Looking back on my childhood, a lot of things about me then make sense about the person I am now.

I was always what you would call a tomboy. I hated anything considered “girly.” Dolls, dress up, painting my nails/make-up, etc. I was always more interested in what the boys were into; sports, rough housing, video games. There was nothing girly about me—ever. Which makes sense considering the fact that I grew up with an older brother and running around our neighborhood with him and the other neighborhood boys. At that time, I didn’t see anything wrong with myself. I was still extremely young and didn’t really care about what the world thought of me. Yet.

As I got older, I thought maybe I would start to grow out of this tomboy “phase.” But I could just never get myself to be interested in what typical girls my age were into. I was still running around with the boys, I had more things in common with them. I played travel club soccer and never quite felt like I fit in with my teammates because off of the field, I wasn’t “feminine” enough for them. We were starting to hit the age where a “normal” girl would start thinking boys are cute and generally noticing them more. Did I think some boys were cute? Yeah, I did. But something deep down inside of me always just felt… off. I started noticing people thought I was different and weird because I dressed like a “boy,” which was just sports clothes because I was an athlete. I started slowly realizing something might be different about me but couldn’t quite put my finger on what. Yet.

Once I hit late elementary/early junior high school, I started having thoughts that I dared not share with anyone. I started feeling ways towards girls that girls should feel towards boys. I had thoughts like, “Wow dude, I wish I would’ve been a boy so I could have a girlfriend.”

Did I ever really want to be a boy? No, but it was the only thing that made sense. At that moment in time, I couldn’t fathom the idea of myself gay. I couldn’t comprehend it. It just wasn’t clicking in my head. Until it did. Until I started having feelings towards girls I knew. Feelings that girls were only supposed to have towards boys. I was terrified and confused. I felt lost. I remember desperately trying to convince myself, “No she’s just a really good friend that you really care about. That’s it. That’s all!” I would cry myself to sleep. I was angry all the time from the confusion. I was depressed. I started self-harming.

Why wasn’t I normal?

The more the realization started to hit me, the further I pushed myself into denial. I still dressed like a tomboy for the most part, but I tried making somewhat of an effort to look “nicer,” which I realize now meant more feminine. I tried putting my interest and attraction in boys. I had boyfriends. But it always just felt wrong. Forced. Like I was putting on a show. I grinned and beared it. Maybe I wasn’t gay after all. This notion again only pushed me even further into denial. I hated myself. I hated looking in the mirror. I hated who I was. Then something happened—I somehow managed to find my first girlfriend.

This was a whirlwind of emotions. I was still confused and terrified. But for the first time in my life, I was excited about how I was feeling about another person. I had all of these feelings that I hadn’t really had the chance to experience before, all of the ones I had heard my friends talk about. It was a constant rollercoaster of excitement and happiness, back to dread and fear. She and I had the same group of friends, and they were the only ones who knew. My parents found out, and they were not accepting. I was forbidden from ever seeing her outside of school. I was told “it’s just a phase.” During that time, I wanted to crawl into the deepest hole I could find. I was embarrassed. I felt disgusting. I wanted out of my own body. I didn’t want to be who I was. Even though I still had my girlfriend, I went back into denial. I bartered with myself. “You’re not gay, you’ve had boyfriends,” is something I would tell myself everyday with conviction, because it’s what I heard being echoed around me.

That relationship would go on to end and I went out and had nothing but boyfriends after her. Was I doing it to appease those around me? Or was I doing it because I was trying to convince myself that I was something that I wasn’t? One of the few boyfriends that I had ended up cheating on me, and I remember the day so clear and vividly. I was sobbing uncontrollably. Don’t get me wrong, it’s completely normal to be upset about a relationship ending and being cheated on, but I was so distressed and rattled for other reasons. I was slowly starting to come to terms that I couldn’t keep doing this to myself. I was doing a disservice to myself by pretending to be something I wasn’t to keep those around me happy and satisfied. It was detrimental. It was a mix of putting on a show with the internalized homophobia that had finally taken its toll on me. This wasn’t who I was.

