My Year-aversy

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I came out publicly on January 1st, 2017. Love Les was launched a month later. On the one-year anniversary of my coming out, I sat down with Love Les’ editor Jocelyn for my very own interview. This post is a year reflection on my coming out journey, my own dating adventures, and what Love Les has meant to me. Enjoy!

Name: Leslie Cox

Pronouns: she/her/hers

Home: Atlanta, GA

Work: I am a seminarian at Columbia Theological Seminary working on a Master of Divinity. My side hustles include writing, photography, education, and childcare.

How do you identify? I identify as either gay or lesbian.

Do you have a queer resource? Humble brag...this blog!     

                                                                                          This week's amazing photos were taken by Colin Goodman find more of his stellar work  here . 

                                                                                         This week's amazing photos were taken by Colin Goodman find more of his stellar work here

When did you first realize your identity?

I was pretty slow to realize. I didn’t really start to question until grad school. It was in grad school that I built relationships with people in the queer community for the first time. I was really intrigued by their stories. But I didn’t think that I might fit into that space.

I remember I was using this app called Coffee Meets Bagel and going out on different dates. I finally had a dream date lined up with this cute guy with a great job. We were going to go out to a coffee shop and then an art museum. I’m equally obsessed with art and espresso so it sounded perfect. But I just wasn’t excited about it, like at all. I talked to a mentor about it (read about him here) and he asked, “Would you be more excited about it if it was a woman?” I laughed, but the more I thought about it the more I realized that “Yes, yes…I would be actually.” 

Tell me about your family and the community you were raised in. 

I am from a small town in Florida with a population of 13,000. My family is very conservative and I grew up in a conservative evangelical church – the kind that holds conversion therapy meetings. I honestly think that’s why it took me so long to come out. I remember my dad and my church speaking about gay people in these degrading stereotypes – that “homosexuals all had AIDS because God was punishing them” and “homosexuals were pedophiles.” Those were the images I kept with me for a really long time.

Growing up in that community meant rejecting the LBGTQ community. For me, this also meant rejecting this part myself. For 25 years, I tried to be someone other than who I was.

When I look back, I can remember things like…when Star Wars III came out. All of my friends were obsessed with Anakin they thought he was so hot. But I was obsessed with Padmel- she was sooo beautiful. In my mind, though, gay wasn’t finding women more beautiful, gay meant wanting to do these really bad things.

Self-discovery meant leaving my hometown, my family, and community. I had to move to Atlanta. Moving to ATL is hands-down the best decision I have ever made. I finally found the space and community to process who I am and how I love.

What was your initial coming out experience?

Initially, I had the best coming out experience, and I hope so many other people get to have one like it as well. I was able to fully claim and love myself – and I had the most supportive friend community surrounding me. I didn’t have to question who would accept me when I came out. I already knew my close-knit group were affirming and supportive allies. 

I remember being so excited to tell three of my really close friends. One of them lived out of town and she came in for a visit the week after I came out to myself. I was so excited to tell them, but I waited until she was in town. For the longest week of my life, I kept everything bottled in when I just wanted to call them and tell them! 

When I got to tell the three of them, their reactions were so lovely and affirming. One of them started crying. I kept thinking, “These people are responding as if I’m telling them I’m pregnant!” They were so happy. Later that week, they threw me a coming out Pink Lady Party. The night I publicly came out, we popped champagne, danced, and dared to to dream up Love Les. There was so much laughter and joy that week. It was beautiful. 

Has your whole coming out process been like that?

No. After that I experienced harder times in the coming out process. Honestly, I faced resistance from both the queer community and my conservative community. I had to come out to more conservative friends and family and decide whether or not to disclose in circumstances that felt unsafe. I even found out that after my coming out party a few people within my friend community were upset that I was claiming queer culture before I kissed a girl. They felt like I was appropriating a culture that didn’t belong to me. That’s kind of when the term Lipstick Lesbian began to speak to me. I kept running into this weird scenario where I would come out to someone but they wouldn’t believe me because I present very feminine and had never acted in the stereotypes that they associated with queer culture.

What was it like coming out to your family?

