Growing Up Gay and In the Closet: One Austin Woman's Story
Austin resident Alyshia Foster grew up outside Dallas. When she was nine, she started taking medication to deal with depression.
“There had been this festering ugliness and self-hatred and I felt it was killing everything beautiful about it and I didn’t know what it was," Foster said.
Just before her twelfth birthday she says she had a revelation.
I remember the moment distinctly when I knew I had the capacity to fall in love with man or women," Foster said. "It was very eye opening and liberating, but really incredibly scary too. There was that moment of excitement and then, 'Oh my gosh, I have this really big secret.'"
Foster's fear of revealing her sexual identity to family and friends is common, according to the Austin organization, OutYouth.
“You have the person you present to the world and then you have this other person who identifies as gay and has partners and lives their life but kind of having to hide who they are," said Keisha Martinez with OutYouth. "That’s the biggest issue people who don’t come out face, is creating this secret life and having to live a lie."
Martinez says teens who do come out can face rejection and bullying at school and at home.
“A lot of teens who come out face rejection from their families. That rejection and maybe even being isolated from their families can create a lot of negative self image, it can cause them to run away and become homeless, it can lead to suicide," she said.
According to the Suicide Prevention Research Center, 30 percent of LGBTQ youth had attempted suicide at some point. That compares to 13 percent of heterosexual youth.
In college, Foster began to have relationships with women, but kept them secret from family and friends. She was part of a religiously affiliated group at Texas A & M, where she attended college. She says she was lonely and feared rejection, which led her to harm herself physically.
“There was a point at one time when a woman accidentally touched my hands and I went to the bathroom and I washed them so hard that they bled, because I felt that I like I did something wrong by just touching someone," Foster said.
Foster says spent much of college trying to reconcile her faith and her sexuality.
“It’s really hard. It’s like, ‘Do I walk away with my left foot or my right foot, which one do I leave behind? It’s taken a very, very long time to coexist within the different groups that are important to me," she said.
As Foster continued to struggle with depression, during her sophomore year, she attended reparative therapy at the request of the religiously affiliate group. Reparative therapy is the idea that one’s sexual orientation can be changed. She began contemplating suicide and eventually, checked herself into a mental hospital.
That's where she came out to herself.
“One of the main reasons I was there was because I couldn’t think of a time when I was happy. I could think of these brief moments of maybe I felt happy for this day, but I couldn’t remember extended period of time where I wasn’t depressed or lonely," Foster said. "And now it’s complete opposite. We all experience moments of anger and hurt, but my life and the way I live it and all of my relationships are completely different," she said.
Foster now lives with her partner in Austin.
Martinez says at OutYouth, it’s difficult to gage how many LGBTQ Youth live in the Austin area. She says the organization hosts weekly drop in nights, and between five and 25 kids show up. At their annual Queer Prom this year, 200 youth attended.
The Central Texas Chapter of the American Foundation For Suicide Prevention is holding a Town Hall Thursday evening to discuss LGBTQ Youth and Suicide Prevention. University of Arizona Professor Stephen Russell will be giving a presentation about his research on LGBTQ youth and suicide.