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Letting Go

The road to saying, "I'm gay." Richmonders share the stories that changed their lives.

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DeVoss with her granddaughters, twins Alyssa and Kali. - SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist
  • DeVoss with her granddaughters, twins Alyssa and Kali.

Sylvia DeVoss, 55
Artist, Grandmother

I'm the proud grandma of twin 9-year-olds. I'm from Waynesboro, but I grew up in Richmond for the most part. I come from an extremely religious background, where being gay was not OK. In fact, if you didn't fall into the religion, you were considered satanistic. I knew I was different, but I didn't know what gay was, I didn't know what being queer meant.

I'm an only child. I always had crushes on women, and I thought I was satanistic. So I grew up emotionally very warped. Depressed, big time. I was diagnosed with a mental illness — bipolar. Which I may or may not be, I don't really know. I'm very artistic, which is what I do for a living — I paint and photograph people. But I'm not real sure that I am bipolar. I really feel it was suppressing who I really was for all those years. Because when I would have what I would call indiscretions, I thought that it was just me following Satan, and so I actually attempted suicide in my 40s because I just couldn't continue that box.

I had a friend that I finally told. I was actually going to [commit] suicide that night. I emailed her, because I didn't have the guts. I was afraid she would call. And I just wanted her to understand, I wanted someone to know why I was suicidal.

The universe does listen, you know? And what had happened was, her car had burnt up on the highway, and she didn't get home until 2 in the morning, which is when I had emailed her. And I knew she'd be asleep — or thought she would. When I emailed her, two minutes later she calls.

She said, "You do realize you're just gay?" She just talked me through it.

Once you tell one person, it then became — it's almost like, you can deny it until you tell somebody. And then that's your truth. And then you're living a lie. So at that point I actually told my daughter, who I thought was going to take the grandkids away from me as far as visitation. So I called her in my room, and I was crying, and I said, "I need to tell you this." And so she's thinking that I'm dying. And I said, "I'm gay." And she goes, "I know mom, what's the matter?" And I said, "You know that I'm gay?" And she goes, "Yeah." And I said, "Why didn't you tell me?" And she goes, "I'm just glad you figured it out."

And then once she was OK, then it was OK with me.

Shunning is a terrible thing. That happened in my religion as a child. The one thing that coming out did, that I didn't realize — it's almost like, I set myself free. It was just like this huge weight just lifted off of me.

It's kind of funny, because now I look back and I think, wow, all those years, and actually I'm just gay. I can't even tell you, it's just been the most marvelous thing to find out that I'm not satanistic — I'm not anything except gay.

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