Confessions of a Beauty Queer: The Best Goodbye of My Life

Everyone keeps asking me, “What was it like navigating the pageant world as a queer woman?” I’m honestly not sure what answer anyone is looking for, but the answer I have is simple: It wasn’t like anything. Why? Because I was strung out on denial. Denial is a real thing — it wasn’t just my a way to cope, it was my lifestyle. Living in denial changed my views, opinions, and perspectives on life and myself. So, when people have asked me what it was like to be queer in the pageant world, I haven’t had an extensive answer to give, because at the time, in my mind, I was not queer. I was simply a girl who thought she liked girls at one point in her life, prayed it away, and now life was good. Right? So, let’s backtrack to how I even got to the point of living so deeply in denial and then we’ll fast forward to how I let go of it.

DENIAL

Growing up, I took a special interest in the human body. It was not the kind of interest that would eventually lead me to dreams of med school, but it was definitely the type of interest that lead me to want to learn more. As a kid, I was especially intrigued by the (cis) female body. I was unable to decide whether or not my intrigue with the female body was “normal,” because what I had always seen and been taught was heteronormative — boys like girls and girls like boys. I understood that, but I couldn’t whole-heartedly agree. I needed to understand why what I was being taught was different from what I felt. Was it okay for girls to like girls? And if so, why didn’t I ever see it or hear anyone talking about it? There had to be some kind of explanation! So I decided to ask my mom. I purposely tried to formulate my inquiry in a way that would be general enough to keep her from feeling alarmed, but also specific enough to make her aware of my thoughts and curiosities. So I asked her, “Is there something wrong with looking at women’s bodies?” And without hesitation, my mom replied, “There is nothing wrong with the human body — it is beautiful. It is the perversion of the world that tries to make it a shameful, dirty thing.” Welp! I took that and stuck it in my back pocket. That was a green light of sorts for me. A confirmation, if you will, that I was okay, that my interest in the female body was okay.

As the years went by, my intrigue evolved into attraction, and that attraction went beyond just the physical body. It’s safe to say that by the time I was in the fifth grade, I was fully aware of what I felt: I liked girls. It wasn’t just about being intrigued with a body, but it was about an actual attraction to a person. I don’t know about everyone else’s experience, but I always found it interesting how us queer kids naturally gravitated to one another. I remember kissing and holding hands with girls on field trips, sports trips, and even during recess in whatever private space we could find. Looking back, it is so uncanny to me now because I have no idea the point at which either party ever had to “identify.” It’s almost as if there was this unspoken language — we just knew. I don’t remember ever having to ask, “Will it make you feel weird if I hold your hand, you know, since I’m a girl and you’re a girl?” or “Hey, are you into girls? Because I want to kiss you.” I don’t remember any of that happening, I just remember that things happened and questions were unnecessary. The queer waves were emitted into the air and the next thing I know, I was holding hands and making googly eyes at my team mate in the back of her mom’s Toyota, on our way back from a cross country meet in which she had done very well and I had not, but that’s besides the point. All we cared about was that her mother had no idea that two little queer girls were holding hands and making googly eyes in the back seat of her car.

The relationships and conversations that I had with other queer girls were kept tightly under wraps because it was around this same time that I was being taught that the feelings that I had were wrong. Confusion and conviction began to set in and I would soon find myself at a crossroads. I went to a conservative Southern Baptist school from 1st-8th grade — the kind of school where they taught us that one of our favorite Christian musicians was killed in a motorcycle accident, as a result of the sins that he hid. Umm, yeah. We took the Bible literally and we walked a fine line when it came to questioning anything about it. So you can imagine, when it came to the conversation surrounding homosexuality, it wasn’t much of a conversation at all. It was wrong and that was the bottom line. Homosexuality was a sure way to get yourself escorted to hell by Lucifer himself. Also, being a Christian was the most important thing to be in our household; sometimes it seemed more inherent than being black.

So with my faith in front of me and my queer escapades shadowing me, I was completely confused. It seemed like everything was going against everything. My faith was saying no and even my mother, who’d previously given me the green light, was now pulling me over and giving me a stiff ticket for cruising in the queer lane. What was I to do? I thought I was okay. What I felt came so naturally, I didn’t know it was wrong until someone told me it was. I was torn. My faith was so important to me and I only wanted to please God with every fiber of my being. But apparently I couldn’t live a life that was pleasing to God if I was making googly eyes and holding hands with girls. So, I did the only thing I could think to do: I ignored it and left “that part of my life” in the past. I made a conscious decision to live in denial.

