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Our Stories Unmasked: Growing Up (and Coping) Inside the Closet

Our Discover teammates opened up about growing up and masking their true selves. Find out how they’ve learned to create space for themselves.

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Man in parkBrandon Frost
Sr. Business Analyst
Remote (Portland, Oregon)
Pronouns: He/Him/His

When I was younger and closeted, I spent so much time and energy masking myself. It was downright exhausting living my authentic life out of the closet, and then packing it all in to “act a certain way” when I went home. I never mentioned any details of my personal life in fear of being found out.

I do sometimes resent how much damage was done by being trapped in the closet. But through therapy and counseling, I’ve found a peaceful and productive way to deal with that past trauma. The best way to revisit the past is with a sense of grace, and non-critical self-judgement. As my therapist always says, “You did the best you could with what you knew then. You were an adolescent gay child – give yourself some grace and understanding. You were protecting yourself because you thought nobody else would.”

Karlyn Steadman
Team Coach, Customer Service & Engagement Dept. Core
New Albany, OH
Pronouns: They/Them

I knew I was a lesbian as soon as I knew what the word meant. I don’t remember a time that I could identify as anything but that. At that same moment, I learned the name for the feelings I had for other people, I also learned it was a “sin” according to my family’s religion, or, specifically, an “abomination” as was taught every Sunday. From that moment, I felt as if I was an abomination. From five years old until the age of 15, I forced myself into a box, carefully suppressing those feelings. When I was 15 years old, I was caught with my partner at the time and forced to go through conversion therapy. I built up more layers of hate for myself, all while navigating the feelings of being non-binary and different from the female I was being forced to be.

At the age of 23, I was finally able to work through my own self-hatred, and happily, confidently, be me. I came out to my friends and family as non-binary. I stopped forcing myself into the check mark box of female and learned to love my differences and embrace that my life was worthy of love. I understood Pride and found an identity that I wanted to live in. I’m amazed how identity can be ever-changing. I teach kindness and love so we won’t force our future generations into our outdated standards.

Megan Isaac
Team Leader, Deposits Front Office
Lake Park, Salt Lake City Utah
Pronouns: She/Her

It was extremely hard for me to come out to myself. I grew up in a religion where being a part of the LGBTQ+ community was not okay and was viewed as shameful. I always knew that there was something off about me and that I wasn’t attracted to the typical “marry a man and have lots of children” expectation. Yet I denied the same sex attraction feelings I had.

When I was 16, I stumbled across the LGBTQ+ community through social media and was immediately drawn to it. As soon as I could see that two women can be married with children and have a fulfilling life, I came out to myself. When I came out to my parents, it was discussed that I would move across the country to move closer to our religion and suppress my feelings. When I did eventually come out, I learned that my family found it more important that I follow their religion over me living a happy and healthy life.

Nathan Andon
Account Executive
Riverwoods, IL
Pronouns: He/Him/His

The first time I came out to myself I was a teenager living in a small, midwestern town. I knew my identity in my mind, but growing up in the Midwest (and being pre-internet) was very isolating. I literally felt like I was the only person who felt the way I did. I suppressed a lot of myself because I had to. I remember saying “I’m gay” out loud in the mirror, and it was an out of body experience (not the good kind).

The best decision I ever made was leaving my hometown. I always knew my life would never be fulfilling in a smaller setting. I felt drawn to a bigger city so I moved to Mexico after right after high school. It was my first time out of the country and really broadened my view of the world.

Because I grew up in a non-LGBTQ+ affirming place, if I’m in non-affirming spaces now, I can revert to that mental place. I’m able to suppress myself in order to “fit-in.” But I have friends who can’t do the same (nor should they have to). I don’t frequent non-affirming spaces as much nowadays because it still makes me a bit uncomfortable. I remember going to college sports bars, or events that were very alcohol and straight-male oriented. It’s hard to relax and have a good time when at any moment I know I could be singled out, physically assaulted or worse. That’s why LGBTQ+ affirming spaces are important in reinforcing safety, security, and establishing confidence in your true self.

two people in coffee shopMargarita Zias
Associate Information Security
Riverwoods, IL
Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

While small Greek town I grew up in was beautiful and the people were friendly, I often felt like I couldn’t be truthful to myself. If my identity was written as a social media relationship status, it would be ‘It’s Complicated.” I always struggled to be myself and felt scared of becoming an outcast. I was always labelled as a weird kid because I was into anime and enjoyed wearing super colorful patterns that didn’t fit in with the trends at the time.

I can’t say I had an ‘A-ha’ moment where I came out to myself. On some level I always knew. But because I grew up in an environment where I wasn’t even aware that being gay or bisexual was normal, I was always fearful to admit it. I had a hard enough time fitting in already. Coming out was difficult for me because I wasn’t aware that there was an “in-between” option. I thought the only options were “A” or “B” and I couldn’t pick just one.

It wasn’t until I came back to New York for college that I realized I wasn’t alone. There, I met many other people who were like me. All of a sudden, I didn’t feel alone anymore. For the first time in my life, I felt like I knew who I was and I wasn’t ashamed of embracing it.

couple posing in sunflower fieldNicole Barton
Operational Specialist
Lake Park, UT
Pronouns: She/her

My family is still very religious and we disagree on a lot of things. I recently talked with them about the Equality Act, back when it was up for a vote. I wanted to know if they supported the bill because I’m part of the community that it affects.  At the end of the day, my parents didn’t support the bill because they felt it limited their religious freedoms. I felt frustrated because while they say they support me, they didn’t act in support of me.

No matter how much I want them to see it from my side, they might not ever change. From this experience, a hard truth I learned is that I cannot control them. Instead, I set boundaries with them while staying true to myself. I won’t stop speaking up and sharing my opinion. I’m not going to hide myself in fear. If they want to stop their relationship with me, they have the option to set that boundary too. It’s a hard scenario to swallow, but it’s easier because I have other people in my life that fully support me.

woman holding mug and smilingSusanne Jenz-Lingemann
Senior Executive Relationship Manager
Remote (Cologne, Germany)
Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

When I first came out to myself I felt very alone. I grew up in a small village in the countryside. I felt certain that I was the only one who felt the way I did. At the time, there wasn’t a lot of LGBTQ+ representation in the media. The internet wasn’t popular, nor did I know anyone who was lesbian or gay. Instead, I mostly heard about people’s biases and of course, hear people use “gay” and “lesbian” as swearwords. I suffered, a lot. I didn’t know what was going on. I didn’t know where I belonged. I had nobody to talk to and I was too ashamed to talk to my parents or my friends. If I could tell my younger self one thing, I would tell her, “You are okay! Be brave and speak to your friends and you will find, you are not alone.”


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