Up Next


The day my old identity died

As Pride Month came to an end, some are still meditating on the significance

In July 2017, I received a text message from my high school sweetheart’s sister. She asked me to call her.

A month before, her brother Ladarius and I had a misunderstanding and had decided to cease communication. Our last conversations had been about him leaving Alabama to join me in Connecticut to start a new life. He was too loyal to our city, I’d tell him. I figured he’d convinced his sister to call me to settle our feud.

I can still hear her permanent words: “Our boy is gone.” It didn’t sound real. Ladarius Jackson was the only man I ever loved. His death on July 12, 2017, wasn’t expected. He was 25 and healthy. I don’t know exactly what happened, but only details mentioned from a police report. He was stopped by the cops and had a heart attack after being shocked with a stun gun. No one was charged.

A photograph of Ladarius captured by the writer.

Tiffany Middleton

The moment he left the world, I felt like my old identity had died with him.

A few years after his death, I became open to the idea of dating women, something he once asked me about, but I avoided his question. Reflecting now, I realize he saw the real me even when I failed to myself. While I secretly dated women and slowly told close friends, I still wasn’t comfortable with who I was becoming in the dark. As a Black girl from Childersburg, Alabama, a small town where I was raised with Christian values, my family didn’t believe in same-sex relationships. My family looked at same-sex couples as being against God.

Even though I never seriously dated men besides my high school sweetheart, my family simply concluded that I didn’t date because I was career-focused. Yet, I can recall watching Grey’s Anatomy in high school when the lesbian couple Callie and Arizona appeared on my television screen. It was the first time I considered that I might be gay, but pushed the idea down because of my religious beliefs.

A year after his death, I started to live two lives in 2018. I dated men, hoping my feelings would change. No one knew the fight I was dealing with inside my head. My appearance started to change and people began to ask if I dated women because they considered my look more masculine. I felt cornered; indirectly people were telling me who I was before I knew. I spent most days depressed and confused about my own identity.

It wasn’t until the end of 2019 that I was left with facing myself. I’d experienced more death. My nephew died in a bike accident. I also found out my dad had pancreatic cancer and my work friends who became my tribe relocated to different cities. So, I was dealing with being gay while also grieving unexpected deaths. I couldn’t keep my secret in anymore. In an attempt to make everyone happy, I had become trapped in a box of my own making and it was up to me to break out of it.

This January, I took out my hair weave and started to grow dreadlocks. I threw away my high heels and replaced them with Jordans. I took off my dress and put on my favorite sweats. This was the me that I always wanted to be. It made some people uncomfortable, but I didn’t care this time. I felt like I was in my own skin. Life had taken me through a journey and I finally blossomed.

Tiffany Middleton

“I threw away my high heels and replaced them with Jordans. I took off my dress and put on my favorite sweats. This was the me that I always wanted to be,” writes Middleton.

Courtesy of Tiffany Middleton

I realize now that I am queer and not gay. Queer wasn’t a term I knew growing up. Queer is an umbrella term for sexual and gender minorities who are not heterosexual or are not cisgender. It was a word that was introduced to me by people who eventually became close friends. They didn’t make me feel ashamed of loving women, they helped me embrace it.

I love women. I love their strength. Their knowledge. Their power. Being with a woman was like a sacred place that felt safe. It felt right, but it was like my world was telling me it was wrong for years. I didn’t know any gay people back home. So, telling my loved ones was tough. It wasn’t something that they expected, but they still love and support me. For years, I let others define me, hoping I would fit in, but I realized God made me to stand out and that the only person I needed to please was me.

Yes, sometimes I get funny looks. I’m a Black queer woman with green dreads and a wardrobe full of Yeezys and Jordans. I tweet about sports design, the NBA and Gucci Mane. I love Adele as much as I love Gunna and Lil Baby. I post pictures of my dog, my family and my art. Growing up, I never saw any Black queer women in society. Now, I see myself in people such as Kodie Shane, Young M.A and Frank Ocean.

Pride Month ended in June without the annual parade. I was sad that I couldn’t attend, but I am proud I found my pride, despite society trying to take it from me. And as Black Americans continue to march across the country for justice, I now march with queer people, for Black people, for women and for the talent in the grave or the girl in the closet who was too afraid to come out.

Born and raised in Childersburg, Alabama. An Auburn educated designer at ESPN by day and the creator of Trenches, a community highlighting and connecting black creatives in the sports community.