How Her Jouney Begins

For Daun Johnston, the road less traveled leads through Madison and ultimately to her own personal truth.

Being adopted and raised in a multicultural family is challenging enough without identifying as “queer.” It has taken the majority of my lifetime to be able to accept that what my mom taught me is true: “I can’t be anyone better than me.”

When I look to the roots of identifying as queer, I would have to say that my upbringing has given me the belief that loving someone for who they are–regardless of sex– is more truthful than love rooted in traditional practices only for the sake of tradition.

I am never really sure where to begin my story. And I have never been able to reduce it to a brief passage or a five-minute conversation.

I began my American life in Lexington, Kentucky. From the time I was about five years old, happily running around, holding my own with the neighborhood boys, I learned the term “tomboy.” Both my parents are artists, and they enthusiastically in-stilled in me the importance of being oneself– regardless of consequences. Although, there was some dispute when I wanted to start wearing pants to church. Even then, we came to an acceptable agreement and left it at that.

It was at that time, while my mother was enrolled at the University of Kentucky, that I had my first official exposure to gay men and lesbians. Because I was taught that “love is love is love,” I never had any qualms about the form, shape or color of love. Just because love traditionally took the shape of being between a man and a woman didn’t mean that it necessarily had to. What I didn’t realize was that the theory of “unconditional love” would foreshadow my own coming out at the age of 19.

Life made it necessary for me to grow up fast. This left little time to contemplate many of the rituals of childhood because I had to tend to others – particularly as moral support for my alcoholic father and my physically and emotionally challenged mother. How the hell was I supposed to contemplate my own sexuality when I had to deal with being the “stable” one in the family?

I never realized it would be such an emotional and psychological ordeal to express one’s truth. When I was 19, and had lived on my own for two years, I came out to handful of close friends, before I came out to my parents and family. The irony–and blessing–for me was that everyone (and I mean pretty much everyone) had already concluded that I might be gay. They told me that they were just waiting for me to come out and say it.

For the most part, my family has humored me in my erratic behavior and extreme life changes: leaving school, quitting a full-time job to volunteer for a nonprofit spiritual organization, switching jobs, moving around, etc. Since my mom’s passing in 2004, my family has been tossing ideas at me of going back to school or finally traveling or doing whatever it is that will make me feel complete.

In holding back so much of my younger life, I’ve come to understand how we all have a purpose in life. My road has not been an easy trek. The last four years of my mother’s life taught me a great deal about myself, about character, about enduring, the will to survive and the courage to move forward – perhaps more than I was ready for.

In January 2006, I was dreading the inevitable conversations that I would have to share with my parents and particularly my eldest aunt.

“So, in March I’m moving to Wisconsin.”

“Please explain,” they said.

Like the announcer from the micro-machine commercials I blurted out, “Well, I fell in love. My partner is female. And I’m moving to Wisconsin to be with her.” I had to tell them that this was a leap of faith, that I would be okay no matter what happened.

While there was much well-intentioned concern for my seemingly rash decision, which was oozing with first-love energy, my family sent me here to Madison with their blessings.

Although I am no longer with the person I moved here for, this journey has blessed me with a deeper understanding of how I choose to express myself. I have also gratefully cultivated a kinship with many of the LGBTQA community through the Madison Gay Hockey Association and Our Lives magazine.

My deepest gratitude to the many hands that have helped co-create and manifest Our Lives as a voice for our community. Finally, my love and gratitude forever to my mother, Linda, who is carried with me, daily, in spirit. Thank you to Brian and Kate Johnstone.