“You can’t get to courage without walking through vulnerability.”

Meagan M. O’Nan is a guest blogger for The South Lawn.  She is a spiritual leader, life coach, and Mississippi native (among many other amazing things).  The original blog piece can be found on Meagan’s blog

For video of the interview that Meagan describes, see the original blog post.

Almost two years after moving back to Mississippi, I got a call one morning from our local television station (this interview was a good 8 months ago, now). The producers asked me if I would be willing to come in and talk about my perspective on same-sex commitment ceremonies being allowed in state buildings. The reason this conversation was a hot topic was because a same-sex couple applied to have a commitment ceremony in a state building in Jackson, Mississippi. This didn’t go over well with most people, but there was no law in place to keep the couple’s application from being dismissed. Ultimately, they were given permission to have their ceremony, but most of the state was in an uproar. The television station wanted me to come on and talk about how this made me feel as an openly gay woman. They mentioned that they would be having someone else come on and talk with me, but they didn’t tell me who.

I was completely terrified to say yes, so I said yes. My heart was pounding when I got off the phone. I was more nervous than I had ever been. In fact, I felt like throwing up and I am pretty sure I didn’t eat before the interview. I said yes to the interview because my heart knew I had to. The bigger part of me knew I could do it and that I could do it well. Prior to this call, I had consciously been working on my own self confidence and had realized that I felt called to speak out as an openly gay person in Mississippi in a loving way that represented my authentic self. So, after years of getting in touch with that part of me, I knew this was an opportunity for me to express myself in a way that was truly from my heart.

As much as there is a part of me that wants to fight those who I think can’t see past my sexuality, and as much as I want to push those away who want to openly reject me, there is still a part of me that knows I would never be satisfied with that. That part of me is in everyone. The part of our human essence that sees everyone for who they truly are…different, unique, but equal. So, after I said yes to the interview, I knew I was ready deep down, but my fear of rejection on television was both real and validated by my past.

I knew that doing this interview was a turning point for me, and I was willing to risk what was unknown in order to find more of myself. To be quite honest, my fears were so deep that I was afraid I would walk out of that television station and someone would shoot me. That may seem unreasonable to some of you, but when you have been threatened and when you have seen others like you lose their lives because of their sexuality, then those fears are very real. Despite the fears, however, there was a part of me that was focusing on the bigger picture.

When I walked into the TV station, I looked to my left and there sat a pastor from a Baptist church. My heart leapt from my chest down to my stomach, not because he was a Baptist pastor, but because I knew him. We were friends. However, he didn’t know I was gay. Years before that, he had been the principal at a middle school where I was working with a lot of his students as a life coach (pro-bono). We had had to work together to help these kids, and we both seen the true part of each other through this work.

My fear grew taller and taller because now that I knew we would be interviewed together, the rejection could be greater for me because this wouldn’t just be another pastor (there have been many before him) rejecting me…this time, it would be on air and with someone I knew. Talk about scared. I was literally shaking.

As we sat down on set, we shared very little conversation. We were both nervous because neither of us had known that we would be speaking on this topic with each other. We were both in shock because it was clear that we cared for one another as people. He, a pastor at a Baptist church, the host, a congregate at his church, and I, sat there waiting for the cameras to roll. The host told me not to be nervous, and I said, “It isn’t the cameras that make me nervous.” I had been interviewed a million times before, but not like this. The producer assured me that this was to be an equal conversation and that she didn’t want anyone to feel like they were backed in a corner. In my mind, it was two against one already, so I had to close my eyes and access the part of me that was saying, “Just be yourself, and speak your truth. You are them, and they are you.” After I opened my eyes, the interview began, and in no time it was over.

Fear can cause you to either run away or dive so deep into yourself that you are able to access your authenticity…and that’s what happened to me in that moment. I dove into the deep, uncomfortable, scary place that we often avoid, and I found myself.

Part of accepting your own equality in the world is accepting yourself. In the moment before the interview, that is exactly what happened, a space opened for truth to enter. I saw clearly that I was beautiful as I was, and that I could speak from my heart and not feel like I needed to protect myself, hide myself, or feel like I was victim to the situation. But, it took closing my eyes, accessing my heart, and choosing to only take responsibility for my own words and actions. That is true empowerment. Everyone has moments in their life when an opportunity for a turning point is given, and you can always pass those opportunities up. I am so grateful that I didn’t shy away from this opportunity. It changed the course of my life and it helped me see that my beauty may be different, but it is not less than anyone else’s.

After the interview:

After the interview, I cried tears of relief. Relief that I had made it through, relief that I didn’t feel rejected, relief in the fact that I realized I could choose to be or not to be a victim in any moment. As long as I feel I am a victim in any situation, I will most likely choose to fight back and that accomplishes nothing for me and will lead the conversation to a halting point.

Watching the interview back, I see where I could have felt rejected (when the host alluded to my being a “good person”), but I didn’t feel rejected in the moment. The lesson I learned from this interview was: If I want to accept myself then I need to make choices that are in alignment with who I really am and with who I want to be. Before watching it back, all I remembered saying from that short segment was: “I am only responsible for me. If I feel good about who I am at the end of every day, then that is all that matters to me.” And that’s the truth, I cannot change another and because I cannot change another then all of my energy goes into my own self-growth. Although I still want to put my fists up and explain myself or get people to see that being gay cannot be understood intellectually, I always remember this interview and how it taught me to put my fists down, to listen, and speak my truth when I am given the opportunity to do so. At least now I know what is possible, and I have this example to fall back on when I am feeling like fighting back.

Equality has been a funny thing throughout our history. As you can see, I have had my own battles with the meaning and definition of equality as displayed by others. Getting to a point of realizing that I am not less than because I am gay took time (and it is still a daily commitment), but the defining moment for me to feel like an equal to my straight friends was seeing that I am just different and being ok with it. But, that realization took personal work, and a lot of it. Sifting through my own layers to define what it means to me is much simpler than the complicated machine we have made it.

We cannot be another. My partner and I cannot be a straight couple. A white man cannot be a black man. An American cannot be Chinese. We have spent centuries trying to make each other fit into our own separate boxes by destroying each other’s uniqueness. By doing this, our society has been plagued with our selfish attempts to change each other. Not all people try to change others with bad intent, but trying to change another can never end up feeling good for either party. We sabotage ourselves as a society when we think that our way is the only way. Our true nature is to love no matter what, and when we don’t do that, we all suffer. There are ramifications to our actions of disagreeing with others – if I am a Christian disagreeing with the “lifestyle” of a gay person or if I am a gay person disagreeing with the religious choice of a Christian…it ends up serving no one to reject the free will of another. I don’t believe in agreeing to disagree. I believe in conversation, conversations that lead to understanding and acceptance. I believe that every person should feel like a ROCK STAR because of who they are, inside and out. So much so, that vulnerability doesn’t have to be such a courageous act for so many.

Thank you, Brene Brown and Oprah, for talking about the importance of vulnerability on Super Soul Sunday this past weekend. Your talk made me realize that although this was one of the scariest moments of my life, it was also one of the most liberating. “You can’t get to courage without walking through vulnerability.” Amen, Brene, amen.