Bethany C. Meyers, LGBTQ+ activist and founder of inclusive fitness company b.cm who identifies as non-binary, is learning how to embrace every step of their journey to finding their most authentic identity. In early March, Meyers posted an Instagram from when they were 19 years old, living in a small Missouri town, and not yet aware of being queer. In the caption, they shared a message with their former self: "Start exploring, educating, experiencing. Don’t be afraid to start living as your true self. Be less afraid of what people may think. Be honest about what you truly believe. Learn what truly makes you smile on the inside. And live. Because you have a really beautiful, free life ahead."
Below, in their own words, Meyers explains how to reach for the freedom that's just on the other side of your preconceived notions of self. And how to value every aspect of the person you've been—and are still yet to become.
Below, Bethany C. Meyers reflects on the freedom gained from learning how to accept their whole journey.
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Yep that’s me. 19 years old. Summer before I moved to chicago. A cheerleader. Extra tan because I didn’t believe in sunscreen in those days, and yes, i can get dark. I would have never dreamed of short hair back then, even though only a few years later I chopped it all off for my first time. Not a clue I was queer, which is funny because looking back I can see what a massive crush I had on my best friend. I still have that necklace, I bought it in St. Louis for $5 when I was 17. Actually I saved the BCBG dress too because it was most lavish thing I had ever owned. And now when I look that dress, it takes me back to a person who was about to get their world turned upside down in the best way possible. And if I were to give young Bethany one piece of advice, I’d tell them to start now. Start exploring, educating, experiencing. Don’t be afraid to start living as your true self. Be less afraid of what people may think. Be honest about what you truly believe. Learn what truly makes you smile on the inside. And live. Because you have a really beautiful, free life ahead.
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This picture, in particular, is always the one I show people who say, “No way, you had long hair! No way, you’re from Missouri! No way, you’re X, Y, and Z!” It’s such a dramatic change in looks, and that picture was taken right before a very big turning point for me.
There was a time when I would look at old pictures of myself and think, “Well that’s not me. I’m not that person now.” I'd almost disassociate from the person in the picture. But over the last year, I’ve realized that all of those people who have existed in my life are me. Sometimes, it helps to recognize that we’re so multifaceted. All of those people end up encompassing who we are, and that’s really special.
I’m from a small town in Missouri, and for a very long time, I was really embarrassed about that. I moved to Chicago in my early twenties, and that's where I met queer people for the first time. This was really big for me because I was raised really religious, with the belief system that gay people go to hell. The first time I met a gay man (who was amazing and so kind), my world was rocked with the realization that my personal beliefs no longer aligned with ones on which I was raised. Another big turning point was the first time I realized I had feelings for another woman: She was a friend of mine, it was New Year's Eve, and everyone was getting their kisses ready. She had this guy that she was going to kiss and I remember feeling so jealous. I just sat there by myself and watched the kiss happen.
Even after I left Chicago behind for L.A., then Dallas, I would tell people that I was from Chicago. I wouldn’t say that I was from Missouri because I was embarrassed by my small town. I stayed in each city for about two years, but I wasn’t out until I came to New York City. I think part of my desire to move so often was trying to start over, trying to start fresh. I'd think, "I’m going to move somewhere I don't know anybody. Anywhere people will have a fresh take on me. Anywhere I can reinvent myself." Really it wasn’t about reinventing myself so much as about finding my true self and being honest. So when I came to New York, that was when I finally felt I had the freedom to start dating other women. Not that I couldn’t have done this in any of those other cities, but in New York, I finally felt ready to date other people and ownership of where I'd grown up.
I thought, "Wait a second, that small town in Missouri is why I am who I am today—and there’s something special about that." People on Instagram often write me that they feel they need to get out and go to one of these big cities to feel comfortable with who they are. But I try to tell them they can find (or create!) a community within in their own small town. For instance, start a monthly dinner party by finding one other queer person, and then watch your guest list grow over time.
"I thought, 'Wait a second, that small town in Missouri is why I am who I am today—and there’s something special about that.'" — Bethany C. Meyers
For the future of LGBTQ+ rights in America, gatherings like these need to start happening more often and in more places. It’s just about providing people the resources they need in order to feel safe. B.cm, my company, was inspired by this very idea of access to curated routines in addition to body neutrality. There’s also something very queer about the platform: I started meeting so many queer people, like trans men who'd recently had top surgery and didn’t feel comfortable going to the gym and non-binary people who didn’t feel comfortable going to the gym because of gendered restrooms.
People share so much of themselves with me, and by sharing this picture, I hope to offer another piece of myself. The hope is it will inspire somebody else who’s living in a small town and feels like they don’t have resources or contacts to start understanding who they are.
I also think there’s something to be said for finding freedom by momentarily getting away from the people who know you. You can learn to feel comfortable inside your own body without any external factors getting in the way. When I started growing out my armpit hair, I was really freaked out and nervous to be anywhere in New York City or to even teach a class. What ended up making me feel comfortable was going away on a trip. I felt free to have armpit hair because I didn't know anybody there who knew I didn't always have armpit hair. When I returned home, having my armpit hair felt much easier. I recently did the same thing with my leg hair.
So, go somewhere else for a quick reset, start doing something, return home, and talk about it. Whether you write it down, or put it on Instagram, or share it in some other way, there’s something very freeing about stating: "This feels good to me—and this is why I’m doing it.”
As told to Kells McPhillips.
Meyers also has some write-down-immediately advice for taking control in the bedroom and for treating your workout like an act of self-expression.
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