It was the absolute epitome of a pre-teen sleepover. Girls rolled up in fuzzy pajama pants, happily eating kettle corn, and separating movie discs into small piles while the latest pop noise droned through iPod speakers. I never really fit into these things because I was too much of a “tomboy” to fully enjoy all the gossip and hair braiding. But I was there, nonetheless.

Over time, I had mostly gotten used to my constant separation, but I never fully adapted to the most alienating of situations. There were always those few, endless moments when I wanted to completely disappear. These were the famous lines out of every teen girl book or movie. The times when I was truly scared, and would be even more silent than usual. When my friends discussed their crushes, all on averagely cute, young boys, I tried my hardest to sink into the nearest wall. It was my cue to remove myself from the conversation, simply to smile and nod like I related to the topic. I knew I could never bring up a girl’s name to disrupt the flowing string of, “Johnny so looked at me today!”

A confession of my true feelings would thoroughly set me apart and break the thin ties connecting me to my friends. I didn’t want to destroy the shiny lacquer of female expectations that we had all been coated in since birth. This was already cracked from how I felt about the other “normal girl” things. I hated the Jonas Brothers, despised the Disney princesses, and had constant impulses to throw mud at anything glittery. An absolute abomination.

I cringed at the almost endless supply of trendy teen magazines lying all over the floor and clutched in my friends’ pink-polished fingers. Hot men with airbrushed, teenage faces covered every page of the booklets. Groomed, glossy, chiseled jaws and perfect hair to match. They were clones, with eyes that could easily drill into the mind of a trembling girl.

My middle school peers giggled and pointed at all the pictures, just like girls are supposed to. But I just sat aside frigidly, biting my nails and trying to avert my eyes from the flat, deliberate gaze of the men. They stared into me darkly, as if they knew what was wrong with me, and eventually started to tell me so.

“Ooh you wanna be with me, huh? Come here girl, let me turn you. Look at me, not my hot model trophy wife.”

Simple things like this nibbled at my mind and made me want to rip my hair out.

As a questioning twelve-year-old, my open mindset was a-ok with my possible homosexuality. But when I really looked at the world around me, and how different I was from everyone else, I pushed myself far back behind the murky closet door. Besides, who would believe me anyway? Some people just didn’t get the existence of early bloomers in this whole sexuality thing. Hell—when I was eight years old I kissed almost every member of my Girl Scout troop. Not once did I ever consider it being out of the ordinary.

So when my older sister told me I looked like an “ugly dyke” based on my rugged outfits, I did not know what to think. I knew ugly was something very bad, but the other word was where my world started to get muddled. This word “dyke” refers to women who love other women (in a negative connotation, might I add). And as I came to realize this, I was terrified. If my own sister wasn’t a fan of gay people, how would everyone else come to terms with it? How could I even deal with it? This was the first time I contemplated the fact that my curiosity had the possibility of turning out very badly.

As I got older, and started to know for sure that I did not like boys, these problems grew. I heard the slurs thrown around in the school halls, and I tried so hard not listen. But they seemed to chase after me wherever I went. The hateful notes left in my locker were tiny grenades that exploded over and over, the bombshell debris leaving a constant, melancholy weight in my chest. That was all I was to my peers. Not a person, and not even an object. Just some useless words on a page.

I started to torture myself, and used the internet as a tool to degrade my own identity. I saw all the articles on hate crimes and suicide. I dug up every picture of a slur-splattered poster being held in an oblivious child’s hands. I discovered that nine out of ten LGBTQ+ teens are bullied in school, and that we’re three times more likely to throw ourselves off a cliff or hang ropes around our necks. I realized that the words tossed back and forth in my middle school compared better to loaded guns than letters of the alphabet. I realized that there were so many sad, scared gay kids, and too many already six feet under. I didn’t want to be there with them.

I not only wanted to be proud and happy, but also to help others get there, too. I craved a feeling of content with myself, and was suddenly determined to get to that state. I searched for positive LGBTQ+ communities on the internet, and found so much support on many websites. My favorite source was the diverse groups on Tumblr, a powerhouse safe haven of accepting and flamboyant people in all sexualities and genders.  I even discovered that some of my real-life friends were queer as well, which put me on cloud nine. It turned out I was never alone in the first place.

So, of course, I decided to come out. I didn’t yell it off rooftops or throw a rainbow parade. It was more of a gradual process. I answered people when they asked, and told my family of my minor difference, to which they did not object. Most importantly I accepted myself, and that no matter what, I couldn’t change.

Today, I am an optimistic blast of rainbow, ready to take on the world. I proudly support and help everyone in the LGBTQ+ community in and outside of school. I am one of the strong leaders of the GSA, and work to promote tolerance and love everywhere I go. I never thought I could do any of this. My minority status used to bring me down, but now it’s like a superpower. What I once thought was the end, is truly only the beginning.

We have all been afraid of who we are, and we have all felt alone. Of course, even though I’ll have to face a few more homophobes and be alienated for who I love from time to time, the battle with myself is over. I am extremely lucky to be here and lucky to love who I am. And when I look back at all my self-hatred and those moments at the sleepovers, I will be proud. Proud to represent all the kids who didn’t make it through, and to lend a helping hand to those still struggling.

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