Gwendolyn J. Bean had only dated women when her dating desires shifted. Amber Cantorna grew up in a conservative Christian home then fell in love with her female college roommate. And their coming out self-discovery and coming out stories are similar in some ways, and drastically different in others. Learn much more in this week’s Girl Boner Radio episode!
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“When Your Sexual Identity Changes”
a Girl Boner Radio transcript
Do you remember when you first had a sense of your sexual orientation? That’s a tough one to pinpoint for a lot of people, given that there’s often a presumption that folks are straight. We see Ken and Barbie as a couple when we’re kids. Not Barbie and another Barbie.
One big study showed that most gay, lesbian and bisexual people report first feeling like they weren’t straight in their teens. I suppose that makes sense. That is when many of us start experiencing crushes or sexual attraction.
But a bunch of factors can make grasping your orientation or identity tricky. Sexuality is often fluid, for one thing. In a 2015 study, over half of women and men surveyed considered themselves sexually fluid — meaning they don’t have one particular orientation or that it changes over time. That could mean that you’re attracted to one gender for some time and then multiple genders during another, or that you don’t feel like any label quite fits.
And while it’s starting to change, many kids still grow up without the language or perceived option to identify as anything other than straight.
Today you’ll hear two women’s stories that show just how complex, and also beautiful, such identity journeys can be — starting with erotica author, Gwendolyn J. Bean.
[acoustic, encouraging music]
Gwendolyn: Growing up sex was everywhere, but at the same time, I also felt like I wasn’t supposed to be the one to talk about it.
When she was in grade seven or eight, she said, her peers started telling sex jokes. But then one day, a friend told her she talked too much about sex, which confused her.
Gwendolyn: Guy friends, I have, talked way more about sex than I ever did, but I was very confused by it. And it’s only really looking back later that I kind of understand the gender side of that.
That’s because she was female…
Gwendolyn: …I wasn’t the one who was supposed to be telling those jokes and leading those jokes, you know? I took a long time to process growing up.
This was the 1970s [70s music], and Gwendolyn remembers her parents being very accepting of the gay couple who lived nearby. They were always referred to as “the gay couple behind us,” though, because gay people couldn’t just be called people.
Gwendolyn: There wasn’t a lot of talk back in that time. It was that time period where it was just starting to be talked about and people were starting to be a little more visible.
That visibility made it easier for Gwendolyn to embrace her gay identity early on, although she never really named it.
Gwendolyn: My first relationships were with women. I didn’t use a word to be honest.
Instead, she would just say:
Gwendolyn: “I’m dating so and so,” and their name would happen to be a woman’s name. And other people definitely assumed lesbian, and even would use that term to describe me, but I don’t know that I ever actually said it.
In fact, in my head, I think I did have this idea of being bisexual, but I would never have said it out loud, and I definitely didn’t date men.
She slept with a couple of guys in her 20s, but never had a relationship with a man. Then at age 28, she fell in love with a woman she met at a bar.
Gwendolyn: It was a lesbian bar in Toronto. I definitely wasn’t looking for a relationship and neither was she, which I think is how it worked out well. We went out with friends and happened to meet. wasn’t supposed to turn into anything, but there was never any reason to end things.
Their first date turned into more dates, and it gradually grew serious. She was staying over at Gwendolyn’s house more often. They were acting like a couple.
Gwendolyn: Then one day we just decided, well, “you’re here always. Maybe we should move in together.” And it really wasn’t until we moved in together that we were like, okay, I think we’re in this, this is, this is maybe a relationship that’s gonna last. It’s like a real relationship.
They decided to get married. The marriage lasted for 13 years, when her partner suggested they file for divorce.
Gwendolyn: We had been growing apart for years, I think. We’d had a kid and there was that definitely difficult period where you’re not sleeping and you definitely don’t feel like your own relationship with your partner is the priority. And definitely sex is not on the table at all. So there was that period. I dunno that we ever really fully recovered from that.
I think we just thought it would happen.
They thought they’d reconnect as their little one got older. Instead, they stayed distant.
Gwendolyn: We couldn’t get it back. Tried for years, but it didn’t work. We wanted different things. We both changed a lot, becoming parents. My partner had changed jobs, so there was a whole lot of things going on.
So, they got divorced. And they’ve stayed friends.
Gwendolyn: I think it’s better this way. We’re better co-parents and friends than in a relationship that was just distant and not working.
