not mark “Straight.” I have a lot of conservative friends here at school, and there hasn’t been a lot of space to really question. That finally felt like a space for me to start honestly questioning my sexuality.
Had you ever questioned your sexuality before then?
Yes. I don’t think I had the language for it then. When I was in middle school, I never experienced those classic crushes that everyone else did. I thought I was just too busy, so I would say, “I just don’t have time for that.” In high school I watched my friends get asked out to homecoming and prom and I realized that I didn’t really want that for myself. But I didn’t know why. I had guys in high school who liked me, but I just didn’t feel the same way.
I remember watching superhero movies and never feeling attracted to the guys. I never understood my friends who would say, “He’s so hot!” I would just respond, “Sure, he looks nice.” If anything, I felt something about the women but I didn’t completely understand it. I thought I was drawn to them because they were strong, empowered women.
If someone told me in high school, “By the way, you’re gay,” I think that would have made so many things easier. Trying to figure out why I didn’t want a relationship or why I didn’t find the male superheroes attractive was a process for me.
When did your coming out journey start?
The night I came out to my friend Millie, this past summer. It was July 11th. Somehow, while we were talking, sexuality came up and I told her that I might be bi-sexual. Later that week I texted her, “So I think I’m actually gay. Whenever I picture the future, I see myself with a woman, not a man.” And she responded, “Whatever feels more right, I'd say! Date whoever feels right. Do whatever feels right.” I think I needed that confirmation that it was ok. Claiming gay felt a lot more comfortable than claiming bi.
Why is publicly coming out important to you?
I think coming out is a form of celebrating who you are. I can’t even describe how happy I felt after I came out to Millie. We celebrated together and did an impromptu photo shoot with a PRIDE flag. I’ve even noticed that throughout this semester, as I’ve been coming out people, I’ve been a lot happier and I smile more. It’s made a noticeable difference.
Celebrating coming out should be no different than celebrating someone who is creative or has a big family. Our lives are something to celebrate. When we’re living into our true selves, we should celebrate that. I think coming out is simply celebrating who you are and you shouldn’t be afraid to do that. There's a lot of celebrating to be done in life and we don’t do enough of it.
What else do you celebrate?
I celebrate that there is something good in every day no matter what happened that day. I celebrate that each day ends in a sunset so different than the day before. I celebrate people running after their passions because they have found what calls out to their hearts. I celebrate creativity and the infinite forms that it can take. I celebrate whoever invented mac and cheese because, let’s be honest, it’s the best food ever. Celebrating can be anything and everything all at once. All it takes is a little hope or joy.
How are you celebrating yourself and your coming out journey?
I knew that I wanted to come out through a blog post on Love Les, and I decided that I also wanted to have a coming out party as well. So, I proposed the idea to my roommate and her girlfriend and they were super excited about it. The first thing they said back is, “We need a gay cake!” Right now, the plan is to host a party in the basement of our dorm. We’re going to hold the party on the first Friday of the new semester as a sort of fun gathering. We don’t have a lot of concrete plans right now, but I’m really excited.
Do you have any worries about coming out publicly?
I’m honestly scared of my sorority. I’m scared that they won't accept me. I think that one thing that my chapter does really well is having girls involved in diverse organizations and causes all over campus. This coming semester, we’ll have a presence at Pride. In a way, I’m really excited because it’s a girl doing one more thing on campus. But I’m also really nervous because coming out is defying the social norms. It’s scary to think about defying that norm.
Talk to me about being queer in the South.
I think that being queer in the South is its own special weird place. The Bible Belt isn't known for being accepting or affirming of queer people. I see this a lot when my peers talk about “loving the sinner but hating the sin.” Sometimes it feels like everyone is trying to pray the gay out of me.
I also think that because the South has such a reputation for not being affirming, the places I’ve experienced affirmation have felt all the more special. Last semester in my biology class, I ended up getting really close to the peers that sat with me. The four of us call ourselves the “BBB” or “Badass Bio Bitches.” We have gone through several group name changes as inside jokes evolve but the one thing that stays constant is our support for one another. When I came out to them, it was quite anticlimactic. They were like “cool” - end of conversation. I really don’t know what I would do without them.
As someone in the middle of the coming out process, do you have any advice for others?
I think one of the most important things I could tell someone is to have patience with the process. There’s not really timeline for coming out and that is a beautiful thing. The process can be as fast or as slow as you want. The entire process is 110% up to you. You decide how and when you come out.
I also think that along with patience comes the important reminder to be kind to yourself throughout it. Coming out is a very vulnerable process. It’s okay to take a break and just watch a movie or color or whatever makes your heart content.
Oh! Also get to know some queer people! Probably the biggest help I have had is getting to know people who are out and what their process was like. Hearing the stories of others was incredibly comforting and gave me so much hope. I have had some of the best times with these people this year and they are truly what community looks like.