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Coming out later in life was hard. But I’m the happiest I’ve ever been

<em>Morning Edition</em> producer Julie Depenbrock and her girlfriend Amanda Gomez on a hike with their dog, Bentley.
Courtesy Ev Crunden
Morning Edition producer Julie Depenbrock and her girlfriend Amanda Gomez on a hike with their dog, Bentley.
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Coming out is…complicated.

I grew up in a very Catholic family. All through elementary, middle and high school, I never considered that I might be gay.

That word was slung around playgrounds and hallways with derision. It was, at my young age, the worst thing you could be.

At my all-girls Catholic high school, attitudes toward homosexuality were more tolerant. Still, I didn’t know anyone who’d come out.

I kind of just assumed because I was attracted to boys, I must be straight. It was simple. No need to think too hard about the times my gaze lingered on a girl in French class or at cross country practice. I told myself: That feeling, it’s admiration. I didn’t like them. I wanted to be like them.

When I was in college, I finally started to meet people who identified as queer.

It was 2010. Same-sex marriage hadn’t been legalized. Coming out was “brave.” People fetishized girl-on-girl kisses and relegated them to the realm of Katy Perry songs.

After graduation, I moved to South Dakota and threw myself into work, teaching first grade.

It would take another six years and two very painful crushes for me to admit, when a friend asked, if I liked girls.

“Yeah, probably,” I said. It was the first time I’d spoken it out loud.

When you’ve internalized homophobia most of your life, coming out — just to yourself — can be the hardest thing.

I didn’t until I was 28. Since then, it’s been a continuous process. To be honest, some of those early conversations broke me. But it got easier.

On dating apps, I changed my preferences from “men” to “men and women” and finally to just “women.” I found queer friends, and when we’re out together in a big group, it doesn’t feel like some radical act. It’s comfortable. Joyful.

Sometimes I catch myself — when I’m on the couch at the end of the day with my girlfriend and my dog — and I can’t quite believe how happy I am.

The happiest I’ve ever been.

Because now, coming out is so casual — it barely feels like anything at all.

A rainbow flag in my profile. A haircut. A story that starts with:

“My partner, Amanda…”

This essay was edited by Suzanne Nuyen.

Copyright 2024 NPR

Julie Depenbrock
Julie Depenbrock (she/her) is an assistant producer on Morning Edition. Previously, she worked at The Washington Post and on WAMU's Kojo Nnamdi Show. Depenbrock holds a master's in journalism with a focus in investigative reporting from the University of Maryland. Before she became a journalist, she was a first grade teacher in Rosebud, South Dakota. Depenbrock double-majored in French and English at Lafayette College. She has a particular interest in covering education, LGBTQ issues and the environment. She loves dogs, hiking, yoga and reading books for work (and pleasure).
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