Jubilation, by Kit Hompstead
I’m only seven when I hear it first.
“My mom says that my uncle can’t come over anymore because he’s gay.”
“What’s gay?” I rub the corner of the desk that I’m sitting at and screw up my face.
“It’s when you like-like someone but they’re also a boy.”
“But I like-like Danny. Am I gay?”
“No silly, you’re a girl. Only if you were a boy.”
I’m nine when I hear that it’s wrong.
“Marriage is only between a man and woman. That’s Heavenly Father’s plan for us.”
I raise my hand and wiggle it around in the air, as if I’m trying to propel myself right out of the tan plastic chair.
“But what if you like-like someone and they’re also a girl?”
“We don’t do that. Heavenly Father told us not to.”
I’m only eleven when I meet her for the first time.
“My name is Aspen and we’re going to be best friends.”
She has long blonde hair and for a moment, I can’t tell if I like her more or her hair.
“I’m Celeste. And I’d like that.”
When I’m nearly thirteen, I meet her again.
“Hey, I haven’t seen you in forever!”
Her hair is short this time, and a little voice that sounds like my mom’s says that it looks just like a boy’s hair. I think it looks really cool. We become best friends again. At lunch one day, a day that Aspen is sick, another friend leans forward across the lunch table and drops his voice to a whisper, as if it’s a secret.
“Aspen is transgender.”
“What does that mean?” I’ve developed a habit of chewing on the ends of my hair when I’m nervous.
“It means that you used to be a girl but now you’re a boy. Or the other way around, too.”
When Aspen comes back, it hangs between us, heavy and tired. I can’t keep it in any longer and one day the words bubble up like a fountain.
“Are you transgender?”
My voice gets quieter. “I thought you were a girl but John Reńe says you want to be called a boy.”
“I do sometimes. I’m genderfluid.”
“It’s when sometimes you don’t feel like you’re the same gender as you used to be.”
I smile. I don’t see how there’s anything wrong with feelings.
But when I start feeling more than I thought I could, I’m scared, and I turn away.
“My mom says I can’t hang out with you anymore.” The lie slips through my teeth like a slimy fish and flops down in front of us, ugly and dying.
“I just can’t.”
It eats at me, sits in my stomach, hungry and gnawing and angry. It sits there and it chews and chews and chews until I hate myself for it.
I’m fifteen when I first hear the word that will later describe how I begin to identify myself.
“Oh yeah, she’s bisexual.”
“That’s when you like boys and girls, right?”
At the explanation, something blooms in my chest, a tiny fragile blossom that is determined to weather any storm. It takes me a moment to realize what it is, but then I know. Hope.
I live in a house with nine other girls, who, like me, are all here to change something about themselves, but not for being gay.
And this is where it all begins.
My therapist, a lesbian woman named Char, whose wife is an opera singer, gives me a piece of advice that will later drive me to come to terms with who I am and what I want from my life.
“Do what makes you happy. Do you feel happy being gay? Be gay! Screw what the world thinks. Screw what your parents think. Screw the status quo. Does liking girls make you happy? Then like girls, dammit! Choose what makes you happy, not anyone else.”
I look down at the cover of my neon green notebook and don’t make eye contact.
“But what if my mom doesn’t want me anymore?”
She surprises me by reaching over to take my hand.
“You’ll always have someone who does want you, even if it isn’t your mom.”
I’m seventeen when my mom sits in the kitchen and yells.
“You know that writing things like that is inappropriate. Men aren't supposed to kiss each other, it’s wrong!”
She grounds me for a week, and all the while, I sit there and think to myself, but what about me? and think that I’m not who I’m supposed to be, that I am wrong. I tell myself that I can never tell her, never speak my truth.
So I tell my boyfriend about it instead. We have known each other for a year and a half now, and he is my best friend, my closest confidant. He hugs and kisses me, and whispers, “You are amazing and I still love you.” But then a week later he cheats on me, and there is a look in his eyes and a whisper on his lips that tells me it is because of my truth.
I’m nineteen when I’m faced with a choice.
“I'm not going to teach him that being gay is wrong. I can’t do it.”
I hesitate, looking my mission president in the eye. He’s new, and has only been here a week. His eyebrows crinkle downwards. I can’t tell him the truth.
“And why not?”
“I… I have family members who are, and it would be like a betrayal to them after I supported their right to choose.”
It’s not the full truth, but it’s not a lie either. When I’m sent home six weeks later, they say it’s because of my anxiety, my poor health, but there’s a part of me that wonders if it’s also because I refused to teach something I couldn’t believe. I pray and pray and pray over the months that follow until one night, I hear a whisper in my heart.
“You did the right thing. You remained true to yourself. Your Father in heaven is proud of you, no matter what choice you make.”
I am nineteen when I tell my mother.
“Do you still love Haley, even though she doesn’t always only like boys?”
