55 - Lauren Neaves
Loves to sing. Works in marketing, dabbles in graphic design. A self described conundrum wrapped in a riddle.
With the infinite possibilities of gender identity and expression, when did you know….
“I mean, looking back everyone should have known… when I was in elementary school, my older sister - had posters of all the teenage heartthrobs on her walls. I've never had posters of boys on my walls. I had pictures of female athletes on my walls, and I was like, ‘I just really admire them’. Which was true, but I didn't have the vocabulary, to explain that there was more to it.
When I got to high school I definitely was like, ‘Oh, that's what that was… And realizing that of all of my friends, I just wanted to hang out with the pretty girls in elementary school… there was a reason for that.”
On her coming out experience...
“I was 20 and I told my best friend. I was home, it was probably over Christmas because I wasn't at school…I remember exactly where we were. I remember there was a Barnes Noble in downtown Fort Worth, where H&M is now, and we were up on the second floor, sitting on the floor… looking at some books and I was like, ‘So… can I tell you something?’ I was terrified of her reaction when I shouldn't have been, because her mom's gay. Her mom has been with her partner forever, but in that moment, my best friend was the first person I'm admitting it out loud to. At that point the only person I had admitted it to was myself. She was just like, ‘And? So…? Like what are you dying? Okay… you’re fine…’
Slowly over the years I started telling more and more people, because I was coming out while I was a Brigham Young University student… and being gay and Mormon… I mean, I was there when Prop 8 was happening. And there were people writing letters to the editor that being gay was just as bad as murdering and raping people… Are you kidding me? I heard a comment while I was at BYU that if they had a gay roommate they’d bash their face in… and I'm like, ‘More than likely, you know a gay person here at BYU… they're just not going to tell you, because they know not to tell you… they know you're not a safe person.’
If statistically, 10% of the world is gay, there are 35,000 students at BYU… there are at least 3,000 gay students at BYU. There’s a lot of us…
When I was there, up until 2007, you couldn't even say it out loud. If you admitted it, you could get kicked out of school. In 2007 they changed the honor code to say that that sexual orientation wasn't an honor code issue… you still weren't allowed to act on it, but you could at least say it out loud, and tell people that you were gay without the risk of getting kicked out of school.
I told my older sister when I was still at BYU, because I'd been in my first relationship with a woman and she broke my heart. That’s a whole other story but in that moment, I just needed my sister. So I call her crying, and she didn't care that it was a woman who had broken my heart, she just cared that I was heartbroken. She just wanted to support me. I told my roommates my last year at BYU, and I had one roommate who was adorable… I think I was the first gay person she'd ever met, and so she would come up to me and be like, ‘Is this true?’ Like just with random stereotypes she’d heard.... I’d kind of just explain things to her, and she’d be like, ‘Okay…’ And she'd leave and I'd feel like, ‘This is the best experience ever!’
By the time I told my parents, everyone else knew. Because then if my parents were like I don't want anything to do with you, I had everyone else to fall back on. My mom had made a comment when I was 18, and this is why she says that she comes off as the villain in my story, which I don't think is true… But when I was 18, my mom made a comment that if she had a gay kid she'd kill herself, and I wasn't anywhere close to being able to tell her that at that point. But that was like, ‘Oh, that’s me… I think… maybe…?’ I hadn't even really admitted it to myself... ‘Don't tell Mom… got it. Cool!’ Back in the closet… it was like the door wasn't even open yet, but it was unlocked. Not gonna do it.
And then there's this movie called Latter Days, about this Mormon missionary who, while he's out on a mission, meets this guy and they hook up. So, my mom had made that comment, and then I saw this movie… and then the missionary gets sent home. They get caught and he gets sent home, and his parents send him into electric shock therapy!!! I was like, ‘Oh my God… it's gonna happen to me!’ So then I added more locks to the closet door. I was very solidly in that closet.
