Growing up, I knew I was different. There were parts of me that didn’t fit the mold and days where I would sit and sob because I couldn’t figure it out.
“Why don’t I fit in? What’s wrong with me? Where’s my tribe?”
In those days, I didn’t have a word for it—for who I was or for what I was looking for, and as a teenager those were hard questions to have to face on your own. I suppose if you surveyed the first 18 years of my life, you could safely assume that the word I was looking for was gay.
But, as I reflect on everything that has gotten me to the place I am today, I realize it was so much more than that.
It was acceptance.
It was community.
It was happiness.
And yes, it was gay.
The first of those was probably the hardest to find because I’ve come to realize acceptance is more than allowing others to see you for who you are. The bigger hurdle is learning to see yourself for who you are, without all the outside noise and societal norms that have been pushed on you since the day you were born. Figuring out how to accept myself wasn’t something that came over night but in many ways came at just the right time.
For many of my friends in the gay community, coming out was not a grand spectacle with rainbow flags and a YouTube video but instead a series of impromptu conversations, each tinted with some level of fear and/or anxiety. Will I be disowned? Will they still love me?
With my mother, her conversation happened during my late teens when she came into my room after sensing something was “off.” I was sobbing on the floor with a broken heart, and, in that moment, I let the words out. Much to my relief, the conversation was met with an impressively unsurprised, “Yes, I know.” Apparently, her and my father has begun talking about my orientation when I was in third grade. Part of me thinks that a little “heads up” would have been nice, but I appreciate the fact that they wanted me to figure it out on my own terms.
From there, I began reaching out to others in my life whom I felt deserved to know this part of me. Were there gut-wrenching days of reflection and tense conversations over the Bible? Absolutely. We wouldn’t be in Indiana if there weren’t. But, there were also days where I let out a sigh of relief as I was met with comments of “We already knew” and “This doesn’t change that I love you.” In those moments, the tears and anxiety that I had held in for as long as I could remember evaporated into thin air.
The years after would be some of my best and some of my worst, but that’s true for anyone trying to find themselves. I moved out of state but then came back. I fell in love and it broke my heart. I struggled with my faith and then remembered, “Jesus loves the little children; red, yellow, black, or white.” His love never came with exceptions. With each path I took, I was able to grow a little bit more and understand just a few more things about who I wanted to be and who I wanted to be there with me.
Through those various paths, both good and bad, I was led to countless opportunities to share my truest self. From serving as Mr. Gay Muncie for two years to helping support our community’s LGBTQ teens as a board member for Muncie Outreach, I have been blessed. On the day that Indiana legalized gay marriage, I performed seven weddings and countless others since that day. All of these experiences have shown me the power of love and the beauty of acceptance; in this, I have found my community and I have found my tribe.
As for happiness, I have found that, too; some days a little more, some days a little less. But that’s normal for anyone, and I like to think that I spend far more days in the “little more” category.
– Brett Ellison’s Story As Told by Clarissa Bowers
Brett Ellison is a native of Delaware County. He currently serves as the Sales and Events Manager for Minnetrista and serves as an Adjunct Instructor in the Hospitality program at Ivy Tech. Brett has previously served on the Advisory Board for the Community Center for Vital Aging and he currently serves on the Advisory Board for the Ivy Tech Community College Hospitality Program at the Muncie Campus and is the Board President of Muncie OUTreach.
Clarissa Bowers is the Learning and Development Manager for a New York-based company, as well as, an adjunct instructor at Ivy Tech in Anderson. This is Clarissa’s fifth time serving as a writer for The Facing Project and is thrilled to be part of such an important discussion for our community (and our world).
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.