My sister, six years older than me and not one to follow the rules, refuses to put a label on herself. She has left the church because of a great many reasons. I stare down at my phone, a Discord server full of people like me, those who don’t know where they belong. I have been introduced to these people, to my new friends, by a girl that I have known since kindergarten, who, like me, understands what it is like to have to reconcile your faith with your identity. I clutch my phone tighter as I wait for a response.
“Of course, she’s my daughter and I love her. I may not agree with her choices, but I love her. Why? You have something to tell me?”
Her tone is teasing, but before I can stop myself the word comes bursting out of my lips like a swarm of butterflies, pressed forward by the weight of seven years.
I am deathly pale and shaking when she turns off the mixer and the kitchen falls into dead silence. I can see the knobs of her spine, which show her illness so well. She doesn’t turn, and I wonder if maybe she is as terrified to hear what I am about to say as I am.
“Mom, I’m bisexual.”
The kitchen is silent for another moment or two as I watch her straighten and take a deep breath. There are tears in her eyes when she turns around and comes around the side of the island. She holds her arms out to me.
“I love you.”
She holds me tight to her chest as tears slip from the corners of my eyes.
“And I always will.”
I am twenty one when I once again open my mouth in confession.
“I need to take some time away from the church to figure things out. I think I’m genderfluid, mom, and the church doesn’t like that.”
She is quiet as I sob into the receiver of the phone, my dad’s silent strength by me. It has been a hard day, and the revelation as to why they are getting a divorce has caused the words to yet again tumble from my lips. I am angry at a God who would allow his servants to deny me of myself.
“I told you before, I love you and I always will. That will never change. And no matter what, I will never leave you. Nothing you could say or do will ever change that.”
It is a relief from all the scenarios I’ve been imagining. For several weeks, I refuse to read my scriptures or pray, but it is stubborn pride, and one night, when I am feeling especially wretched, I turn to a God who I felt had abandoned me.
“Tell me what to do. I’m not happy, and it’s only getting worse. What am I supposed to do now?”
I am not sure who I am in this moment, whether it be Celeste, the daughter and sister that I was born as, or if it’s Kai, the identity I have chosen for myself, yet still one that feels hollow at times, as though I am pretending, or if it’s CeCe, a child who only wants to be loved and accepted when no one else would. It is quiet in the moments after my heartfelt plea, and in that moment of silence, I feel something I have been missing for weeks now. A sense of peace steals over my heart and the love that follows lays me flat on my back on the floor next to my bed. A voice comes to my mind and I feel whole again.
“My child, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversities and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment. I created you for a purpose, and that purpose is not yet fulfilled. You are divinely Mine, and I have not abandoned you. Your name that was given you at birth was Celeste. It means gift. You are my My gift. The name you chose was Kai. In Japanese, it means restoration, and that is what you have been doing, restoring yourself. And you are CeCe, because your childhood has shaped you. Seek and ye shall find, knock and it shall be opened unto you.”
“I’m coming back to the church.”
When I tell my mother, she is overjoyed. I am not doing it for her, not my father, nor the members of my ward. I am doing it for myself, and most importantly, for the God who has a purpose for me.
The choices I have made, I have made for me. I am happy now.
I am twenty two now, and I am happy.
I am not as strong in the church as I once was. But when I sit and pray one night with my mother, a blanket of warmth is wrapped around me, and I hear these words from Him:
You have a Mother in heaven, and She loves you just as much as me. She held you and protected you when your mothers couldn’t. It was Her divine intervention that led you to this path and shaped you into who you are today.
I sob for a few hours in relief before I finally fall asleep, glad for the confirmation that I am watched over and protected at all times.
I go by Kit now, a name that means “bearing Christ.” I am still bisexual. I still have days where I don’t feel like a woman, but I no longer identify as genderfluid. But I know now that there is a plan for me. I know that I have Heavenly Parents who are watching over me and guiding me down a path that will be good for me.
Sometimes, I still stare into the mirror in the bathroom, take in the dark brown hair, the watery blue-grey eyes, the round cheeks and thick waist that make me who I am and wonder.
Who am I truly? I still sometimes think, Who might I become with a little persistence? It’s something that I am infinitely curious about, the future.
But ultimately, I know that my heavenly parents are on my side in everything that I might attempt. It may not always be part of their plan, but they are there for me, as parents should be.
They don’t mind that I’m a little in love with the girl in my ward who smiled and said hello and pulled me into her group of friends as easily as pouring rice into a pot. They smile when I bashfully hand a bag to the boy whose favorite candy is Starburst, but only the red ones, with a quietly murmured “happy birthday” in passing. And they laugh when I go on yet another date and ask in exasperation “well, when are you sending an eternal companion my way?”
And as I stare into that mirror, I realize that I am okay; that I am where I need to be for who I am right now, and that my identity is what it always has been - a child of Heavenly Parents. I am Kai. I am Celeste. I am CeCe. I am Kit.
I am twenty two years old, and this is jubilation.