So take us to the end of the relationship. You’d gotten divorced or ended up using Tinder. What was it like, dating again?
Gwendolyn: So dating again after getting a divorce was definitely a big thing after being in a relationship for 13 years, the idea of doing that and being at a different point in my life. I wasn’t in sort of university and those contexts where you’re meeting lots of new people and everyone’s open to meeting people. I didn’t even know how to do that anymore.
Also? Dating apps didn’t even exist when she had last dated.
Gwendolyn: So I really felt unsure and confused.
One day she opened the Tinder app and wanted to just sneak around without being visible.
Gwendolyn: But with Tinder you have to have at least a profile. So I did what I’ve seen lots of people do. I put up a picture of a turtle as my profile picture so that I could sneak around looking, but it makes you decide all the information right away before you can even look.
So Gwendolyn, who had never really chosen labels for her orientation, was basically forced to choose some.
Gwendolyn: So not ready for that. Definitely not ready for answering the question of who do you wanna meet? I just wanted to know that it was possible to meet people. That’s really what my head space was at the time.
But, she was interested and curious enough to give it a try. So she created a profile, convincing herself that she was letting TINDER decide her preferences. When the question appeared…
Gwendolyn: … “who do you wanna meet?” I said, everyone, because that was my way of not choosing,
According to the latest Tinder stats, 75% of users are men – which proved accurate for Gwendolyn. She almost exclusively matched with men. And she kind of used that as an excuse:
Gwendolyn: …that, well, I matched with men because it was 99% men. So really it was all Tinder doing that.
I floated along, experimenting, not really knowing what I was doing or not being comfortable with what I was doing really, I think was more what it was. And then I actually was at the point of going on a date with someone and I, I had to think, am I really doing this?
Here she was, in her 40s, getting ready to date men.
Gwendolyn: I’ve never been on a date with a man ever in my entire life.
August: Oh my goodness. Wow. Wow. Do you have a sense of why it felt so uncomfortable to admit to yourself that, do you wanted to have sex with men or date men?
Gwendolyn: I think that sexuality gets so tied with identity, that it just becomes who we are, like it’s such a core part of who we are. At least that’s how it felt when I was trying to change it. So it didn’t feel like I want something different. It felt like I was really changing a core part of my identity. The idea of telling people, letting people know, this was definitely a huge part of it. Like if I actually went on a date, I could run into people I knew. Or if I kept dating a man, I would probably eventually have to tell friends and family.
She said there were two sides to it. One was the personal side, where she felt she was losing who she thought she was.
Gwendolyn: But also there was the sort of social side of it and that uncomfortableness of having to tell other people, even though it was the direction that should have been okay.
To be honest, it was just as uncomfortable as the first time around…
…back when she was telling people she was dating a woman.
Gwendolyn: By the time I decided to tell my parents, I definitely was a lot more comfortable myself. I was definitely in a place where I could admit to myself that Tinder did not choose this for me, that I actually made this choice.
But in another sense, I wasn’t quite ready. I was starting to date and I had a date coming up. I’m at a family event and the family event is going longer and longer, and it’s not ending when it’s supposed to. So I really needed to leave and I’m watching my watch. well, As soon as I said I needed to leave because I was getting together with a friend, I could see my mom’s eyes perk up. I could just tell she knew, and wanted to ask questions, but didn’t, and I wasn’t at that point quite ready to say anything.
So I left as quickly as I could that night and then, I knew the next time I was gonna see them that there would be questions. I, I knew she knew something was up. I kind of prepared for it and, In a lot of ways it was very similar to the first time around.
I just said, “I’m dating someone.” And they asked her name, um, and I said, “Mick.” And there was confusion. And I just let this silence be awkward. I didn’t even know what to say at that point. And eventually my mom said, “Jesus Christ Gwen.”
And then my dad laughed and then there was more silence because I just, I don’t know what to do in those situations. I don’t how to make it less awkward for me and everyone involved. Uh, so there were a lot of awkward silences until my mom finally, I guess, gathered herself and started asking the regular questions like, “Where does he work? How did you meet? All of those things. And then it could start to feel like a normal conversation again.
And that’s what they did the first time around, uh, when I said I was dating a woman and that’s what they did again this time. So there was the weird, awkward conversation, but then, then it was just fine. This is what it is. They never asked me, you know, why I switched to men, why now, they had no questions for me.