I was terrified to come out to my family. My mom was a wildcard, but she was a wildcard that had swung pretty conservative in the past. I remember watching a television show with my mom and the series introduced a gay character and my mom was so upset about it. She went on this rant about how television is all “gay, gay, gay” and “can’t they just let us have one show without throwing in the liberal agenda and making everyone gay.” Mind you, this was around 2008 when there was hardly any media representation of LBGTQ folk. And he was a side character that appeared for like five episodes. 

I came out to my family over my winter break last year. Before I left my school, I called my mom and told her I had to tell her something then I drove the six-hour drive home rehearsing what I wanted to say. I expected the conversation to go in a certain direction so I didn’t even unpack my car before telling her. I had already made plans to stay with a friend if things took a negative turn.

When I finally worked up the never to go inside I couldn’t even get the words out. My mom was so nervous! She kept telling me, “Leslie, what is it? You can tell me anything.” But I really felt like this would be the thing that would end our relationship entirely. She was so anxious that she started guessing. “You’re pregnant?” I said no. Then, “you’re quitting school?” No. “You…like women more than men?” At that point, I nodded my head yes.

She was surprisingly accepting. We had this really vulnerable conversation that night. For the first time in my life, I was able to talk to my mom about sex, my dating life, and the future I wanted for myself. She was pretty supportive and just this week, she met my partner.

Tell me about your dating experiences. 

When I first came out, my mentor asked if I had felt attracted to any women I knew or had met, and I had. There was one woman in particular that I thought was super attractive. She was this badass community organizer and seemed so beautifully confident. We ended up running into each other a few times and eventually going out on a few dates. We joke that she was my introduction to kissing women. Something, for the record, that I did like, a lot. She really helped me in my questioning process, and I think I did the same for her in some ways. 

When that ran its course, I did what all the young gays do and I downloaded dating apps. I wanted to really experiment and figure out what I wanted in a date and a partner. I hadn’t really done that exploring in middle school, or high school, even college. So, I lined up a bunch of different dates. I had 6 dates lined up within a two-week span. I was really excited about meeting and dating some gay women…but then there was date number three.

Tell me about date number three.

She was the most romantic and thoughtful human being and she was gorgeous! On our first date, I found myself agreeing to two more dates. One of them was for a fair that wasn’t until 6 months later! Our first date ended up lasting six hours. We were together for so long that all of my friends thought she was a catfish and had killed me. When I got back to my car, I had eight missed calls from them.

That first date, she took me kayaking at her family’s lake house. When I got there, she was in the driveway with flowers. We went out to this little island and had a picnic- which we actually didn’t eat. She was so nervous that she forgot to take it out of her bag! That date was so dreamy. We had been talking for a month before we met up. I was worried that we wouldn’t have anything to talk about, but we talked for hours, ate our picnic, and got to watch the sunset on the lake. It was perfect. Within a week we went out again - that date lasted eight hours and ended in a pillow fort that we built. 

How long have you been together now?

Nine months. One of the interesting things about our relationship is that I am publicly out and she is closeted. Initially, we had to do a lot of navigating. On our second date, we talked about what dating each other would look like - logistically. I wasn’t interested in going back in the closet. I wanted to be able to hold her hand in public and introduce her to my friends. It was actually surprisingly easy to set up some ground rules. Nine months later, we’re planning her coming out and we’ve respected each other’s boundaries. Like I can post pictures of her on Insta, but I won't tag her. Or she’ll talk to her family about me, but not in the context of us dating. 

What’s it been like, dating her?

I am in the healthiest and happiest relationship I have every been in. I am very much in love. It was really hard for me to process what dating a woman would be like – when I was dating men. I knew I related more to my female friends, and so I had no idea how much more satisfying a relationship with a woman would be for me. And I’ve watched myself fall completely head over heels for someone - in ways that I haven’t before. For the first time, I’m able to picture myself getting married and having children – which I never did before.

Essentially, the person I’m dating is everything I thought I wanted. Someone who is super romantic, and thoughtful, and really funny.

What is your favorite thing about her? 

