A Call For Courage

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, a personal narrative that wrestles with coming out in various ways in Mississippi, can be found on Meagan’s blog

“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgement that
something else is more important than fear.”
― Ambrose Redmoon

I have a lot of emotions about today and tomorrow’s Supreme Court hearings getting started. The majority of what I am feeling is anxiety. Anxiety is the combination of fear and excitement wrapped together. I really am hopeful that the fear will subside, so that anticipation and hope can step forward. But that means I have to be willing to see the best in all people: myself, my parents, my family, my friends, the State of Mississippi, and beyond – gay and straight alike. That’s a risk for me, but I am willing to put aside my fears so that the truth of who we really are can seep in.

I have been reading too much about the dangers of being openly gay in Mississippi and have forgotten to open my eyes and embrace my own positive experienceI’ve been living in my own past and wishing to move out of it –and now realizing it’s up to me to release it. Letting love in is hard for me. Really hard. Asking for support is even harder for me. I learned the other day that my dad proudly introduces Clare (my partner of almost 5 years) as my partner to others. This was a surprise to me – in the South, it’s one thing to embrace each other behind closed doors, but in public? I felt so seen, so heard, so important. Just a few weeks ago my mom acknowledged how tough it must have been for me when I came out of the closet and how brave I was to come back to Mississippi – and it was hard to let that in because a part of me had been waiting for the other shoe to drop.  I saw clearly that it was time for me to move on. To let go.

Although Clare and I are “in a relationship” on Facebook, introducing her to new people as my partner has been a struggle for me, and very inconsistent. I usually like to measure someone up to see if I think they will be “cool” with it or not. I see now that it’s not fair to me, or them, or Clare. Every day, I feel like I have to self-talk up my courage to go out into the world and be ready to be authentic. I’m really tired of prepping – I’m really tired of worrying.

Believing in myself and believing in the best of others is what I have been putting in my heart each day – consciously trying to put my shield down and open my heart. When society – or better said, when I believe that society (here in the South) is against who I am, it’s tough to see the light in each person, to let them into my world without wanting to run and hide. When you’re so used to lying about who you are, lying becomes a habit. Now that I know being authentic is my only choice, I admit that it’s often easier to say no to social events than be uncomfortable. It’s too painful to not tell the whole truth.

When someone asks me, “Are you married?” It’s easier to say, no, rather than, “No, but only because I can’t” – which could lead to a richer conversation and a deeper connection. When I answer “no,” I feel defeated, I feel like a liar, and I feel like I chose the easy way out, and then it’s so easy to spiral into self-defeat. This is my struggle…and I have been working on it.

Over the weekend, Clare and I went to get a haircut. There were a total of five of us there in the salon, and we were all making small talk. One woman was getting ready to leave (I didn’t know her), and she asked me if Clare and I were friends or sisters. I took a run around my head first, which told me to be completely honest, and I said, “No, actually, Clare is my partner.” And I felt confident. I felt liberated.  I felt like there was nothing to apologize for because there’s not. We are who we are.  The woman said, “Oh, ok,” and then went on to ask questions about sports. It didn’t matter that she wasn’t enamored with our relationship – what mattered was that I was authentic and that I wasn’t feeling the need to explain myself. I didn’t feel that deep dark hole of doubt creeping in. I felt victorious! (And then I think, there’s something wrong when just answering a simple question honestly turns into such a victory – it shouldn’t be a victory just to say who you are.)

Afterwards, I thought, now why has this been such a difficult feat for me? Put me on NPR and I will tell you my story of coming out in Mississippi; put me on TV and I will talk with a Baptist preacher about being gay in Mississippi; put me in front of a crowded room – no problem, gay and proud. But one-on-one? A completely different story. That’s when any shame or fear I have rises up to my mouth and the words I speak aren’t a lie, but they aren’t the truth either. Head down. Defeat.

Is all of this my fault? Is my internal struggle of acceptance something I have done to myself? I mean, I know that Mississippi isn’t packed full of a victorious progressive history, but I am choosing to live here, so shouldn’t I be taking the blame? No, I don’t think so. I am just as responsible as everyone else. Love and acceptance are going to take me continuing to have the courage to be truthful in those one-on-one conversations, and it’s going to take a lot more people like my dad speaking matter-of-factly about Clare being my partner. It’s going to take parents like my parents who cheer for me when I tell them I was able to be honest with someone I didn’t know in a one-on-one conversation today. It’s going to take more than me finding the courage to be me every day – it’s going to take all of my goodhearted Mississippians, fellow Americans (please stop looking down on us in the Deep South – we need your support and love more than ever), and all people of the world to reach out and put your arms around us.

I know it isn’t easy for all of you, but it isn’t easy for me either. I know you’re scared – I’m scared too. But when I think about what’s possible at this point in our history, I can see through the smoke to the light…the light that is waiting for us to love ourselves enough, and our fellow people enough, to be courageous, to be supportive, to be authentic – from the inside out.

It’s going to take courage on my part to grab Clare’s hand when I feel compelled in public and not let go when someone looks our way. It’s going to take you looking at us and keeping yourself from staring and then whispering to your neighbor. It’s going to take all of us. Me and you.

When I see you in public and I want to avoid you because I am scared, I am willing to be the first to hug or say “hi,” but can you be willing too? Connection is one of the most important things about being human, it’s what makes shame disappear and what makes our history turn for the better – we all need it – we all crave it. That includes me. And you.

Mississippi, aren’t you tired of being afraid? Aren’t we all tired of fear? I am. I am letting it go so I can see you for who you really are…a courageous, beautiful, complicated, loving mess where love can rise above the mess because it will make you a better you and me a better me.

We have to move beyond political agendas, religious power, social acceptance, the need to be right, the need to make others wrong, being okay to agree to disagree, and act on really loving each other the way we all want and desire to be loved. I am putting my armor down; will you please put yours down too?

The laws might change, but “no law is going to change us, we have to change us.” (Macklemore and Ryan Lewis- ‘Same love’)

“It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.”  ― E.E. Cummings