"It was really hard for me to figure out what my place was and whether what I was feeling was right or wrong, and for me, that created a lot of internal problems. Being gay was still very much against God in our family so we were told it was wrong and that it wasn't something that we should talk about. God forbid you are gay.”
As a child, Allison Davis (now 26) had always felt like she was different. She knew she wasn’t like most other girls, for she never liked wearing dresses or putting on her mom’s makeup; instead, she preferred getting dirty, playing sports and hanging out with her father. She was never interested in boys and instead felt attracted to women she would see on T.V. or in the streets. These feelings left her confused and vulnerable. especially since her Christian family held a very conservative attitude about homosexuality and preferred to view lgbt issues as a societal issue outside their periphery.
“It was really hard for me to figure out what my place was and whether what I was feeling was right or wrong, and for me, that created a lot of internal problems,” she said. “Being gay was still very much against God in our family so we were told it was wrong and that it wasn't something that we should talk about; it's something that we should keep very quiet. God forbid you are gay.”
Every Sunday, her family attended church service and throughout her childhood, Allison participated in Bible camps, Sunday School, and Youth Groups. Lgbt information was never discussed; Allison didn't even know that people could be gay until the age of 13 when she found out that her uncles had been in a gay relationship for 50-60 years; she had been told that they were just good friends that decided to live together forever. This realization sparked in her a newfound sense of clarity: she realized that two people of the same gender could love each other romantically, which gave her hope for her own future.
But, that faint glimmer of hope quickly extinguished when Allison entered junior high. At a school assembly on the very first day of seventh grade, she remembers sitting on the bleachers, feeling extremely uncomfortable and self conscious, as the administrator of her Bay Area Christian school condemned homosexuality and mandated that students report information concerning the identity of any lgbtq+ students to the school office. Any student found to be gay would be expelled.
“It was incredibly discouraging and heartbreaking to hear what our school president had to say about gay people and that we were instructed to pretty much out anyone who was gay,” Allison said. “Add on the fact that I was already confused about my feelings being ‘sinful’ or wrong.”
Throughout the next four and a half years, Allison constantly heard people at her school compare homosexuality to bestiality and label it as unnatural. One teacher even said that being gay was was as dirty as eating excrement. Hearing these comments convinced Allison that her emotions were repellent and needed to be quenched.
She tried so hard to be straight that she even got a boyfriend for about two months in her sophomore year and hung a poster of the most masculine celebrity she could think of (John Cena) on her bedroom wall. Yet, she failed to force herself to feel attracted to boys. The suppression of her true feelings as well as stress from drug-addicted parents pushed Allison into a raging battle against herself.
“For a long time I hated myself because I thought everything I was thinking was wrong,” Allison said. “When you're told that gay people are going to hell, that messes with you. You start thinking, ‘Well what's the point? If I'm this horrible person, if I'm this disgusting person, what's the point?”
She became deeply depressed. Some days she wouldn't get out of bed. There were times when she wouldn’t eat for 3 or 4 days and during her second semester of junior year, she dropped out of school.
“It felt like there was this dark cloud over me and nothing I did would get rid of it,” Allison said. “There was all of this self-doubt: ‘I'm not good enough, I'm just creating more problems, I'm just a waste of space. If I’m going to hell anyways, why not just hurry it up? Why not just go now? Why prolong the inevitable?”
She began harming herself, started with stretching out a hair tie as far as possible and then snapping it back onto her wrist. From there, she turned to cutting and burning herself.
“Self-harm becomes addictive because for those few seconds, your pain isn't
mental, it's physical, and it feels like something you can control,” Allison said. “It's about 30 seconds of painful release and for me, it felt like um it was releasing some of my mental anguish when in reality it wasn't.”
She described depression as a spiral of negativity that plunges one into a “state where they believe wholeheartedly that they mean nothing, that they are basically a waste of space that creates problems.”
After about 6-8 months, Allison reached a low where she was prepared to endure any pain in order to relinquish some of the emotional turmoil gripping her. She loathed the conflicting thoughts, the abhorrence, the confusion and and the shame that had etched themselves within her. She felt their residual presence stain her skin with antipathy.
She went into the bathroom and sat down, clutching a razor blade in her fingers. Holding out her arm, she proceeded to drag the blade across her wrist, watching as scarlet red blood dripped down on the tile floor. She thought about what it would be like to end her life.
Her mom walked in after Allison had made a few shallow cuts. She yelled “What are you doing?!” and Allison dropped her razor blade, trying but failing to make up an excuse. Her mom called 911 about 10 minutes later.
Two cops arrived and Allison was taken to a psychiatric facility and then to a minors inpatient comprehensive treatment facility.
Allison said that she wouldn’t wish depression or self-harm upon anyone. Even 10 years after that incident in the bathroom, she finds it difficult to see her scars and fears having to answer questions about them from her future spouse and children. She wishes that no one ever reached the point where they felt like self-harming was the only option.
While Allison wishes she could look at her scars as attestation to the difficulties she overcame and the strength she gained, they usually end up bringing up guilt rather than triumph. She has tattoos all over her arms to cover them up — including an equality tattoo, a portrait of her grandmother, and “love you more” written in her grandmother’s handwriting —and is planning to get a few more.
“The bad times are obviously part of my history, but I don't need the reminder. I would rather be reminded of the positive things in my life like my friends or my family — the goofy times and the fun times.”