It was just, you know, “will Mick becoming to Thanksgiving?” And it was just those kind of conversations now, like just, uh, let’s move on and keep going. And I think that’s just. It’s the way they kind of deal with everything.
August: There’s something about that that’s refreshing because it doesn’t seem to have judgment in it. Did you feel good about that? Did you want something different? Did you want them to ask more questions?
Gwendolyn: I think I did feel good about it. I think with my parents because I know that’s just them and that’s their comfortable place and that’s our relationship. And so, no, I think that was the best thing they could have done, was to just do what they always do.
If that had been with everyone and I had no one I could really, you know, talk to and sort think through all the awkward questions that I was thinking about myself, then it might be different. But I think with my parents, that was exactly what I wanted from them. I wanted that, that supportive we’re not gonna make this awkward, we’re not gonna ask too many questions. We’re just gonna move on cuz that’s what we know how to do kind of thing. That was, that was perfect for them.
Talking to her lesbian friends about her decision to date men was more challenging. They were the hardest to tell.
Gwendolyn: And I think it goes back to that identity piece and the politics of it, and I kind of felt like I was letting them down or betraying them in a weird way. It felt like I was gonna get kicked outta the club. I felt like I was losing this political identity. And as much as I identify as bisexual, bisexual invisibility thing is a weird, weird thing because I’m dating a guy, so when I talk about my partner now, it’s like a person talking about their straight relationship. When we go out in public, we are seen as a straight couple, so it felt like I didn’t fit into the club anymore, and no one ever made me feel like that. It wasn’t them at all.
There was definitely the most shock from them, probably even rivaling my parents for some of them. And I think some of them were a little hurt, because they felt like maybe I had hidden this from them, like I knew all along, but I just never told them. So there was a whole lot of, I think, baggage in that.
I think it’s because when, if you wind up dating someone of the opposite gender, then you can walk around the world and people think you’re straight. When you go to work, you can tell people about your partner and you don’t get the, the same response that you might if your partner was a same sex partner. So I think there’s a little bit of straight privilege in it that makes it different and makes it kind of be pushed to the side.
August: Did you feel, or have you felt a sense of straight privilege?
Gwendolyn: I feel it, but almost in like a negative way, like I don’t want it. Because being with women and being a lesbian or however I identified before bisexual, but always with a woman, definitely being part of the queer community, the straight privilege, I definitely felt it walking into a restaurant or those weird times where you’re just this straight couple on a date or checking into a hotel room and they say, you know, “do you want two beds?” And if you’re two women, there’s this awkward moment of “no, no, one bed is fine” kind of thing. And so there’s this straight privilege of, that doesn’t happen anymore. But I didn’t want it. Those were the moments I noticed this loss of identity. And I kind of wanted to reject it, in a weird sense, and then feeling a little guilty for rejecting the privilege that I have and all of that.
[Encouraging, acoustic music]
Gwendolyn told me she processes a lot of those feelings through erotica writing, which she took up early in the pandemic.
Gwendolyn: It was my pandemic hobby, when everything’s locked down and we couldn’t even leave the house. I had only been dating a guy for a very short amount of time.
He was really the first guy she’d dated — and writing fiction with scenes she described as “mostly straight” felt therapeutic.
Gwendolyn: I could write it and then I could look at it and say, yeah, that’s kind of hot. And that kind of validated it in a weird way that helped me process the whole thing.
August: I love that you could do that. The actual writing of it was probably therapeutic. Simply like getting the ideas out, and I think creativity is so profoundly nourishing. But then you also have this thing you created that became like a mirror for you to look into and say, oh, like I’m allowed to think this is hot.
Gwendolyn: Yes, absolutely. Reading it back was this surprising moment of, yeah, I get why this is good and why I can like this and this is okay to like this. It’s like a valid thing.
August: Do you feel like your sexuality, or sexuality in general is more fluid than folks realize?
Gwendolyn: I definitely think sexuality is fluid and constantly changing, even if it’s not in the massive way that mine had this shift. I think there’s so many little things that shift. You hear people say, “well I used to love this particular thing, and now that thing doesn’t do it for me anymore and I don’t know what happened.”
She said her own sexuality feels fluid in all sorts of ways, and her experience going from dating women to dating men — and then writing scenes inspired by it all — really opened her eyes to that.
