Change for the bet­ter


When I was a kid, my mom would say, “Shan­non, you are such a free spirit.” I didn’t know what that meant, but I knew it wasn’t some­thing any­one else in my fam­ily was.

When I got older, my free-spirit­ed­ness man­i­fested it­self in many of the ob­vi­ous ways: re­bel­lion, drug use, dress­ing out­landishly, lis­ten­ing to hard rock loud and proud, and tak­ing risks with my body and my life. In ev­ery sense of the word, I was “wild,” and there was no­body who was go­ing to tame me.

When my best friend gave me the ul­ti­ma­tum to marry him or we wouldn’t have a friend­ship, I couldn’t imag­ine a life with­out him in it. I knew I was a les­bian and I didn’t want to get mar­ried (or even have kids), but I was pretty sure that I would never have an­other friend I loved so much. Reluc­tantly, I mar­ried him.

Shortly af­ter our wed­ding, my long-haired rocker hus­band be­came a fun­da­men­tal­ist evan­gel­i­cal, and in an ef­fort to “fix” my­self, I tried to pray away my gay. Over the next 18 years, I died to my­self a mil­lion times. I com­pro­mised on what I wanted for my­self be­cause I loved some­one else. Not in one area, but in ev­ery area.

I got rid of the mu­sic I loved, the clothes I loved, a car I loved, friends I loved. I did it as an act of love and in an at­tempt to con­vince my­self that the love was worth it. In do­ing so, I lost my­self and be­came very un­happy.

When my dad fi­nally con­fronted me about be­ing mis­er­able and not be­ing my­self, he threw the tini­est em­ber un­der a pile of hay and slowly fanned the baby flame that be­gan to grow un­til I mus­tered the courage to come out of the closet at the age of 38.

In the year that fol­lowed, my pas­tor an­nounced my “sin” of be­ing gay from the pul­pit, my church prayed for my death in a pub­lic wor­ship ser­vice, I was or­dered by a judge to leave my house (and kids), and I lost most of my friends and half of my fam­ily. It was dev­as­tat­ing. And it was beau­ti­ful. Al­most im­me­di­ately, my au­then­tic self sur­faced. Not the rebel who was an­gry that I was stuck in the closet, and not the church­go­ing, home­school­ing mom try­ing to bar­gain with God for hetero­sex­u­al­ity. It was the me that I was never able to be be­fore I had the courage to speak my truth.

I be­gan to re­mem­ber the things that I liked to do be­fore. I read ar­ti­cles about my fa­vorite bands and went to their shows. I got rid of my church clothes and started to wear edgy, rockn-roll clothes. I started to study other sub­jects be­sides faith and the­ol­ogy. I started speak­ing freely. I watched porn. I got a tat­too.

Last week, my son called me from col­lege. He sounded down, and I asked him what was wrong. He was de­pressed that he chose a ma­jor that wasn’t what he thought it would be and he was now com­mit­ted to do­ing this for life. Af­ter all, he made the de­ci­sion to do it and now, he felt locked in. For life.

It was my ab­so­lute plea­sure to in­form him that the best thing about life is that we have the right to do the things that make us happy. That means that if we choose some­thing—a job, a part­ner, a house—what­ever it is, and find out it’s not what makes us happy, we can al­ways change our minds. And we can al­ways change our lives.

Shan­non Hames is a mom, writer, real­tor, vol­un­teer, rocker chick, world trav­eler, and ’80s hair band afi­cionado. She loves ba­bies, ob­serv­ing peo­ple, read­ing great books and tak­ing hot baths. She has been writ­ing for Ge­or­gia Voice since 2010.

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