When my grandparents saw the two men who lived next door step out into their yard for a second, they freeze. They don't return the waves our neighbors offer them. As soon as they are out of earshot, they whisper to my parents "Are they...you know..." and trail off.
Even at 11, I know the word they will not say.
My parents are quick to dismiss this. "We don't think so," they say.
God forbid someone so close to us could be gay.
I am 12. Some boys at school talk about their friend who likes flowers. "He's probably gay or something," one jokes. There is silence for a second, then explosive laughter as the others repeat the joke.
I wonder, "What's so bad about a boy liking flowers?"
I am 13. I read about a man in the news who was beaten in an alley and left for dead because he held hands with his husband. My parents remind me that God says homosexuality is a sin. I wonder why we've decided it's the worst sin.
I am 14. At a church service, the pastor preaches on homosexuality. "We must love them," he begins, "but we must condemn their sin. Homosexuality is an abomination before God."
I squirm in my pew as I think about the girl in math class who gives me butterflies. I think about the way I want to hold her, make her feel safe, and wonder how that feeling could be an abomination.
I am 15 when my math teacher is asked about the issue in class. "They chose that lifestyle. The Bible clearly says it's wrong. They're destroying America," he says matter-of-factly. I look over at the girl I'm still in love with and see her head bobbing in agreement. I push my pencil into my arm to distract myself from the way she makes my heart flutter.
I am 16. I text my best friend, "I'm gay."
She texts me back, "I still love you."
For the first time, I consider the possibility that I am not broken.
I am 17. I look at myself in the mirror. "I'm gay," I say aloud.
For the first time in my life, I am at peace with this fact.
I am gay. This is me.