atmissamerica

So now, let’s fast forward to the pageant years. Navigating through the pageant world was cake. By that time, I was so deep in denial, it wasn’t even a thing to me. I was living my life in denial like, “I woke up like this”. Well, except for one moment I had with myself. Claire Buffie was my Miss New York (“my” as in, we held state titles at the same time). Her personal platform was working for LGBT equality, as a straight ally. I remember thinking to myself that what she was doing was so amazing. And it brought me to think: Is America ready for a queer Miss America? Not sure, but I know it’d be pretty cool. I wonder if that could be me? OR NOT. It couldn’t possibly be me because I’m not queer. I left that part of my life in the past a long time ago. Right? Riight. I had that one moment, and snapped out of it just as quickly as I’d snapped into it and that was about the extent of any queer navigation in my pageant life.

clairebuffie

A few months after competing in Miss America, I went through a mini-process of liberation. Most pageant girls do. We get our hair cut, maybe change up our style a little, and honestly, people’s opinions matter a lotta bit less, and we get a little more comfortable with doing and being whoever and whatever we want. It was post Miss America, nearing the end of my Miss Kentucky reign, when I met a young woman, *Lauren.

Initially, it was nothing serious, aside from the fact that I could not even begin to deny my attraction to her. I met her one evening when I was out with friends. I didn’t get her number or anything, but it just seemed like, after that night, I saw her everywhere. And anytime I saw her somewhere, I made it a point to strike up a conversation or at least say hi. I had no idea what I was doing, I just knew that whatever I was feeling, I was allowing myself to go with it. I was ready to let go of denial. I had been living in denial for so long, I honestly didn’t know how to function without it, but I wanted to try.

djuantrent

I finally mustered up the (liquid) courage to ask Lauren for her number one night and she obliged. Lauren and I had an interesting run (read: it didn’t last) and she played a significant role in my initial steps of coming out to myself. We talked a lot about the “coming out” experience and we were able to relate in the realm of faith and spirituality because we’d both been brought up in similar homes. She taught me a lot about what I did and didn’t want in a relationship with a woman. She was my first step into a new world and journey that I’d denied myself for what felt like my whole life, and now I was ready.

Denial had been good to me and I always thought that it was protecting me, but I began to realize that it was actually holding me back. When denial was there, nothing was a lie and everything just seemed easier. Letting go of denial was scary because it wasn’t just about accepting my queer self. It was about understanding and navigating every aspect of my life, sans denial. How was I supposed to identify? How was I supposed to dress? How was I supposed to tell anyone? Had any of the rules changed since grade school? Were my queer vibes still working or was it now necessary to ask questions? Was I over-thinking this all? And of course, WHAT ABOUT MY FAITH? I was thankful to find comfort in talking to Lauren and my friends about my personal faith dilemma — the main thing that drove me to denial in the first place. It was refreshing to know that it wasn’t just me who was faced with this. Through prayer, conversations with friends, and documentaries like For the Bible Tells Me So and Fish Out of Water, I was able to comfortably live my life and navigate my faith without denial. It was beautiful and I felt free from all of the confusion that had caused me to run into the arms of denial. I was aliiiiiive!

yay

Letting go of denial was one of the most rewarding “goodbyes” of my life — cue Tegan and Sara’s “Goodbye”. There was no more fighting or lying to myself and there was no more wondering “what if.” I traded in my all my years with denial for a one way ticket to freedom and I’m enjoying the ride.


*not her real name, for the sake of anonymity


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Djuan Trent is a motivational speaker, writer, advocate, and avid lover of cheesecake. She was born and raised a Georgia girl and currently resides in Kentucky. Once upon a time she was Miss Kentucky, and now she's just awesome...and queer- same thing. Twitter & Instagram: @DjuanTrent. More info: DjuanTrent.com

Djuan has written 2 articles for us.

33 Comments

  1. Thumb up 11

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    Boy. Even without even having been a beauty queen — well-deserved, by the way…you’re GORGEOUS! — I can certainly relate to a youth of denial, as I’m sure many queer people can. I was so consciously aware of what I was repressing, but then, like you, I got to a point where it “wasn’t a thing.” It was something that I refused to allow to exist.

    Thanks for the beautiful article! I hope you contribute again. :)

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    This really made me think back to all those epiphanies I had after I came out to myself. Those times from when you were way younger in early grade school & you kissed a girl or why the Spice Girls were more important to you than anyone else or when you got a little bit older & you watched Girl Interrupted a disturbing amount of times… it’s all so obvi now, ya know?

    I appreciate the read.

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    Thanks for sharing. I definitely identify with you on the denial stage, suppressing any thoughts and queer feelings because your faith and the people you hold dear say that it is wrong. But it is true that you cannot deny yourself of something that you know in your heart is true and that these feelings you have will never go away. Eventually we must all face the truth in order to be able to fully be ourselves, and accept and love who we are as a person, and as a human being.