She is this stupidly funny person. When she asked me out she carved it into a tree. Instead of asking me, “Would you be my gf?” She carved, “Wood you be my gf?” To this day, she’ll say her wit won me over. She also has this amazing heart. She studied criminology and has a background working with differently-abled children and those are the things she wants to devote her life to. She would love to work for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation investigating child abuse cases. And if it were up to her, our household would be filled with only special needs goats, dogs, and children. Did you know you can rescue three-legged goats?

I didn’t! That’s amazing.

She’s amazing. A month into our dating, she planned this surprise birthday party for me with one of my best friends. It was everything I wanted. It was all of my favorite foods, a gluten-free cake, lots of friends. It was this wonderful, beautiful night. And it was all because of this thoughtful woman who dreamed and schemed this thing up. She knew me so well, so fast. She knew my love language and how I receive love. She gets me.

Yay! Switching topics…Why did you start Love Les?

I started Love Les after publicly posting my coming out story. It was important for me to write my own narrative and it ended up striking a chord with people. People’s responses really encouraged me to dream up Love Les. I think I was also trying to create the resource I wished I had. Like I didn’t really know the stories of anyone who identified as LBGTQIA. I grew up without any examples of gay couples - I never heard their stories, experienced their love, or saw their happiness. This year I’ve traveled to nine different states, thirteen cities, and have met and interviewed queer people in so many different contexts.

How has Love Les, and the stories you’ve heard, impacted you in this first year?

I honestly didn’t have a lot of knowledge of queer culture before coming out. So this past year I’ve looked at so many different resources. I’ve been discovering websites, magazines, movies, and blogs; attending conferences and trainings; and exploring coming out though my academic studies. It’s been cool, because I’ve been able to help people find support, safe spaces to stay, or legal resources within their areas. I’ve had opportunities to create my own queer resources and advocate for LBGTQ rights on The Hill and the United Nations. I’ve even been lucky enough to walk alongside some really amazing people in their coming out journeys. 

I like to think I learn something from every blog interview. I’ve heard about coming out in the 80’s during the AIDS crises, I’ve met a pastor working with Tim Gunn to make queer clergy clothes for the runway, I’ve lived with newlywed women as they began to look into the adoption process, and I interviewed someone who came out publicly through a blog post on Love Les.

Just meeting these people has really impacted me personally and helped me shake my own harmful stereotypes that I’ve been carrying around with me – to see the queer community at so many different angles and hear so many different stories. I’ve got an expanding vocabulary, I’ve seen so many different circumstances, and I look outside my own experience of sexuality. It’s really shown me how diverse, vibrant, and bold the queer community is. 

What have you learned in your first year of Love Les?

Coming out is a process that is rarely celebrated. But when people look back, its something that people wish they had more chances to celebrate – with people who would encourage them and celebrate with them.

Coming out honestly and truly looks different for every person.

I’ve also learned about the impacts of Christianity on the coming out process. When I started this blog, I had no intention of publishing anything relating to faith. But throughout the blog, so many people have wanted to talk about Christianity because it very critically and negatively impacted them in their coming out journey. It’s been really interesting to look at the impact of Christianity on the queer community.

In this first year, I’ve really learned how beautiful stories are and how wonderful it is to sit with someone and grab a cup of coffee or a beer and really listen to their story. It’s such a gift to be in that space with someone and to hear their journey.

I’ve learned how instantly you can feel connected to someone who has similar experiences to you.

I’ve also learned about love. Something I was never taught or thought about “homosexuality” is the love between people. And that’s what being gay is. It’s about how you show, and express, and receive love. I love hearing people gush over their love for their partners, and that was something that really helped me initially in my journey. Part of the reason I wanted to focus on love stories was to highlight the ways that people experience love. And that’s my favorite thing about interviewing couples – to find out their favorite things about each other, to hear their first date stories, to see how they’ve experienced love with one another.

What are your hopes for Love Les in this next year?

I hope Love Les continues to be a safe space for people who need rest, a resource for people who have questions or are questioning, and a spark of inspiration for the LBGTQIA community to truly celebrate themselves.

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Leslie Cox