So when I was about 30, I'd been in this relationship for a few months at that point, and it was just time… like it was time to tell my parents. And, so I did. My mom was like, ‘Yeah… we kind of knew.’ And I'm like, ‘That’s it?! That's all?! Really??’ My dad still really doesn't talk about, but everyone knows. When I got broken up with last year my parents were totally supportive and helpful. My mother has grown in many ways… now she doesn't think like God's punishing you. There was some Mormon leader made a statement once saying ‘…people aren't born gay. Why would a loving God do that to their children?’ My mother distances herself from stuff like that, which I can’t express how grateful I am for that. So, they've grown a lot over the years.
When I told my little sister and her husband - at that point they were still both Mormon. They're not anymore - But my brother in law gets on the phone and asks, ‘Lauren! Lauren! How great are boobs?!’ And I'm like, ‘Did my very Mormon brother-in-law just ask me that?’ It was hilarious.”
Frustrations within our community?
“That the diversity of our community isn’t displayed enough. So much of what is seen is white, gay men. They have the predominate voice, and it’s discouraging at times. The rest of the LGBTQ+ population is drastically underrepresented…”
Favorite part about our community?
“I like that there are niche groups… like at The Pride Center now they're doing a whole Women with Pride series.
I sing with the Women’s Chorus of Dallas, and it started as an LGBTQ choir… and there's still a lot of LGBTQ members. It's great that I get to sing with this all-inclusive group. We sang backup for Demi Lovato on her tour back in March. It was awesome. We’re singing at Carnegie Hall next year.”
What is something you would tell a younger you? Advice for anyone out there who feels like they can’t come out, or they don’t have a community to be a part of?
“To younger me… it gets better. I know it’s a cliché slogan, but it does. I remember being the closeted, terrified, gay Mormon kid who thought about ending everything, but it really does get so much better. Is it hard sometimes? Yes. I have lost plenty of friends because of it. Once I came out publicly, I lost a lot of Mormon friends, but if this is what you can't deal with then I don't need you in my life anyway. I am living my life authentically, and if you can't handle this then, we weren't that good of friends anyway.
Sometimes I still feel like I don't have a community to be a part of. You do have to go digging for it sometimes, but when you find it you're like, ‘Okay, this is it. This is where I belong…’ I get it, it's hard coming out... I have friends who are still very not out to people, but I'm like it's your timeline. I've had relationships in the past, before I was out to everyone, and that's why it didn't work out… because they were pressuring me to come out, and I'm like this isn't your timeline. This is my timeline. Just come out when you need to come out. If it's not your time, that's fine. Don't let anyone pressure you into something that you're not ready for. That doesn't make you any less gay. There aren’t levels.”
What in your life are you most proud of?
“Mostly that I sing… that I've done some really cool things thanks to singing. But I also love writing, and writing music… and I love that I have a random sock collection that not many people see. And a giant lego collection. Mostly I’m just proud of who I am and how far I’ve come. Yes, is being gay a part of who I am? Very much, so. Do I like advocating for the gay community? Yeah, I'm pretty vocal about it. I was very upfront in my most recent job interview that I'm like if you Google me, you’re going to see a lot of blogs about being gay. But don't pigeonhole me in this box like, ‘Oh, she's the gay one…’ There’s more to me than that. Sometimes I’m funny. Sometimes I’m super random. I’m just me and I love who I am.”
With the state of the nation and the world in its current state, what’s one thing you would change if you had the power?
“Can we get Trump out of office? Can that be my magic wand wish? I mean… it would have to be more than just him. I'd have to get the entire GOP currently, and take them out of office and replace them with someone else. I just hated when he was running, and I have friends who were like, ‘Oh, he's an advocate for the LGBT community…’ and I'm like, ‘In what ways?! Please explain this to me…’ It wasn't soon after he got elected that he was enforcing terrible policies. I remember writing long Facebook posts being like, ‘Dear Trump supporting friends, How is this what you said it was gonna be? Do you remember when you promised me x, y, z? I'm not getting x, y or z… I mean, yes it's hurting us, but it's also uniting us. We’re not gonna take this lying down.”