Brenna Lakeson- A Lesson in Bravery
Last March we interviewed Brenna- a feisty ball of feminine energy with a heart for justice and a passion for stories- while she was navigating life inside the closet. Since our initial interview, she has come out and we couldn’t be more excited for her! So, almost a year later we checked back in with her to see how everything is going.
Name: Brenna Lakeson
Hometown: Charlotte, NC
How do you identify: queer feminist pastor and social activist, bi/pan, cat mom
What do you do: I work at a nonprofit with people experiencing homelessness doing case management, communications and marketing, social media, and everything else because that's how nonprofits are. I'm also a writer working toward being published.
Favorite queer resources: The queer community I follow on Twitter. Some of them I've met in real life and some I haven't, but reading their own stories and hearing about their journeys has given me strength and confidence to be comfortable in my own skin.
What are you reading: I just finished A Little Life which is absolutely the saddest book I've ever read. Book usually don't make me cry and I cried essentially the whole way through this one. So now, I'm reading Anna Kendrick's autobiography for a nice pick me up.
Crayon colors: Something pretty, but like, with a weird name? Like cerulean or mauvelous. Yes, I did look at a list of all the crayon names to answer this.
First person to inspire you: Probably my middle school chorus teacher, Mrs. Stallworth. I think she was one of the first people to notice I was a bit weird but not treat me any differently because of it. She also helped me grow my singing talent and really believed in me during a notoriously awkward time.
Describe yourself in 3 words: writer. theologian. activist. (Gotta stay on brand.)
The Heart of it:
First, let’s cover your highlight reel since our last interview.
Coming out is definitely up there, especially when I think about my first out Pride. I was on the verge of tears the whole time because I could finally identify myself as a part of the community being celebrated instead of just an onlooker/ally.
I was published in a collection for the first time! I had a nonfiction piece and a poem published in a collection of emerging writers. You can find both collections here:
I turned 28 in September. I had mixed feelings about my birthday this year and had a bit of an existential crisis leading up to it, but ended up feeling loved and cared for and celebrated in a really lovely way.
Let’s talk about coming out! What inspired that?
So many things! On one hand, I feel like I almost didn’t have a choice - like I was so tired of keeping it a secret that I couldn’t do it anymore. My desire to be authentic in the world overrode my desire to please everyone. I reached a place where I didn’t care anymore how others would react. I was more tired of being in the closet than I was worried about the reactions of others.
I also think being able to watch other faith leaders live authentically into both their queerness and their spirituality showed me that I could be both things fully and didn’t have to choose.
How did people respond?
For the most part, responses have been overwhelmingly positive. I got a lot of support from people close to me and people I haven’t talked to in years.
The day I came out, I had four or five people from different circles of my life message me and come out to me, which felt so holy and special.
Did your family’s reaction end up surprising you?
Yes. Coming out to my family was not as difficult as I expected, especially considering my memories of my parents’ negative reaction to me exploring my sexuality in high school. Talking to them this time around felt relatively smooth. They had questions, but they were all pretty normal questions, and I was glad to hear them ask what they were thinking. Queerness is a whole new world to them, so it will take them a while to adjust. And I’m willing to be patient with them.
My partner’s family has been the most difficult part, and that was surprising. I don’t think they’ve ever dealt with a friend or family member coming out before. They’re struggling to understand what it means for me to be bi in a monogamous relationship with their son. It’s hurtful to have important people in my life misunderstand my identity, but I’m trying to remember that this feels really new and unexpected for them. It’s going to be a long road toward acceptance, but I’m holding out hope that we’ll get there.
What role has your partner played?
This was honestly a part of my journey that was more difficult than I had planned for. As I mentioned, his family has put up the most the resistance to me coming out. My partner has the challenge of navigating between me and them. He’s been more than supportive all along, though.
