When I was in eighth grade, I flipped down the visor of my stepmom’s car one day and opened the mirror. I stared at myself. I looked at every part of my face, every curve and angle. I blinked and blinked again, each faster than the last, trying to hold back tears.
“You are not gay,” I told myself pointing at my reflection. “You do not like girls. You aren’t gay and you never will be. You are straight.”
I pushed my glasses up so they rested on the top of my head and got closer to the mirror. I let my nose touch the felt of the visor and peered into the glass.
“I can’t be gay.”
But at the same time, I found myself wondering what the girl I had been staring at in science class’s eyes looked like this close.
A few days ago, I flipped down the visor in my car and opened the mirror just the same as I had so many years ago. This time, I looked at the bags under my eyes briefly and adjusted my hair. I smiled so I could check that I had nothing in my teeth. And then I flipped it back up so I could go get coffee with a girl, a beautiful girl, a girl whose eyes I enjoy looking at up close.
Somewhere along the line, I stopped telling my reflection I wasn’t gay and I started telling it I loved myself instead. Today is national coming out day, and I’m already out. I have a pink button hanging above my couch that loudly proclaims in neon green letters “I DIDN’T CHOOSE TO BE GAY I JUST GOT LUCKY.” I’ve been to pride parades and even walked in four. I cut my hair short, and I own a few too many flannels. I’m proud of who I am. I am proud of the fact I am a lesbian.
I sometimes though remember eighth grade me, staring at my face in the mirror and hating every part of it because, to me, that face looked gay. That face had gay thoughts. That face was that of a lesbian, and I was too scared to admit it.
I was too scared because I’d heard the slurs. I’d seen the news reports. I’d heard classmates make fun of queer folx. I’d heard time and time again that being gay was wrong.
Sometimes, I still feel fear when I think about the fact I’m gay. I still get scared when I walk into work because being out at work is risky. Sometimes, I still get worried when holding a girl’s hand as I walk down the street. I worry someone will say something, that someone will follow us, hurt us, or worse. I worry because I still read the news and see the stories of queer folx being attacked outside bars. I see the stories about the president stripping away the rights of queer UN members and wonder when I will be next. I read about queer folx in my town having their homes vandalized, and I get so scared.
And then I remember what it was like the first time I whispered the words “I’m gay” into a mirror. That day, I didn’t hold my tears back. I let them run down my cheeks as I repeated the words again and again to myself because they felt so at home inside my mouth.
I’m not scared of being gay. I’m scared of how the world treats people like me, people who weren’t born heterosexual. I’m scared of how the world treats trans and nonbinary folx. I’m scared of how the world treats people who are different.
I’ll keep saying in the mirror that I’m gay, that I love myself, and that I’m proud. However, that fear isn’t going to go away anytime soon. National coming out day is great. I’m so happy we have it. Yet, not everyone to safe to come out. There’s still a lot of people repeating the same words I once I said in mirrors all over the world. So the next time you say, “that’s so gay,” or “they can get married now, isn’t that enough?” I want you to think about eighth grade me. I want you to think about what it is like to be so scared to come out that you hate yourself. I want you to think about what it is like to be scared to walk down a street holding your partner’s hand. I want you to think about the fact that there are still countries where it is illegal to be gay, that trans folx get murdered daily, that queer couples often are barred from adopting, that queer people have their homes and cars vandalized, that queer people are still scared to even be alive. We’re still fighting for acceptance. We’re still fighting for love. We’re still fighting to exist.
I love national coming out day. This is me coming out again. I am a lesbian. I am a woman who loves women. More importantly, however, I love who I am. I will not stop being proud of myself even though some days it’s scary as hell.
Here’s to you, eighth grade Em. I hope you’re proud of me too.