Gwendolyn: I kind of wish I could go back in time and play out certain parts and see if I could have a little more fun with it in those times where I wasn’t really thinking about it. Be a little more experimental all the way through, you know, like things that I thought, oh, I don’t like that!
Well, you know, a few years later maybe I’ll try it again. Or maybe now I do or I’m drawn to that because things have actually changed. I’m definitely having fun right now being in this kind of experimental phase of like, well, if this can change at this stage, then anything can change. So I’m kind of open to it all.
If you’re curious about changes in your own sexuality, Gwendolyn shared this advice:
Gwendolyn: Find someone to talk to, find lots of people to talk to if you can. I was much more hesitant telling people than I needed to be. No one had this horrible reaction. Even the people who were shocked. I think that idea of, yeah, you don’t have to be alone in it.
She said that while there are certainly exceptions — and your safety is the most important thing — there’s a good chance that truly supportive loves ones aren’t as hooked on that identity aspect as you are.
Gwendolyn: So they can be there and you can talk through it. And it’s funny, I’ve been talking to a friend, one friend in particular and she’s been trying to sort through her sexuality as well. And so we have these great conversations and we’ll say, “I think this is what’s going on here in this moment,” and then a month later we’ll be like, “yeah, I don’t think that was actually what was going on. And I’m gonna go in this direction now.”
And it’s just kind of fun to be able to have those conversations without having to be, this is who I am now. This is my identity. I’m taking it on and this is it from now till the end. It does make you feel a lot less alone for sure.
One of Gwendolyn’s erotica stories, called “Catch Me” is featured in The Big Book of Orgasms, Volume 2, which released early this year. And it’s not just erotica, but mime erotica.
[music: “Dancing with Mimes”]
Gwendolyn: So pantomime and it’s basically a scene about a mime that gets very turned on by her own performance with her partner and keeps pushing the performance further and further to see how far she’s willing to go in front of an audience.
Now, Amber Cantorna’s story. I interviewed Amber Cantorna in-studio back in 2019 about her journey to embracing her queer identity. Here’s a condensed version of that conversation.
August: I know that your father is involved with Focus on the Family.
August: For anybody who’s not familiar, what are some of the tenants and values that community embraces?
Amber: Well Focus on the Family started here in Southern California and then they moved to colorado Springs in 1991 and James Dobson is the founder of that. And he is widely known still for being associated even though he is no longer with focus. Um, a lot of people don’t realize that, but he’s been gone for at least a decade, I believe. And yet people still associate James Dobson and his radio programs and his books with focus in the family.
So he was kind of the overarching name of the company, but they were, and continue to be still very much known for, their evangelicalism, their conservative values around family, around parenting, around marriage. But unfortunately, they’re also one of the most anti LGBTQ organizations still in existence today. And so that has really influenced my story and upbringing obviously, as well.
August: What do you remember learning about sex and sexuality when you were little? What were some of the first messages you received?
Amber: Well, I don’t think there was a whole lot, like in elementary age it’s kind of, you just don’t talk about it. But as I got older, purity culture was heavily influenced on my sexuality and my sexual ethic.
And so I actually had a whole purity ceremony when I was 13 years old where all of my family and friends came for kind of this coming into womanhood ceremony, and I actually signed a pledge on the dotted line that I would save sex for marriage and put a ring on my finger that was supposed to stay there until my wedding day when my husband then exchanged it for my wedding ring.
And so it was a very serious thing to me. And at the time, you just felt like that’s what you were supposed to do and. I did that with all of my 13 year old heart, not just for being a good role model to my peers, but also because I really truly wanted to please God with my life, and this is one way to do that. But I didn’t realize how much that was going to mask my ability to identify my sexual orientation later on in life.
August: And how did you come to that realization? When did you start questioning that?
Amber: Well, unfortunately it wasn’t until I was in my early twenties, because all those teen years, I just was under this belief that if you do the right things and you please God with your life and you follow God’s will, then eventually your night in shining armor is gonna come in on a white horse and rescue you and carry you off into happily ever after.
And so I really, I never dated at all. And I had no exposure to not only the dating world, but just diversity in general because I was in such a very small Christian bubble and just kind of cocooned in that world. So I didn’t have exposure to diversity of people of color, of disabilities, certainly not of LGBTQ. And that really kept my world very, very small and really limited my understanding of what sexuality can be.