He knew I was bi when we started dating, but because he had never expressed any concerns to my identity, we never really talked about it. His acceptance meant that we hadn’t talked about why it was important for me to come out. I hadn’t told him about my traumatic high school experiences and my process of self-acceptance. After I came out, we had to have some harder conversations about it that I didn’t see coming. All of this new communication brought us closer together, though. I’m glad that he feels safe enough to ask me questions and that we can still learn new things about each other three and a half years into our relationship.
Has your partner’s gender impacted your coming out experience?
I think in the church it has. I’m provisionally commissioned (for all the non-Methodists out there, basically pre-ordained) in the United Methodist Church, but the UMC doesn’t allow ordination of LGBTQ+ people. However, despite the public nature of my coming out, I haven’t received any feedback from the church about it. I think because my relationship is straight-passing, they’re more accepting than if my partner were female-identifying or genderqueer/nonbinary.
Sometimes I still struggle with my own queerness because I’m in a straight passing relationship. Being out has added a new level to my self-acceptance and my desire to be visible as queer all the time. I feel like I have something to prove in queer circles and in straight circles. I want queer people to know that I’m like them and straight people to know that I’m not one of them even though it might seem like it. I’m having to adjust to the fact that just because I’m out doesn’t mean people will always recognize me as queer, and I’m learning how to be comfortable with that.
So, what has life looked like since coming out?
Honestly, surprisingly the same. I think I expected to feel entirely different afterward.
Coming out was a benchmark moment that I built up to for over a decade, but life has been the same in a lot of ways. In small ways, it’s been different. When people talk about queerness now, I get to say, “Yes, that’s me.” Now I post things on social media and wear t-shirts with queer slogans. - This sounded like I was saying I’m wearing strange clothing, haha. So in small ways, it’s been different. These small things give me so much life, and I don’t mean to minimize that, but I think in a lot of ways I’m exactly the same. I’ve been queer all along. Coming out to myself was more of an adjustment than coming out to others. Now, it’s the people around me that have to adjust.
Let’s talk about your writing.
Girl, yes! This is something I want to grow and expand in the next year. I have a list of journals and literary reviews I want to submit to. I want to be more intentional about finding time to write, even when I don’t feel like it. I want to move toward publishing a collection. I’m not sure what that’s going to look like yet, but it’s something I’m really excited about.
Tell me about what self-care and mental health look like for you.
As I write this, I’m actually on a two-night retreat by myself right outside of Atlanta. I took the week off of work on self-care week. I’m staying in a tiny house, like a literal Tiny House, with chickens and a hot tub. I’m a 1 on the Enneagram which means that I’m great at keeping myself busy perfecting everything, in order to avoid my feelings. So staying in a house that I don’t need to clean or decorate or landscape, has forced me to sit around and listen to my emotions instead of ignoring them. It kind of sucks but it’s something I really need right now.
I’ve been thinking a lot with my therapist lately about how my lack of self-care as a teenager and in my early 20s has meant that my trauma keeps circling back because I never listened to what my body needed before. Listening to what my body needs is sometimes painful because she has some difficult things to say at times, but she also needs to be heard. I’m in a season where I have to keep reminding myself that it’s ok to not be ok. I honestly hate it when people say that because it doesn’t feel ok to not be ok. I’m still figuring out my medications, learning to recognize my triggers, and uncovering things that haven’t really healed. Feeling unwell is part of the journey sometimes, and that’s ok.
In what ways would you encourage readers to prioritize self care this new year?
As I move into the new year, some of my goals are achievement oriented, hello Enneagram 1 type, but I’m also trying to incorporate some adventure and spontaneity. My word for 2019 is Brave.
I want to take risks in my writing. I want to try new things without worrying they will be a disaster. I want to strive to progress over perfection. I also want to be brave in the ways I take on old ghosts. I want to be brave in therapy sessions and do the hard work of healing. I want to continue to learn about what it means to navigate the world as a queer woman. So, sometimes bravery will mean traveling to Europe and sometimes it will mean taking a bubble bath.
Either way, I want to be able to recognize it when I look back and say that I lived a brave life.
I think everyone should find their word for 2019 and live into it.