I was studying to be a minister when I fell in love with another minister. It was a relationship that couldn’t be. I wasn’t even willing to consider pursuing it, because of what it would have jeopardized for both of us, but especially for the career that she had established.
Going to seminary was my way of trying to figure things out: to find the answers. Not just as a lesbian, but also as a woman. I feel like homophobia is misogyny twisted even further. It was my way of figuring out what I really believed about being female and about being gay.
When you come from a very conservative religious background—and then finally acknowledge and accept the fact that you’re gay—you turn a corner and suddenly there’s nowhere to go.
How do you find LGBTQ communities in conservative places? You don’t just ‘jump’ easily from one community to another. You don’t just come out and boom—there’s a community there for you.
I knew virtually no openly gay people. And how could I be effective in that role if personally I was so unfulfilled? I just didn’t see it as possible. So I left seminary.
When I did go through the experience of finally coming out, even just to myself, I lacked a strong community, which left me vulnerable. It was in that vulnerability that I ended up in a domestic violence situation for a good chuck of my life, that left me even more isolated outside of the gay community.
I had been isolated for so long that by the time I turned 34, I didn’t know where to go. I didn’t feel comfortable going back to any church community. I finally got the courage to walk into a gay bar in Muncie one day and try to find a new place to be.
In some ways, this LGBTQ community brought me back to life.
Even if it was just to get a coke, it became the place where I could go and be safe and be OK and have something positive and meaningful in my life. It was just a bar, but it was so much more than that.
Walking in and having a bartender greet me every time: I don’t think I had smiled in so long.
People at the bar didn’t assume I was gay. They didn’t know, and they didn’t care. When I would strike up conversations with people, they would say, “I don’t know if you’re gay or if you’re straight.” It just struck me as being strange—but nice. To not have there be any assumptions. Whatever my answer was, was fine.
Some of the smallest things about being in that community ended up being the most impactful. Just seeing people sing karaoke. Sing with you. Singing well. Singing poorly. It didn’t matter. All voices had a place.
If you’ve not had a community, to suddenly have it is indescribable, even with all its imperfections. Any community is going to have drama. It’s going to have stress. It’s going to have all sorts of things. But it’s a beautiful thing. If you’ve never had it, you can’t understand just how life-changing it can be.
I’m now a lot more comfortable being open. There are some situations where I still choose to not come out, but I’m a lot less hesitant to hide the fact that I’m gay. I know that I have a place to go back to where it is OK, and that has made a big difference. When I talked to one of my best friends, he said, “When you first walked in the bar, you wouldn’t even look at anyone. You couldn’t look people in the eye. You were so quiet, so soft spoken. You’re not the same person that you were.” I know a lot of those changes have come about because of the people in my community who were just happy that I was there, happy that I was there as me. People simply reflected back to me my own worth as a human being.
I think the thing that I learned when I fully embraced being a part of the LGBTQ community in Muncie—I learned that it’s OK to just be, to just have fun and live. Especially growing up in the church, I don’t think that we do a good job of just living in the moment and enjoying things because they’re enjoyable. There’s this mentality that some of us that still have—if it’s enjoyable for the sake of being enjoyable, it must be bad.
Now I’m planning a wedding with my fiancé. Being part of a community and finding my life partner have amplified every emotion. I’m scared our rights and our safety are at risk.
I have this fear of: “What happens if I get sick?” The thought of me getting sick, or her getting sick, and not having the legal ability to care for one another is terrifying.
We’re hoping to get married mid-year, but I worry if it’ll still be legal by then. Is a tweet from the President going to come out denying us marriage equality? Part of me wants to rush out and get married in a week, with hopes that the validity of previously legal marriages might be tweet-proof. But I also want a wedding. Not anything huge or extravagant. I just want the people I care about to be there—our family and our community.
– Melanie Jones’s Story as Told by Cheri Ellefson
Melanie is originally from Middlebury, Indiana and is a graduate of Anderson University. She has worked in Muncie for over 10 years and currently resides in Alexandria.
Cheri Ellefson teaches gender and international women’s issues courses at Ball State University and offers community workshops on ‘unlearning gender.’ She co-owns Queer Chocolatier with her wife and serves on the advisory board for the Center for Peace and Conflict Studies.
This story originally appeared in Facing LGBTQ+ Pride in Muncie, a publication of The Facing Project that was organized by Muncie OUTreach in Muncie, Indiana.