As a curious young girl, I found myself questioning everything—including my sexuality. I often wondered why I was rarely attracted to my male peers and found females much more appealing. One day my nine-year-old self decided to test a theory. I was going to kiss a girl. This would be my first kiss, so of course, I was very nervous. She was a friend of mine and we’d normally play soccer together at recess, but this time I invited her to have lunch with me under the climbing tires. We were sitting there talking about our plans for the upcoming weekend, and then all of a sudden I went for it. I kissed her. She smiled, and I knew I had made the right choice. I was interested in girls. That was our only kiss, and we went on being friends until sixth grade—about the time we started learning sex ed. After that, most of my peers started to be sexually active and made negative comments about homosexuality. In my father’s household, I heard nothing but negative reactions towards gay people, so I was afraid to be myself. I started forcing myself to be interested in boys, even going on to date one for three years. I could never shake the thought that there was so much more out there waiting for me to grasp and really experience. I was beginning to enter adulthood but I wasn’t happy, I wasn’t me. I tried so hard to really love the man that I had been with for years, but the connection just wasn’t there. It wasn’t even remotely close to the connection I felt towards women. I finally decided to end it and give myself a shot at happiness with the girl I was slowly falling in love with. The second I set myself free, I felt so much lighter. My entire life had changed. I could finally embrace my sexuality, and share it with my family. The people I am closest to had given me the “I’ve always known” speech, which was slightly humbling. Apparently, I hadn’t been that great at hiding it after all. Suppressing my sexuality for so long is my biggest regret, and now I refuse to do so.

Our sexuality does not define us, but embracing it will absolutely be a healthy step towards higher self-esteem, and a strong future. Coming out can be difficult. Once you’re out, you’re out. It’s not all rainbows and sunshine, and unfortunately, there are a lot of people in this world that are opposed to the LGBTQIA community. Those people are not a good enough reason to prevent you from being who you are. The best we can do is keep a smile on our faces, and show these specific people that we are also human. We deserve happiness, and their ignorance isn’t going to knock us down. Sometimes our loved ones will be a part of this group that opposes homosexuality, and we will have to step back from them. Often, this includes the older generations who are afraid of change or difference. It’s okay to give them their space and let them come around to the idea on their own. Moving on from the people that are holding you back is not a bad thing at all. Do not feel guilty about having to leave someone in the past if they do not support you. Surround yourself with people that clearly love, support, and respect you.

I finally began to love myself after coming out, and let me tell you—loving yourself is the most liberating feeling. It’s like taking your shoes off after a long day of work. I began participating in more community activities and thriving in the workplace because I gained so much more confidence. I let people walk out of my life that didn’t believe I was making the right choice by following my heart. I expanded my circle of friends, and became more aware of the LGBTQIA community. I can honestly say that I have never been happier. I wish I would have accepted my sexuality much sooner than I did. I wholeheartedly believe my childhood would have been brighter. I hope others out there can learn from my mistakes, and begin to live out loud rather than silencing their feelings.