“Do it. Just say something. No, don’t. Don’t stare,” actress Alyson Stoner wrote of her fumbling, adorable first thoughts while falling for someone new. “Side-hug and leave.”
The now-24-year-old was crushing (and crushing hard) on a dance instructor she’d met at a new workshop. There was just one small — well, overwhelming and disorienting — issue: The instructor was a woman. And these new, uncomfortable feelings were puzzling for Stoner, to say the least.
In a powerful new essay in Teen Vogue, the actress and dancer — known for her roles in Disney Channel’s “The Suite Life of Zack & Cody,” and films like “Cheaper By the Dozen” and the “Step Up” series — reflected on the first time she fell in love with another woman. It’s a story that’s equal parts heart-wrenching and delightful.
First came all the relatable feelings of irresistible puppy love.
“My heart raced wildly and my body grew hot,” the actress wrote, describing a moment when the instructor corrected her form in class. “Was I nervous to fail in front of an expert? Was I breathing heavily from being out of shape?”
But these butterflies, Stoner soon discovered, went far beyond sisterly or platonic love. The train had already left girl crush station.
The two women started to hang out outside of class. They began opening up to one another. They Netflixed (and chilled). Pretty soon, it became abundantly clear: “OK, we were in a relationship,” Stoner wrote. “I fell in love with a woman.”
But, unfortunately, it just wasn’t that simple.
Stoner, a person of religious faith, had to unpack many confusing thoughts. She even attempted conversion therapy to avoid embracing these new feelings.
“Like many, I had internalized some of the harmful beliefs and misconceptions about LGBTQ people and identities,” Stoner wrote.
She dissected all the factors that could have led her down this road. Was it because she’d experienced abuse from men before? Was it because she was surrounded by open-minded artists and she — even on a subconscious level — wanted a queer identity to help fit in? “Maybe I actually want to be her, and I’m mistaking idolization for romance,” she wrote.
Stoner prayed. She turned to reading — both “contemporary and ancient” texts — hoping the words would leap off the page and make it all make sense. She didn’t have many queer-affirming voices telling her these feelings were totally normal and perfectly OK.
“Certain pastors and community members tried to reverse and eliminate my attraction to her,” she wrote in Teen Vogue.
Conversion therapy — a harmful practice that aims at altering a person’s sexual orientation — has been discredited by every mainstream medical and mental health organization in the U.S., according to the Human Rights Campaign. Not only does it not work, but it can lead to depression, anxiety, and suicide for young people at risk.
“Some people in the industry warned me that I’d ruin my career, miss out on possible jobs, and potentially put my life in danger if I ever came out,” Stoner wrote. “My dream and all I’d worked tirelessly for since the age of 6 was suddenly at risk by my being … true to myself.”
Finally, after hitting what felt like rock bottom, things began falling into place for Stoner.
“I’ll never forget the night I finally collapsed on my bed with tear-stained cheeks, saying, ‘God, if I’m evil, then I accept this and give up,'” Stoner wrote. “I’ve believed you are loving, but I don’t want to live a lie.”
Instead of devastation, however, the breakdown filled her with a sense of hope. She began seeing the world around her — “life, God, love, humanity, and (literally) everything” — in a new light.
“I, Alyson, am attracted to men, women, and people who identify in other ways,” she finally felt comfortable proclaiming. “It is the soul that captivates me.”
Stoner is one of a growing number of young Americans who feel comfortable coming out as LGBTQ.
According to Gallup analysis published last year, 10 million Americans — or 4.1% of U.S. adults — identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and/or queer. That’s up from 3.5% in 2012. Millennials, the analysis found, were the most likely age group to identify as LGBTQ, reflecting the growing acceptance of queer Americans — particularly among young people.
Things really are changing for the better, Stoner believes. And if you’re wrestling with your sexuality or identity, she’s got your back.
“If you’re questioning or struggling with your sexuality, gender identity, or anything else, know that I and so many who’ve gone before us are with you,” Stoner wrote. “Whatever your identity, you are lovable and wonderful and enough. I’m on the other side of some of these battles internally, but it’s still a challenge in the outside world. It’s OK. Dare to be yourself anyway.” ❤️