Eli’s Story: Connection, Acceptance, and Living Her Truth

Dara LevanBlog, Every Soul Has A StoryLeave a Comment

A few weeks ago, I introduced the concept of anchors. The first anchor about which I wrote was connection and the second acceptance. Today’s post was originally going to be the final entry in this three-part series. As I often share, life unfolds like an emerging lotus flower. So I pivoted and that piece will be published next week.

I sat at our kitchen table with Alec and my husband. Zoe excitedly exclaimed, “Mommy! I am so happy for someone; I just saw a post on Instagram. Can I tell you about it?”

“Of course sweetie,” I replied with curiosity and a smile. Zoe proceeded to tell me about an extraordinary soul with whom she connected. She met this person, let’s call her Eli, at sleep away camp. Eli studied abroad for two years, and I had no idea Zoe had maintained contact with her.

“Eli just came out! Isn’t that wonderful, mommy? She’s an amazing person. She loves men, but also women, so she shared during Pride Month that she’s bisexual,” Zoe continued.

I vividly remember Eli; she impacted Zoe during her first summer as a camper. Eli  is creative, kind, intelligent, and compassionate. I hugged Zoe and said, “That is awesome! I didn’t know you were still in touch with Eli, although I shouldn’t be surprised because you’re so terrific at connecting,” I said.

And that’s when I made my own connection! “Do you think Eli would be open to sharing her story with me? It’s Pride Month, and although I feel strongly our world should celebrate all differences/preferences 365 days a year, this may touch even more people right now. I think it would be such a gift of love to Eli if you reached out and asked her. Are you comfortable doing that honey?” 

“OMG of course!!! Eli is so incredible. And since she just came out publicly, I think she’d love to talk to you,” Zoe said as she simultaneously sent Eli a message.

Connection. Zoe had remained connected with her camp counselor; and then my daughter connected us. Acceptance. My other anchor—accepting myself, accepting others for who they are (or are not), and more. This unexpected discussion felt like divine timing!

Zoe’s hunch was correct. Eli and I communicated via email; we spoke for a few hours last weekend. I am profoundly grateful for her candor and heartfelt sharing. She is 24 years old, but her heart and mind feel several decades older. Eli exhibits wisdom, grace, and authenticity that traveled across the miles as we conversed. It is a privilege to share her story.

Eli grew up in the Northeast with two siblings and as she said, “I’m grateful for my childhood experience. Mom and Dad are ridiculously in love, which is just the best, and not the model I see elsewhere. I am super lucky on that front.” She attended the same private school from first through twelfth grade.

I asked Eli if this seemingly traditional, mainstream environment felt safe for her to live her truth. She explained that much of what she’s realized as an adult is retrospective. Eli also shared that she always cultivated an accepting and progressive social community.

“I feel like I’ve always kind of been very aware of myself as a romantic/sexual being. I think at the age of eight I was curious about bodies. I have visceral memories of having crushes on people,” Eli paused. “I was about eleven or twelve years old when I had my first kiss at camp with a boy. We had a little summer fling thing and that was the extent of it. I do think my sexual awakening was earlier than most people.”

Eli elaborated further. “I came home in seventh grade and my group of girl friends all talked about having or wanting to kiss someone. Some of us decided to practice kissing each other. Some of us were platonic. Some of us, definitely me, realized that I was physical with a girl, and I was happy. It made sense to me. It felt like more than just messing around.”

She indicated that the next vivid shift was during senior year of high school. “I actually fell in love, legitimately, with a guy for two and a half years. That changed things for me. I was infatuated with this guy. We had a beautiful relationship that was healthy and loving,” Eli recalled animatedly. “It was also hard because my camp self—that’s how I refer to the carefree, running around barefoot ‘me’ on the inside. There were parts of myself I wasn’t showing (to him). I don’t know how much of it was what he was fostering in our environment together or fear on my part. 

“I knew that his values were different than mine. I knew he was more traditional, and that just wasn’t me. We got along and overlapped in our values about 80 percent. I remember putting a part of me aside. You want to ideally be with someone who allows you to be yourself and more.”