Left to right: Allison's tattoo of her grandmother and Allison's equality tattoo
When Allison was 19, her depression spiraled to the tipping point quicker than it had when she was 16 — in a matter of weeks rather than a matter of months. Allison had enrolled in community college because it was what her family wanted her to do and what she thought she wanted to do. In reality, she felt no motivation to show up for classes and ended up failing almost every single one, placating her parents with lies of good grades. On campus she was also exposed to an environment of exploration centered around drugs, alcohol, and sexual identity that forced her to confront her own conflicting feelings.
“I was still ashamed of the way I was feeling,” she said. “I just felt like this confused kid.”
After a family vacation in which Allison got into a big fight with her mom, she felt completely “fed up.” She wasn’t happy with how her life was going or even with who she was as a person. Hope was a fruitless concept foreign to her.
One night, when her parents went out to dinner, she went to the medicine cabinet to take vicodin for a migraine. On an impulse, she rummaged through the rest of the bottles and found a total of 26 pills.She poured about half into her hand and gulped them down, one by one. Not feeling anything she took the second half of the pills about an hour later.
“It got to a point where I just didn't want to deal with anything anymore,” Allison said. “It all felt too much. I had so much going on in my head that I couldn't even think straight and I wanted it to stop.”
The last thing she remembers from that day is messaging one of her good friends to make plans for the following week, clearly knowing she had no intention to keep them.
Allison blacked out and when she woke up, she was lying in a hospital bed. Her father later told Allison that she had called him and said something like “I messed up” or “I’m in trouble.”
“I didn't want to die, but in those few moments my depression had taken over and had convinced me that I did,” Allison said. “That subconscious phone call that gave me a little bit of hope that maybe killing myself was something that I didn't actually want to do.”
Allison was transferred to an inpatient facility, where she began extensive therapy. Due to her psychologists’ kindness and gentle support, Allison finally felt comfortable opening up about her sexuality and beginning to unravel and reflect on her emotions. When she got overwhelmed, she reminded herself that her subconscious knew she wanted to live.
It took two years of therapy for Allison to gain the confidence to tell her brother and some of her friends that she was gay; most people weren’t surprised. Allison knew the next step was coming out to her parents.
For about a month and a half, Allison planned out countless scenarios, ran through scripts in her head, planned out locations and moments and reactions, yet could never bring herself to follow through, always chickening out at the last moment.
“My mom's had my wedding planned since I was two,” Allison joked.” “In her vision, I marry a rich man, we have 2.5 children, we get married on the beach and I live happily ever after five miles away from her.”
Allison the day she chopped off her hair (2016). This haircut symbolized Allison becoming comfortable with her sexuality: she always hated long hair, but feared cutting it because her family considered short hair a "gay hairstyle"
One evening in February, Allison and her mom were sitting on the couch watching T.V while Allison’s father was out of town for a business trip on the East Coast. Suddenly, without really thinking, Allison blurted out that she needed to say something important. Her mom paused the movie and the words tumbled out of Allison: “I’m gay.”
A stretch of deafening silence followed. Regret, doubt, and fear latched on to Allison — her mom, usually so outspoken and boisterous wasn’t saying anything. The silence continued; the space between them brimmed with tension.
“I was terrified,” Allison said. “I had no idea what she was going to say next and the fact that she's never stumped for words made me even more nervous.”
Allison’s mom turned away from Allison and dialed her husband (Allison’s father), calling over and over until he picked up. Allison said that her dad was surprisingly relaxed about her sexual identity; she said she recounts he said something along the lines of “Jesus, you guys called so many times I thought somebody was dead.”
After furiously raging about Allison’s divulgence, Allison’s mom hung up and began bawling, her body shaking from the loud sobs escaping her. After calming down a bit, she began questioning Allison, trying to find a way to believe that Allison was simply confused or was going through a phase spurred on by hanging out with the “wrong people” at gay clubs and bars.
They didn’t talk for the next few days, but her mom called innumerable relatives and friends to tell them that Allison was gay, which left Allison feeling betrayed, for she “felt cheated out of finally being able to speak her truth.”
It took almost a year for her family to finally accept Allison for who she is. Even then, lgbtq+ issues remained a taboo discussion topic.
“After some time, they’ve all mostly come around and have been accepting and supportive of me,” Allison said. “I honestly was really frustrated and angry that my family wasn't immediately accepting, but after some thought, I realized that they’d spent 22 years thinking I was one thing, so I had to give them time to adjust to the change.”
Allison hanging out with one of her best friends, Alyssa in 2020 (left) and a pride flag (right)
Even though Allison has personally accepted that being gay isn’t wrong, the insults and rejections she encountered throughout the years remain with her. On rough days, she still feels doubt about whether what she feels is natural. Yet, she is proud of how far she has come since her suicide attempt. She feels comfortable in her own skin and is confident about opening up to other people.
“I still go to therapy and I take antidepressants, but I'm not in this in this continuous spiral of self-doubt and I don't have this inner conflict on a daily basis,” Allison said. “For the most part, I'm content with the person that I am today. I am a proud, pretty outspoken gay woman.”
For the past couple years, Allison has explored her sexuality through dating and solidified her identity as a gay woman. She’s also attended several pride parades in San Francisco, which helped her feel a sense of community with other queer individuals. Currently, she is in the process of getting her bachelor’s degree in psychology. She hopes to help the next generation of kids facing issues that she experienced, such as struggles with their sexual identities, genders, or alcoholic loved ones.
“I LOVE being an out and proud lesbian!” Allison said. “Labels aren’t for everyone, but having a label really does help me. It helps me put a name to my feelings. And there is this sense of relief that I don’t have to hide or pretend anymore. I can just be myself!”