August: Was there a particular instance where it started to shift for you? Was there, an aha moment, would you say? Or was it more of an a gradual unraveling or unveiling, I guess?
Amber: Well, there was a a ha moment when I fell in love with my roommate who was a female. And that was a shocking kind of throw into what led to understanding my own sexual orientation.
But that was so unexpected for me because I had just always done the right things and was kind of the “good girl” and the people pleaser and the rule follower, and suddenly that broke all the rules and it was just really shocking to suddenly come face to face with that and just not know what to do because that was the one thing you were never supposed to be, you know, if you had like a hierarchy of sins that was at the top.
August: Pretty high up there.
August: Which is so interesting because falling in love is such a powerful, wonderful experience and to have all those intoxicating hormones flying around and these wonderful feelings mixed with, whoa, like the magnitude…
Amber: And just an incredible amount of shame, like this can’t be happening. And so your first love, your experience with that first love coupled with just intense guilt and shame and self hatred and things that just were very dark. And so it was really unfortunate because it I think could have been very beautiful otherwise.
August: Oh. So were you able to, at that time, act on your desires at all? Or was the shame just so prohibitive that you couldn’t really, you know, cultivate a relationship or maybe date somebody?
Amber: Well, I think it was a little bit of both. That roommate was my first experience and eventually I think I got to this point where Iwas like, I have to see what’s on the other side of this cuz the pull is so strong and so it eventually did lead to acting on it, but every time we would do that in any sense of the word, it was immediately followed by intense shame.
August: Wow. Shame is so insidious. And I think also when we’re experiencing it, we don’t even get how, how deep it goes. Mm-hmm. or how much it’s impacting our lives.
August: And interestingly for somebody, cuz you’re still Christian, you are Christian then, right?
August: So, you would go to your faith when you’re feeling challenges, right? Like you would turn to God and you would pray and you would go to your church typically, I imagine, right? Right. But, but you kind of really couldn’t. So where did you go for support? Or did you?
Amber: Well, I didn’t really have much support because this was something you couldn’t talk about with anybody. And for me, the belief was so deep that once I acted on it and was sexual with a woman, it was like a double whammy because one, you’ve had sex outside of marriage, and two, it’s with a woman. And so I really believed that nobody was ever gonna want me again, and God was never gonna be able to use me again.
And I just felt like I was, kind of all the, the words they used to describe sexuality in the Christian world of like, you’re just recycled. You can be recycled virgin, you’re a piece of trash now, but we’ll fix you. And you know
August: Ah, the re-virgin-ing
Like what a horrible image. You know?
Amber: And so that really affected me too. And my parents actually had found out about this, like my first girlfriend before she kinda ran out in the middle of the night, outed me to my parents and they showed up on my doorstep at six in the morning and saying, “how could you,” and “don’t you ever tell anybody about this cuz it will ruin your reputation forever.” And
August: So they were angry.
Amber: They were very angry. I just retreated even further into the closet
August: And just said, “oh, I’m not gay.”
Amber: Well, and I didn’t even know what to call it. I just knew something was going on. Cause I didn’t even have the exposure or the vocabulary or the, you know? All those things. There was nothing there. And so I just retreated and dealt with it in isolation because there was nobody to go to, no safe place.
And that just ate me alive. And I just spiraled downward in that shame, that just overwhelmed me to the point of self-injury and suicidal ideations and just a very dark place.
Amber: So that was really when I think when I got to the bottom of that, it was like, I either have to face this fear or it’s gonna be the thing that kills me.
And that’s when I started. Slowly making steps to look outside this very small box I had lived in.
August: Wow. You had to hit a bottom of sorts, it sounds like.
August: Once you made that decision what? Kind of the course of action from there. Did you have a plan? Did you have a first step in mind?
Amber: Well, there was a few things I did. One was I found a good therapist, not your Christian therapist, quote unquote, you know, but a licensed therapist who could really allow me to explore my feelings and explore what I was going through and my, my emotions, which I really hadn’t even been good at naming my whole life, cuz emotions weren’t really portrayed in a healthy way in our home. you were kind of very limited to emotions of happy and excited and blessed, but not like anger and sadness and disappointment and those kind of things. So being able to explore that for the first time was really helpful for me. And then I did a lot of work around, what does this mean theologically and what does this mean for my faith and how do I navigate that?