As she spoke with passion, I listened intently. “There is SUCH an annoying stereotype in the gender studies field that everyone is burning bras, man-hating, doesn’t shave their legs, and is gay. I want to be clear that yes, I identify with parts of that, and that exists. It’s false. It is not a universal experience.”

I laughed a little; it’s as if Eli read my mind. She had told me earlier about her undergraduate major and the focus during her graduate studies. And I was thinking that readers may ignorantly, yet it’s a common generalization, shove this brilliant, passionate person into a banal box. 

“I am fulfilling a cliche. I go off and get my Master’s in Gender Studies and come out as bi. I was like ninety percent on my way to coming out, and then fell in love with a man. (She met him in 2016.) We were talking, living, and experiencing things in such a detailed, intellectual manner. I wasn’t able to share this narrative that I just told you until doing the master’s degree. This is when I put the pieces together that I am bi and also there was representation. I needed to see and meet examples of people like me. I heard a lot about their struggles as passing as straight and coming out. They gave me references and articles about what it’s like. It was huge. I knew. I finally had the confidence behind it. I was now able to tell my life story.”

Eli is ANYTHING but typical or cliche. I asked her about how she’s continuing to be in a committed, loving relationship with her boyfriend. She indicated this definitely felt complicated in the beginning, but he is so accepting and supportive that nearly three years later they are in love. He is heterosexual and knows she is bisexual. I wondered if this was confusing for either of them.

“It did feel, in some ways, like stopping and starting because men were interrupting and distracting me from living that bi-life. Then I fell in love with with Jay. I wouldn’t change it for anything, and I don’t regret it! That first year of dating, I told him right from the start that I think `I’m queer to an extent’ and that I wasn’t sure but I knew I liked girls but hadn’t had many serious relationships with girls. That was part of my past and I was not sure about it being part of my future,” Eli told me. I marveled at her clarity and confidence.

“And now comes the issue of coming out while I’m in relationship with a guy. I thought if i was single right now, I could just start dating women. But because I’m coming to terms with this retrospectively, I essentially toyed around with it and had a frank conversation with Jay. I was kind of freaking out and asked him, `Do you remember when a few years ago I told you I’m kinda into girls? I don’t want anything to change with us, but I feel now I want to use the label of bi.’ I was a little bit scared. He’s amazing. He’s shown me nothing but support. And he said as long as we’re still good, this changes nothing. I am happy to know that and be there for you,” Eli said.

I asked her how she came out to others. Eli wanted to start with Jay. She added that some of her friends knew, so when she started telling people, it wasn’t a total shock for them.

“I slowly started making cold calls. My sister wasn’t at all surprised, and she had a ton of questions, which I loved. She reminded me that she kind of wove that piece into the story of me. We are super close; I knew that she would support me. In that moment, from her, it was supportive. I think my brother was a bit surprised. I told my parents a year ago. They said, ‘It doesn’t change anything and we love you no matter what.’ That response is all I can ask for. That is wonderful,” Eli said.

We continued our incredible conversation. I was immersed and inspired by all Eli shared. I have chosen to omit several details to protect her privacy (and others involved). Amongst myriad other aspects of Eli’s journey, I also asked her about advice she may have for people coming out to family and friends. 

“What sometimes hurt a little bit from my parents and others is no follow up questions. All people want in life is for people to be interested in you and your story. But then I’m left with ‘do they not want to hear more or do they want me to share because they don’t want to pry?’ I thought to myself, ‘Wow. I just spent weeks gearing up to tell you and that’s it? It goes no further?’ That’s how I felt,” Eli expressed.

“The model I feel people should follow let the person who’s coming out share in their own time. But also offering the option, “Can I ask questions? Do you want to talk about it?” 

I asked Eli if she has any advice regarding how to foster an open environment for kids and adults to feel comfortable coming out to another person. “Be careful with your language. Do not make it binary or assign your child to any particular genders. It plants a seed in kids’ minds that they can do whatever they want with whomever they want as long as it’s healthy and consensual.”

I am beyond grateful for Eli sharing her story with me. It is an honor and privilege to write it. EVERY soul has a story; this is just the beginning of Eli’s! I sincerely hope her story of acceptance, connection, truth, and more resonates with you.

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