My coming out was incredibly chill in one way, but not in another — seeing as it involved a gurney.

I’d come out to myself slowly, wondering if I counted as bisexual for a long time. Until I met Ashley, and it wasn’t a question anymore.

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If hope was a person, it was Ashley. I met her after an abusive relationship with a man, the last in a string of my manifestations of a very unhealthy concept of love: he woos you until he hurts you bad enough for you to leave. I was shell-shocked and numb, not the most attractive asset on the dating scene, but somehow Ashley still saw something in me.

On one of our first dates, we tried to hike my favorite waterfall but got caught in a thunderstorm while we were cliffside. I loved how unafraid and happy she was, even though I couldn’t shake my anxiety that we’d get squashed by a falling tree.

On the way back, there was an accident, and we got caught in a traffic standstill for four hours. She had to hold a sheet up for me so the line of truckers couldn’t see me pee. Somehow she made the impossibly long wait fun, with her great laugh and amazing taste in music. I think I told her some of my deepest, darkest secrets that day, and she was so warm it didn’t even feel like I was being vulnerable.

Once we could move again, we stopped at a restaurant with outdoor firepits and made friends with a group of lesbians who squealed over how cute we were and made knowing eyes at us while we laughed awkwardly.

After that, we were always outside together, swimming in the river, hiking to secret waterfalls, playing in the mud, meditating, trading books, reading tarot, and making flirtatious playlists. We took the train to Seattle to see our beloved FKA twigs on her “Magdalene” tour. The morning after the show, she got up early to make sure I woke up to beignets and coffee. We played in the horror movie section of MoPop and I took photos of her posing on a replica of Prince’s Purple Rain motorcycle, looking amazing.

Ashley made me realize that a gentle love is possible, one that doesn’t push, one that doesn’t hurt, one that makes you feel better and want to be better. I was still so wounded by the abuse I’d lived through, I wasn’t exactly ready to be in a relationship. And things with Ashley felt so unique, precious, and sacred that I didn’t want to open up what was between us to other people’s judgment and questions. 

I knew my family was cool with gay people, but I wasn’t sure if they’d try to make me doubt my own gayness. Some people know early on, some people figure it out later in life. I was in the latter camp and wasn’t ready to be questioned about it.

One sunny Sunday while horseback riding, I got thrown from my horse and landed hard on my back. I felt hoof beats slamming the ground near my head and even though my brain was screaming at my body to move, I couldn’t make my body cooperate. Luckily, the horse didn’t step on me, but by the time I could roll over, I knew something was very, very wrong.

My mom took me to the emergency room as I writhed in the worst pain I’d ever been in. A trauma team strapped me to a gurney and terrified me with their medical talk of potential breaks and internal bleeding. I felt my panic rise. Someone asked if there was someone I could call to help keep me calm.

Without a moment’s hesitation, I asked my mom to go on my phone and call Ashley. Graciously, she didn’t ask any questions. Thanks to the pain meds, it seemed like Ashley appeared, like an angel, in the next second and held my hand. I felt calm when I saw her. I felt warm, held, and safe. Did you know that love could be like that? I didn’t before then.

Luckily, I was a lot better off than everyone had feared. After leaving the hospital, Ashley took me to get my medicine and then back to my parent’s house for some dinner. Mamá y papá were adorable with her actually, cooing over her and giving her like 17 of their favorite books to borrow. 

It was a dramatic coming out, but also rather lovely. The person I needed most, the person who had the most sway over my heart, was a woman. And no one mistook that for anything other than beautiful. Not the doctors or nurses in the hospital in that conservative town, not my family, not the wall of truckers. Love is love.

Ashley and I remain friends to this day. She’s in a wonderful relationship with a wonderful woman. I’m having fun dating all genders.