Refocusing My Family (An Excerpt from Ch. 18 of “Refocusing My Family”)
In early 2016, I sat across the dinner table from the national trans advocate and former megachurch pastor, Rev. Dr. Paula Williams. I told her I was thinking of going public with my story and asked if she had any advice for me. She sat calmly, probing a bit, and asked me a series of difficult questions. Feeling a little like I was being interrogated, it was clear to me she was getting at something; I just wasn’t sure what it was. Then, after collecting the information she felt she needed, she looked me in the eyes with an intensity that came both from a heart of love and a heart of compassion, and said, “Amber, embedded in your identity is a responsibility to be a voice for change.”
I sat with that profound statement and let it resonate for a moment. It felt like God in human form had just spoken to me. It was a divine moment that confirmed what I already felt I was supposed to do with the story I’d been given. Struck with both the weight of that responsibility and the magnitude of it, that phrase repeated itself in my spirit for days. That’s how I knew it was God. And that’s how I knew it was time to tell my story.
It’s not an easy story to tell. Writing it has taken me on quite a journey. But I believe that part of the reason I’m still alive today is so that my story could be used to help change the culture for those still searching for hope to live authentically.
Lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth are four times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers, and LGB youth who come from highly rejecting families are over eight times more likely to attempt suicide compared to their LGB peers who report no or low levels of family rejection. 40 percent of transgender adults have reported attempting suicide with 92 percent of them doing so before the age of 25.
One of the driving forces behind writing this book was how close I came to being one of those statistics. The way family and friends respond to LGBT loved ones when they come out, directly affects their lives, and their perceived worth. I wish my parents understood that. It could have saved us all from so much heartache.
I’m so grateful for the life I have now and the joy I find in the family my wife and I are creating together. But looking back, I still think about my life in two parts: before coming out, and after coming out. In many ways, it feels like I’ve lived two completely different lives divided by one defining moment of authenticity. I’ve tried to blend those two worlds together whenever I can—like carrying on some of the traditions from my childhood. But when it comes to having my parents as a part of Clara’s and my life, I’ve had to allow myself grace to accept the uncomfortable disconnect and grieve the loss.
In many ways, I’m still the same person I’ve always been. I still love music and have a strong passion for worship. I still love the holidays and fostering traditions that make them special. I still love creating a cozy home and hospitable environment. I still enjoy coaching and have a deep heart for people. And I still cuddle up next to the fireplace every fall for an Anne of Green Gables marathon. Being gay is just one part of who I am, but so much of me remains the same.
And at the same time, because I have been ostracized by people who want my sexuality to define me, much of me has changed. I’ve had to fight for my relationship with God against a culture that says you can’t be both gay and Christian. I’ve had to study the Bible deeply for myself and learn how to defend my faith to those who question it. And I’ve had to look at issues through the eyes of the marginalized. I now stand with all people living in marginalized groups, whether I’m a part of them or not, because I believe that’s what Jesus did, and because I’ve seen firsthand what happens to people when we don’t. All of these things in turn have made me a stronger, healthier, and more well-rounded individual.
But in the process, I’ve also had to refocus a few things…