When you think Small town, what's the first thing that comes to mind? Perhaps it's that small coffee shop on the corner of 4th street and Main. Maybe it's going to High School with the same group of friends you went to pre-school with. Or maybe you think of the closeness of the community and how everyone steps up to the plate when someone needs help.
From the time I was 5 years old, I lived in a town called Niceville, Florida (sounds kinda.... nice, doesn't it?) Now, it was a relatively small town and I didn't know a whole lot of people there. A few months before my 9th birthday my family moved to the even smaller town of Arab, Alabama. No, that is not a typo. The town's name is really Arab. With a population of about 8,500, Arab is the kind of town you could blink and pass right through it.
Arab has all the quality's that you would expect out of a small town. That coffee shop on the corner, thrift shops and obscure restaurants that you have to take the craziest back roads to get to but were always worth the drive once you actually found them.
Just like most small towns in the south, Arab more churches than you can count. My sister and I joked that there was one or two on every street - which is more accurate than it sounds. Arab was a very religious town, which was partly why my grandparents decided to move here. The town being as religious as it is, you can imagine how it may be frowned upon to be anything but a heterosexual cisgender individual.
I began attending a church in the town during my senior year of high school. I enjoyed going to youth group and helping in the nursery and in the children's ministry weekly.
Now, for a little backstory, I knew I was transgender from a young age. When I was four years old and my school had an outside day, we got to play on the slip and slide. I had been really excited about it.
My best friend at the time, Matt, and I quickly ran up to the slide. I always hung out with him and his group of boy friends. I never really got along with the girls. When Matt and his friends took their shirts off to get on the slide, I did the same. That action was quickly met with with, what can only be described as sheer panic from my teacher.
She quickly made her way over to where I was standing and covered me with a towel. At first I was confused on what was happening but she quickly explained that girls weren't allowed to do that. I remember getting really upset about it and telling her that I was supposed to be born a boy and that my name was Alex. This left her surprised and I ended up having to sit inside the whole day.
I spent the next decade miserable and hating the person i saw in the mirror and I couldn't talk to anyone about it. My body turned into a prison that I did not know how to escape.
Around June of 2018, after years of hiding and telling people i cut my hair because of basic training.. I finally made a post on facebook about me being transgender.
The second leading up to me posting this were the most nerve-wracking of my life. I remember messaging a group chat I had been in with a bunch of other LGBT Guys and Girls I had met on Instagram. I sent them a screenshot and they were all super encouraging and telling me to go for it. So, before I had a chance to overthink it - as I usually do - I hit post and quickly closed out of the app.
A million scenarios ran through my head in the minutes after I posted it. What does this mean for my friendships with the people I had met at church. What were they going to think? Would they hate me because of it. What would my family think? I was beyond scared, but I was lucky enough to have the group of friends in that group chat that supported me and let me panic for what felt like hours before that first comment came in.
"I love you. No matter what."
"It's between you and God. No one fights your battles or prays your prayers but you! You be you and let others worry about themselves. I love you."
"Yes!! Man, I know how hard it is to come out publicly.. You're awesome!"
The comments hadn't been what I had expected but I could slowly feel the fear melt away. The lingering fear that someone would say something negative wasn't gone. The first "Sad" react came from someone I had gone to church with for a few years and I felt my heart drop. It shouldn't have been THAT big of a deal, but it was to me. Then came the messages.
"You're going to hell"
"You were raised better than this. I THOUGHT you were a christian."
"I pray you find what God wants with your life and you turn from this evil path."
The one that stuck out the most to me was one from a boy that I dated when I was 14. He had been my best friend for a while and I hadn't heard from him in months.
"Hey, I don't know if you remember me but I was just scrolling through Facebook and I realized how broken you are. God still has a plan for your life... please don't throw that away (Deadname)."
Like any small town, word traveled so fast. I would have someone come up to me at my job saying "Oh you're ------?" and when I would sigh and say "Yep, but my names actually Adrian." and they would immediately frown and tell me they had heard about me from their: friend, church, pastor, child. They would tell me they're praying for me and then leave. It wasn't long after that I was asked not to come back to the church I had attended since I was 13. The church I had been so involved in for half of my life. Because of my 'Life choices' - as the pastor had put it - I was no longer welcomed at the church anymore. It hurt me more than I could ever even put into words.
Life was completely different by this point. People looked at me differently, talked to me differently. The hardest part was trying to convince everyone that even through this, I was still me. No matter how happy I tried to tell people I had become, no one believed the happiness was genuine and that the only way I would ever truly be happy was through God.
The isolation and loneliness I felt lead to self-harm and to a suicide attempt. It was the darkest moments of my life and I felt like I had no way out of it.
Finally, in 2019, I was comfortable with who I was and the opinions of the people around me didn't bother me as badly, but I couldn't handle living in a small town where everyone knew who I was before. Where everyone knew me as the little girl who worked in the nursery at church. I wasn't that girl anymore. By this point, I had started Testosterone and had married my girlfriend of two years. We had both faced the scrutiny of me coming out as transgender and of our relationship itself.
With the judgement against our relationship coming down hard from not only friends but her family as well, we decided it was time for a change and moved away from the town we had both lived in for the majority of our lives. We moved to another town full of people we didn't know and people who knew nothing about us. The change has been insane, but has been the best thing for us.
After spending years feeling trapped, feeling like I'm not who I'm supposed to be. I finally feel like I'm on my way to, what I can only describe as - freedom.