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    I totally understand this. Well, maybe not the beauty pageant part (because let’s face it America isn’t ready for the gentlequeer butch “beauty” yet) but being in denial is like the story of my life. Funny, because I never thought about it as denial at the time. Serious, because I can only imagine how much happier, more self confident, more understanding I’d be now if I hadn’t buried everything for so long. Because religion. Oh, faith whyyy? Anyway, great article, thank you for sharing your experience.

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    Thank you so much for writing this. I can relate to both the denial and the faith portion. I remember having a conversation with my ex-fiancee about how I would be gay if I wasn’t a Christian (silly eighteen-year-old Justina. It doesn’t work like that). It’s always encouraging to read the stories of other queers who have navigated (and managed to reconcile) faith and queerness.

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    I laughed when you mentioned how uncanny the pull between queer kids is. Even now, I’m finding out that most of the friends I still know from Jr High and High School, while seemingly arbitrary in who I keep contact with, have turned out to be queer. There’s definitely an energy we subconsciously share.

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      I don’t think I gravitated towards those girls. But in 3rd grade my really pretty best friend and I were walking around school and another girl (who came out later on) walked up behind us, took my friend by the arm and led her away and gave me a nasty look over her shoulder. I didn’t know we were competing over her at the time.

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    It’s serendipitous that I stumbled upon this article, because I just had a nervous breakdown after stumbling onto the facebook page for the new “Left Behind” movie sporting the caption “will you be left behind?”

    I think it’s really hard for people who didn’t grow up with Christianity ingrained into every aspect of their lives to understand how hard (read: earth-shattering) it is to choose between (a) denying who you are so you can be a good Christian, (b) accepting who you are and deciding you can never act on it (again, like a good Christian), and (c) accepting who you are and deciding to live out that truth (and be a bad Christian? Also, what is a bad Christian?).

    On the one hand, Christians have done so much to hurt their credibility. The “Holy” wars, biblical support for segregation and slavery, etc. Not to mention all the different sects that say their way is the right way to practice, and everyone else is going to hell. So many men have used it to further their own corrupt agendas that as a queer young Christian it seems like a no-brainer to oppose THOSE people.

    But then there are people who are devoted to Christianity that we know as good, honest people that we love; our family members, people we grew up with, people we really trust. And we have to admit to ourselves that their faith is beautiful. Not to mention the fact that for alot of us, our religion is our home base. It underlies so many happy memories, perspectives on morality (for better or worse), values, and truths we’ve come to except. And for alot of people, fear of eternal damnation is no joke. Death is a scary concept and while the existence of heaven and hell is meant to make it less scary and less final, for most queer people who grew up with Christianity these concepts make death even more terrifying.

    And if you are a queer person of any religion and you’ve found love, if it’s beautiful and wonderful and enriching in your life it’s so strange to think that the God you serve can really hate you for it. It just doesn’t make sense that something that feels so right can be wrong, simply because of the gender of the person you feel that love for.

    It is so. hard. to find peace, I know that I am still searching for it. It makes me happy and hopeful to know that you have found peace; I hope that one day I get to the place that you are. Thank you so much for sharing your story, there are queer people out there that really need to hear it.

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      I love hearing from queer people who grew up in families like mine where being Christian was such a huge part of our identity. I was raised to think that being queer was a “choice” and that choosing to live your life openly was failing your family, yourself and most of all God. Those kinds of toxic messages being delivered by people that you love and who love you make the whole situation so difficult to wrap your brain around. I’m still untangling my own internalized homophobia and trying to figure out my relationship to faith.

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      Hi Grace,

      I created an account just so I could respond to you because I felt it was important. As someone raised in a Jamaican Pentecostal household I can definitely empathize re: having Christianity ingrained in me from a young age. I was taught that same sex attraction was a sin and that anyone with “those feelings” was unnatural, not of God, and definitely going to hell. As I came into my sexuality and began to grapple with my feelings I hated myself and was very angry at God because I believed what had been taught to me by my biological and church family. It took me a very long time to undo the damage that was done to me spiritually and sometimes I have moments where I am triggered or relapse. However, I am now in seminary pursuing a Masters of Divinity, a Masters in Psychology & Religion, and a Certificate in Sexuality & Religion. I know that the interpretation of the bible put forth by my family is not the only the interpretation and I also know that it is likely false. If there is one thing that seminary has taught me is that the bible is fallible and people will twist it to serve them at every turn. As a womanist theologian and scholar I also know that the history of linking same sex attraction with sin and death is a very convoluted one that did not always exist within the black community (a longer conversation that we can have another day if you’d like). My purpose in life is to help others to heal from similar experiences of trauma.