And that was hard because there wasn’t very many resources. In the five to 10 years since then, we’ve come out with an extremely long list of resources that we can now offer to people that wasn’t available then.
So I had to really struggle to be able to kind of look culturally and historically at what the scripture really says about these issues as opposed to what I had been taught to believe.
August: There are so many layers to this.
Amber: Very, yeah. A very layered experience.
And I’m sure it was also a gradual process of feeling stronger and empowered and all of that. What were some of the biggest shifts for you toward the positive, where you started to, to feel like you could embrace your sexuality and your orientation and your faith?
Amber: One of my biggest shifts came when I found an affirming faith community, because that was huge for me to be able to go and see that it was possible to have both and you didn’t have to pit them against the other. And so I saw people that were. very much in love with God and very much in love with their same sex partner or spouse without any conflict in between.
And had been together 20, 25, 30 years. And that was like a light bulb moment for me of, oh, this is possible. I remember going home that day, the very first time after I had experienced that, and writing in my journal, like, I’ve reached the point of no return. Like I’ve stepped over across that threshold and there’s no going back.
And there was I think a little bit of excitement with that of like, oh, I think I found it. And then also this like incredible fear. Moving forward there was kind of this overwhelming, joy and peace that like I had finally found that missing piece I’d looked for all my life. Cause I had always struggled so much and could never quite figure out why I was so different.
And so to finally figure that out was like, ah, but at the same time, an incredible amount of fear of what was to come. You know? So it was kind of this balancing act. I think that joy is kind of what sustained me through it in the midst of all the other things that came.
August: Tell us about your decision to come out. In 2012 you came out.
August: It must have been really challenging in multiple ways. I know you never come out just once, right?
August: What about coming out to your family?
Amber: Well, that was, by far, the hardest cuz my family was always very close growing up. My dad worked at Focus, my mom was a stay at home mom that homeschooled us. We were very close, so I knew that was gonna be the hardest thing and that just daunted me for the weeks and months leading up to it as I prepared.
And so when I sat them down and kind of told them my story, I told them about the journey that I had been on. And I told them about the journey I had taken with God because I knew that would be their biggest fear.
But they didn’t hear any of that. It just kind of all fell on deaf ears as they, I think figured out what was coming. And I finally put it out there and let it hang in the air. It was by far the most vulnerable I’ve ever felt in my life to share that with my family. And my dad just looked at me and he said, “I have nothing to say to you right now,” and got up and walked out the door.
And it was weeks before we spoke again. And when we did, they compared me to murderers and to pedophiles and to beastiality. And, uh, “we feel like you’ve died. How dare you do this to the family? You’re so selfish.” And they took away my keys to their.
August: Oh my gosh.
Amber: And so it was devastating to me from the very beginning cuz I think I knew like there was a spectrum of possible reactions.
So I think I knew deep down somewhere that it could possibly cost me everything, but I wasn’t prepared for the fact that I actually would.
August: That’s a worst case scenario.
Amber: It was. It was.
August: And was that an ongoing, did it stay that way?
Amber: It did, yeah. And it wasn’t just my parents, it was you know, my sibling, all my extended family, the majority of my friends. I lost my home church of 14 years and ended up pretty quickly after that, moving away from really the only hometown I’d ever known.
So I started again with just nothing. With my family, that was a period of time over the next two, two and a half years where it just kind of slowly got worse and worse and worse. Our communication got further and further apart. It was more and more toxic. It was passive aggressive. It was hurtful, and it just continued to go downhill.
And they just kept pushing me to the side to where I knew I no longer belonged. And so that was really devastating to me.
Amber was single when she came out. Then about a year later, she met a woman she would later marry.
Amber: And so it was this interesting like dynamic of the two worlds of having to balance this incredible grief and loss of everything I’d ever known and yet meeting the love of my life and falling in love with her and yet not having my family to share that with. So it was this back and forth and back and forth of navigating that.
August: Just as it was when you’re first discovering love. It’s interesting that you’re having these very contradictory feelings.
August: Who was your support system when you essentially lost everything?
Amber: I did find that support in my affirming faith community in Denver, which is, you know, I was living in Colorado Springs still at the time, so pretty quickly after coming out, within a few months, I moved to Denver because I needed that support around me. I needed it closer.
