Nicole Serrano grew up in a Christian church. The daughter of a pastor who even eventually went to work in Christian ministry herself, she calls herself a church kid. She went Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday, and even Friday.
"It was all the time," Serrano, 33, tells The Advocate.
Since then she's created music with some of Christian music's biggest names, like Chris Tomlin and Matt Maher. Serrano's music has also been featured on The Kardashians, Grey's Anatomy, and The Good Doctor.
Now she's come out as a lesbian and as nonbinary, using she/they pronouns.
The church she grew up in wasn't affirming of queer people. Instead, it taught that they went to hell. It was a narrative Serrano internalized, she says.
That internalized homophobia stayed with them for most of their life. Serrano says they dated every beautiful man that crossed their path until finally they couldn't do it anymore. Eventually, the stress caused them debilitating panic attacks from anxiety. They wound up in the emergency room a few times.
Things changed about five years ago. She says she woke up and began going to therapy to help deal with her years of not revealing her true self.
At the time, she worked for a megachurch. "I just slowly started to realize like, OK, there's a lot of holes in this whole like, church thing," Serrano shares. "First of all, who was making the rules? Why are they making the rules? Why did they get to change them?"
"I just started slowly coming out to myself, basically, and realizing this is how I've always been and that there was nothing I could do to like, earn or lose worthiness or love," they say.
Serrano then started coming out to others. She came out to her close friends and her brother. After meeting someone special, she came out more quickly than she'd planned.
All the while, Serrano still worked at the megachurch.
"I ended up coming out to some of the staff at the church, and it started this whole thing because I was also like, their poster child as far as like, the music thing. ... But the second I actually showed them who I was, they ended up firing me," they say.
The singer-songwriter says the experience was traumatic. She moved to Nashville to get away from it all. And she started writing songs and that became her new record. It also motivated her to come out.
The songs on her new album came from those experiences, she says in hindsight. Serrano says music she's made for TV programs even has resonated with her recent feelings and realizations.
"I wasn't even trying to, but it just it eked out," they explain. "There's some songs about me kind of reckoning with my beliefs and leaving things that don't work for me."
The new album is also a departure from Christian music, something she says she's done with. But she shares that she's found a church in Nashville that she now sings at. Serrano still says she's disappointed in religion for the most part.
Referring to organized religion, they say, "The true essence of what it's supposed to be is so much bigger than all that. It's like, can we just burn it all down and start over because it's really not cute?"
Serrano says it's also been fun to explore her gender identity. While she identifies with feminine things and feeling feminine, she says, there's also another dimension to her identity.
As she tells the world her truth, Serrano says they expect some people to not be supportive. "I've been in the worship church music world for a while, and so I think there's still some of [really conservative people] listening. I'm expecting some of them to be ugly and write me some stuff," they say.
At the same time, Serrano hopes they'll listen to her new stuff and maybe open their minds.
"It's like an invitation of like, 'Hey, you're probably going to hate what I'm going to say, but it sounds cool so just maybe listen to it.'"
When it comes down to it though, Serrano -- who admits she loves to swear -- says she's "running out of fucks to give."
"If you don't like me, that's fine," Serrano says. "There are plenty of people in this world, and I'm just like, looking for my people."
Serrano says she was asked during a recent interview what she'd say to someone in her position. Her response? Trust your voice.
"Especially in the church, you learn to not listen to yourself," Serrano explains. "You learn to detach from your body. You learn to listen to everybody else around you. And that, like, self-belief really gets squashed."
She adds, "I want people to trust themselves more than any other voice. It's like when you're alone, when you're quiet, what do you feel inside? Also, the world is really big, so if your world is not accepting you, like, you have not yet met the people who are going to love you, you know?"