      I say all this to say that peace is possible and there are also a lot of resources for queer Christians and other queer people of faith. I do not know where you are on your journey but if you would like any of these resources I would be more than happy to share them with you. I would also like to share myself as a resource and as a peer in this beautiful yet difficult struggle of reconciling one’s spirituality with one’s sexuality. If you would like to talk more please feel free to contact me at queerseminarian(at)gmail(dot)com.

      Love & light,
      Latishia

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      Grace, Sade, Latishia…

      Thank you so much for sharing. Peace is definitely possible, it’s just a matter of time, acceptance, and support. Two of my best friends still struggle with this today, and I always feel like the most important thing I could do is be there for them. It is one of those things that you have to find for yourself- no one can find it for you, ya know? There are a lot of resources for information and support out there. Please feel free to ask Latishia or me- more than happy to share!
      Thanks again for sharing, y’all. This is something that is definitely not spoken FOR enough, especially within the black community. Spoken AGAINST, but not FOR. Time for a change.
      Peace and love.

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    Thank you for posting this. I feel like I’m going through something like this right now and it’s good to hear that even a proud, strong, and beautiful woman like you can experience denial like this.
    I’ve been fortunate enough to be surrounded by family and friends that have known and supported the fact that I am gay, but I struggle to accept it, myself. It’s strange, because I have only begun to feel this way as I have gotten older – like I’m disappointing myself for not living up to my perceptions of how I should have been (or my life should have been) at this age. I know it probably sounds stupid. I feel, and have felt, that because I am not heteronormative, I’m letting myself down.
    Stories of self-acceptance like this give me hope to one day be as empowered and wonderful as you are.

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      Thank you, Mandy! You know… I don’t think that people realize how personal and intricate the coming out journey really is…and I think the tug of war or the feelings of having let yourself or anyone else down are a huge part of it. We are raised seeing and being surrounded by heteronormativity (I think I just made that word up, oh well), and so even though we feel what we feel naturally, what we have been taught is “the norm” can sometimes feel like it holds more weight.
      What I love is that, the more and more we see people coming out, the less “hetero” is the “norm”. Queer folks are everywhere…we’ve been everyone. But we are really speaking up and speaking out now and that is what is making the difference is taking the “norm” out of heternormative.
      Stay strong…you’re on your journey. You got it.

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    I found this entire piece incredibly relatable, but I was especially struck by the story about your mom saying it was normal to be drawn to women’s bodies but the world makes it “dirty” and “shameful”, because I experienced a very similar situation with my own mother. My mother definitely thought that queerness in women was a result of being abused by men or confusing “natural” friendship for romantic love because of outside gay influences. At the time I took it as a warning that I should definitely not “choose” to be gay because of how disappointed she’d be if she found out. Years later, of course, I find out that she suspected and that’s why she’d always say things like that to me and none of my siblings. Saying things like that (once in front of a girl I had a huge crush on) was her way of “… pulling me over and giving me a stiff ticket for cruising in the queer lane.”

    I’m so glad that you are out and able to be yourself. Thank you so much for sharing your story. Reading about how you were able to come out of denial and live openly really put a smile on my face.

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      Thank you, Sade! My mother did something similar when she felt that I was “looking” a “little too lesbian”…she really started to push me to more girly things and talking to me more about boys. Moms can be weird…parents in general. It’s a process for them as well and I have found that a lot of parents (dependent on generation) have put forth efforts to “nip it in the bud” through fear tactics, persuasion, etc…it doesn’t work! Haha… Thanks, Sade :)

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    “Denial had been good to me and I always thought that it was protecting me, but I began to realize that it was actually holding me back.”

    Amen, Amen. I stuck my head in a giant bucket of denial about puberty and the warranty on my denial finally ran out when I hit 41 (so, of course it broke). It’s some powerful stuff while it works, though. I’m now 50 and married to a lovely woman and attending an MCC. My faith is still in recovery.

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    You’re funny :) I appreciated this on many levels. As a kid who spent my entire fifth grade year looking at cute girls in church, I relate. It’s so interesting how denial about one fact can cause us to mask many parts of our personality or “identity.” LOVE your look rn btw. Damn, can you imagine the AS open thread if we’d all KNOWN you were queer while you were competing for Miss America?!

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    Love this article! And, you are gorgeous! Anyway, this brought me back to all the times in my life living in denial and never even realizing it! Although I’ve heard many other women say this before, reading it again makes me so comfortable and realize that I wasn’t the only one, thank you!

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