And living in Colorado Springs, I had been there all my life. It felt toxic to still be there where you were always looking over your shoulder. Everybody knew me, everybody knew my family, you know, and it just felt like I was always walking on eggshells. And so I moved to Denver to be closer to that community, and I really think that that decision saved my life because those months falling were very dark and difficult, and that community that relied around me really pulled me through some of the hardest days of my life.
And they ended up standing in for my family at our wedding. I had no family at our wedding, but they were the ones that stood in where my family should have been. And so they helped pull us through some of those difficult moments as well where you’re, you’re rejoicing, but you’re also grieving what, what should have been.
Amber’s life has changed drastically in other ways, too, since coming out. She’s written two books, her memoir Refocusing My Family, and Unashamed:A Coming Out Guide for LGBTQ Christians. In a section of Unashamed, called “Who do I Tell first and How do I Tell them”,” she points out that no one needs to come out to everybody.
Amber: Because you don’t. Not every straight person has to come out to everybody they meet and say, “hi, my name’s Amber and I’m straight.” It’s a very personal thing to tell people.
And again, I think safety is very important and you need to make sure that you’re protective, that you feel safe, where you live, where you work, where you go to work out. All these different pieces of our lives, safety, I think, trumps everything. And so for people, they feel like I have to come out to everybody everywhere all the time. No, you don’t. You don’t have to. The people in your life that are closest to you, you’ll get to a point where you like that’s, something you wanna share with them, but it’s not like you have to come out to everybody all the time.
August: What about the assessing part in your own life, as far as when do I start coming out and where do I start?
Amber: Well, I try to take a holistic approach to that answer because people sometimes rush into it, especially some of the younger kids. They get excited and on this high of like, oh, I think I’m ready. I’m gonna tell everybody and it’s gonna be great! But I try to caution them to kind of take a step back and look at some things before they do that. So I say, you know, are you emotionally ready? Have you done the work with a therapist to kind of prepare yourself emotionally of what could happen?
Everybody’s situation is different, but you’re probably gonna experience some degree of loss somewhere. Some will have it more severe than others, but it’s usually there to some level. So preparing yourself for that and being able to accept yourself and get rid of your own internalized homophobia and work through that.
So being emotionally ready is big. Being physically ready. I have a whole checklist of things like, are you safe? Do you have a safe place to live at home? Is there any chance you might get kicked out of your home for coming out?
Because half of the kids on the street are L G B T, so a lot of them are getting kicked outta their homes because they’ve come out or been found out. So making sure that they have a safe place to live, that they’re financially independent, that they’re able to pay their student loans or whatever it is. You know, like just those very practical things that are important for life.
And if you’re religious, if your faith is important to you, Amber suggests making sure you’re mentally doing work around that is important before coming out — especially if you’re currently in a faith community with harmful beliefs about non-straight and trans identities.
Amber: And then just making sure they have that community support around them cuz I think that is so important. Anytime you can have that before coming out and establish that, that will help carry you through those hard times.
One of Amber’s biggest goals, with Unashamed and other parts of her work, is to help folks who feel alone in their queerness not only accept, but celebrate who they are — and make their way to the kinds of rewards she’s experienced.
Amber: I feel like I came alive the day that I came out and my family’s missed the happiest years of my life. I would never go back. I would never trade it. Even in the midst of all that I’ve lost, like it’s been the best years of my. And I feel happier. I feel more free. I feel more alive, more at home in my own skin. I wouldn’t trade that for anything in the world.
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To work with Amber, join her membership-based community called Unshamed Love Collective. It’s for LGBTQIA+ folks, allies, loved ones and affirming faith leaders and features virtual monthly hangouts, book club meetings, weekly discussions and more. She’ll announce the season 6 lineup of speakers this month and registration will opening January.
She’s also launching a new project called Cultivating Community Retreats — in-person spaces of belonging for like-minded people to spend a few days cultivating lasting relationships. She has one for artists, podcasters and musicians coming up, another for women only and more. Learn more at unashamedlovecollective.com or ambercantorna.com.
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If you’re enjoying Girl Boner Radio, you can show your appreciation and help the show reach more people by leaving a rating and review on Apple Podcasts – that’s the purple iPhone app – or the iTunes Store. You can also support the show and get fun extras by joining my community at patreon.com/girlboner. Thanks so much for listening.
[outro music that makes you wanna dance!]