Shelby Peranich had a plan.
First, graduate with a bachelor’s degree from Mississippi State University in Starkville.
Next, move to Ole Miss for graduate school with her girlfriend, Rebecca Bramlett.
And, finally — visit home in Pass Christian on the Gulf Coast and tell her family that she was gay.
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“We kept it quiet and told close friends,” Peranich said in an interview for Out Here in America, a podcast by the Sun Herald and McClatchy that explores what it’s like being LGBTQ in the Deep South. You can listen on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or wherever you find your favorite shows.
Peranich wanted to be comfortable in a new city with Bramlett, who she met when she was a junior at MSU. Both were in sororities, and in the closet.
Once they began life together in Oxford, it would be different. It would be easier for Peranich to make an announcement in her own way.
“I had always intended to come out in graduate school and be able to distance myself a little after I set my family down and said, ‘This is who I am,’” Peranich said. The Coast is about a five hours’ drive from Oxford, Mississippi.
But Peranich never got the chance to write and tell her own coming out story.
When she was 21 or 22, before she and Bramlett moved to Oxford, someone else outed her instead.
And Peranich said that’s changed the way she feels about home in some ways.
“I didn’t have the chance to sit down with them (family),” Peranich said. “It was rushed, and it wasn’t the way I wanted to do it, and it didn’t go the way I expected it to. It’s something that will always be just what it is. There’s nothing I could do to change it.”
Today, Peranich and Bramlett live together near the water in Memphis, Tennessee, a place with a large LGBTQ community. Peranich calls it a “blue dot” in a sea of red. She and Bramlett are active in the community and play intramural sports.
Just last week, they celebrated Memphis Pride with friends.
“I feel like I can be myself in Memphis,” Peranich said. “I feel like when I come home (to Pass Christian) I can still be myself. But I don’t know if I could live here anytime soon because of that shame ... I feel like I would live in a blanket of feeling ashamed. Because I think they (family) feel ashamed by it.”
But is home still where the heart is? And does Shelby ever see herself moving back to the Mississippi Coast. That and more, on this episode of Out Here in America.