I wouldn’t come out until several months later. I was dating my second girlfriend, and at the time we had been together for four months. I still wasn’t 100% out yet. All of my friends knew, and a lot of my classmates knew as well, I just wasn’t officially out. Especially to my family. My dad sat me down one night and said we needed to talk. Before that sentence finished leaving his mouth, I 1.) knew what it was about and 2.) was trying to figure out how I could lie my way out of this conversation. Because I wasn’t ready, considering how it went down the last time. But he took me by surprise. He told me he knew she wasn’t just a friend, and that he wasn’t mad. I was crying and it took everything I had to say, “I am gay, and I can’t change that. How am I going to tell mom?” I’ll never forget the words he told me.

“There’s nothing your mom or I can say or do to change you. There’s nothing her religion can do to change you. You were made the way you are for a reason. You’re still our daughter and we love you. But you have to be the one to tell her.”

I decided to tell her when we were in Florida for a soccer tournament not too long after that conversation. There are no words I could put together to describe how nervous and anxious I was leading up to that moment. I hoped the conversation would go as smoothly as it did with my dad, but deep down I knew that it wouldn’t. My voice was shaking when I was finally able to summon the courage to say, “I’m gay. She’s not just my friend, she’s my girlfriend.” I tried to speak it with confidence, like if I said it with force, she would have no choice but to accept it. But she didn’t. “I still love you because you’re my daughter, but I don’t agree with it and I can’t accept it.” We argued back and forth. “You can’t go to prom, you can’t have kids, you can’t get married!” At that point in time, I didn’t want to do any of those things, so I didn’t think that argument was relevant. I could see the hurt in her eyes. I could see she was heartbroken. And it broke my heart. I felt like a complete letdown, a failure. Why couldn’t I be normal? Those feelings of self-hatred came back. I wanted to disappear. I wanted to take it back. I wanted to go back to pretending. But then I remembered the words my dad said. The amount of injustice I was doing to myself.

It was pretty awkward for a while after the coming out. My parents, and my family in general, didn’t treat me any differently. I eventually went through a breakup from that relationship, and that’s when I would say I really took on the decision to try and start the journey on the path to being me. I cut my hair many different times until I finally reached the length that I like (short.) I did a wardrobe overhaul. Tomboy phase? No, it was never just a phase. It was just who I was. The most important part of coming out was learning that I was going to have to grow a thicker skin. No matter where I went, people were going to look or make comments because they disagree or just don’t get it. Sometimes the things said were extremely nasty and hurtful. I’ve been called a faggot. I’ve been told that people like me are ruining this country. I’ve felt the uncomfortable looks and glances I get when I go into a public bathroom. At one point, I had “f*ck you d*ke” keyed into my car. I realized that I couldn’t go through life allowing all of these things to bring me down. I was finally figuring out who I was, and it was the most freeing feeling in the world.

My mom made a full 180. It understandably took her some time, but she’s one of my biggest supporters. I think the whole experience and process helped strengthen my relationship with her, even with the hardships that we endured. I’m able to go to her and my dad with my relationship problems and ask them for advice with no awkwardness. We can joke around about my sexuality. We all finally reached a point where it’s a comfortable topic. I even show them pictures of myself from when I was a kid and ask them, “how could you possibly not see this coming?” My whole family is accepting. I am forever grateful for that. It wasn’t always easy, but they never stopped loving me. I’ve lost some friends along the way, but the two girls that I call my best friends to this day were supportive from the start. From the time I was a lost and confused thirteen-year-old, to the time I was a timid yet brave seventeen-year-old ready to come out of the closet, to the here and now. They helped see me through some of my darkest and bleakest moments, and I can never thank them enough for their part in my journey.

Do I still have my moments where I wish I would’ve been normal? No, because I don’t think normal exists. “Normal” was something that had been ingrained into my head from such an early age; from the media to my peers, to movies and music, anywhere I looked. I thought I had to look and act a certain way to be normal, which I later found out meant straight. I’m actively trying to teach myself that there is no normal and trying to remove that word from my vocabulary when it comes to me and my sexuality. Growing up this way wasn’t a choice. All those moments throughout my childhood and teenage years where I was filled with nothing but confusion and fear and hatred. I would never choose that. Nobody would ever choose that. I was made this way and I cannot be changed. There are always going to be people who just can’t and won’t accept that. These experiences helped shape me into a compassionate and loving person who isn’t ashamed of who she is anymore.

I stand strongly and unapologetically in my truth. I am proud.

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