My entire life is an illusion. It has always been an illusion. I’ve never been quite right, I’ve never been honest with a single other person. I know I’m young (I’m only 18) but I honestly cannot even begin to imagine a future in which I’ll be out and happy. The future seems so abstract and I think the pain of having my entire family reject me will break me.

I’ve never had many friends. I never really knew why I had trouble making friends until now. It’s because, from the moment I was born, I’ve heard words of abuse being hurtled against ‘the gays.’ I never saw anything wrong with it when I was younger- after all, I didn’t know any gay people. Gay people were discussed in hushed whispers at the back of the cafeteria. Gay people were an abstract; a shameful, dirty secret.

Even if it wasn’t overt, homophobia was still there. It was in my grandmother, complaining about how ‘the gays’ have ruined the rainbow. My best friend, saying ‘what a queer’ when a boy was being mean to me. My uncle, who made fun of his son for crying too much. My favorite TV show. My teachers. Movies. Books. From the time I was born, I have been ridiculed for just existing and I didn’t even know it. I’ve been ashamed of something I didn’t even know about. This staunchly heterosexual world prevented me from knowing my true self for seventeen years and I hate that it still has me in its grip. I’m still ashamed. I want to be proud, I want to be true to myself, I want to inspire people. But I can’t even say the word ‘gay’ around my family.

The only time I’ve ever heard my father say the word was when we were driving home from camp when I was thirteen. Out of nowhere, he said “Don’t be gay. It’s a sin.” As if it’s a choice. When he said that, there was a strange internal struggle. My first thought was disappointment, though I didn’t know why. Who cares? I wasn’t gay (oh, you poor child). I didn’t know anyone who was gay. His statement shouldn’t have affected me at all. I shoved the feeling down and replaced it with a fake relief. Phew. If he doesn’t like gay people, then he won’t talk about them much, and I won’t become one.

I already knew, even though I had never even thought about it before. In refusing to think about it, I had sealed my fate. From middle school to 11th grade, I strictly avoided everything that was even slightly gay. I stopped reading a book if I thought it would be gay. I avoided gay fan fiction like the plague, even though I was terribly curious. The first time I saw two men kiss was in Downton Abbey. As soon as I began to suspect that this was more than a friendship, I flopped back on the bed and refused to look at the screen. I feigned boredom and picked up a book, pretending to not care about what was happening.

No matter what I did, I cared. I still felt an odd kinship with the kids at school who were gay- though they weren’t out then. I loved theater more than anything in high school, and I think part of that had to do with the number of openly queer people in the theater program, who I wouldn’t have met anywhere else.

I had a tumblr all throughout high school and I would come across different sexualities and genders and so many things, but I stubbornly refused to look anything up or read more about it. I was deathly afraid it would ‘turn me gay.’

I’m not sure what the turning point was. Perhaps it was inspired by my friend, an openly bisexual boy. Or perhaps I was sick of putting on a show everyday and pretending to be sexually attracted to men. In any case, senior year of high school I stopped hiding from the gay things and started to read everything gay I could get my hands on. Which wasn’t a lot, but it was better than nothing.

Terms I had previously dismissed as fake or ‘special snowflake’ words now held incredible meaning to me. I understood. I felt like a whole new world had been opened up, it was incredible. I was part of something. Even though there was something about me that society wouldn’t like, there were people like me. There were people who understood, who were gay and they were proud, they were happy, they were everything I wanted to be. Of course, this was only over the Internet. I could count on one hand the number of queer people I knew in real life, and I was friends with only three of them.

I’m in my first year of college now, and I’ve only come out to three people. I can’t come out to anyone else. There are people here that I know wouldn’t mind, but I can’t bring myself to say anything. I can’t shake myself out of that mindset that everyone’s out to get me, and that somehow, something will get back to my family.

All my life, family has been the one thing I could count on. It was hard to make friends, but family was like built-in friends! They promised to love me, but at the same time spat in the face of something that’s a big part of me. I love them more than anything, but I can’t bring myself to be around them anymore. I know if I come out, they’ll think I’m just doing it for attention, to piss them off, to get a rise out of them. And they’ll say that whole spiel of “We love you, but not the choices you’re making.” No. It’s not a choice I’ve made. Being queer is a part of me that I can’t change, a part of me that I am sick of hiding. The ‘me’ you love is not whole or real, it’s an illusion. It is missing a piece. And if you can’t love that piece of me, then you’re not getting the rest of me.