Taking Pride Andrea Martinez

Something that has always been of great importance to me is the freedom to be oneself and to love yourself for who you are, embracing everything about yourself. This can be especially difficult as a teenager, as you're trying to figure out who you are. Society, your teachers, your peers, your parents, all tell you how you should or should not be. What you should be ashamed of in yourself and what you should take pride in. Figuring out who you are is hard enough without everyone else trying to tell you who you are. Sometimes, it can even be dangerous.

I fell in love with Danielle during freshman orientation. She was beautiful, smart, athletic, and funny. She took charge – later becoming our class president – and for some reason that I did not understand at the time, she made my knees weak and my heart hammer every time she spoke, every time that I saw her. These, of course, are classic symptoms of a Grade-A crush. "But that can't be right," I told myself as my face reddened every time she brushed past me, "because Danielle and I are both girls. I'm a straight, fourteen year old girl. These aren't things that I should be feeling." This sort of thinking, of course, is a classic symptom of Grade-A queer denial.

For my first year of high school, I watched Danielle from afar, admiring her, struggling with these feelings for her. I didn't know what to do with them – I hadn't told anybody about it, because what if it was just a phase, y'know? That's what we're made to assume when we develop feelings for the same sex – it's just a phase, you'll grow out of it. But part of me keep asking – what if I don't?

So I made a decision – I would keep these feelings a secret until I was sure that it wasn't a phase. I set a mental timer for high school graduation; if I still felt like this by the time I was 18, I would know for sure that I was... what, bisexual? Gay? I couldn't even think of what label I would give to myself. I couldn't think about that just yet. Wait until a few years down the line, then make your decision. The issue with that type of thinking, is that decisions imply you have some sort of choice in these matters.

You can choose many things about yourself – your clothes, your hairstyle, your friends, etc. But there are some things that you cannot choose about yourself. As I realized in my first two years of high school, romantic feelings for someone was not something one can control, no matter how much they want to. I was alone and confused in all of this, with no friends I felt like I could trust with a secret I felt was so disastrous. I never befriended Danielle – my crush on her turned into the classic shy-person-crushes-on-gorgeous-popular-person scenario. She was out of my league even as a friend. Soon, my crush on her became the least of my worries.

In my second year of high school, I dated a boy named Wyatt. He was a nice guy – handsome, friendly, into the same things as myself. Everyone thought we would be perfect together, so we got together and stayed together for four months. Don't get me wrong, I liked Wyatt very much. He held my hand and gave me hugs and he was my first kiss. However – and I will always feel remorse for this – I could not help but be distracted from our relationship while still wrestling with these other feelings. I realized during that time that this was not something I could handle for the next three years – it was torturous not being to explore who I was, not being able to express this to anyone, not being able to come to terms with a part of myself that, with every passing day, I knew I would not go away as simply as I had hoped.

I hated myself. I was different. I couldn't just be a normal high schooler – no I had to be the one with the weird sexuality, the one struggling with depression, the one whose hatred of herself drove her to self-harm and suicidal thoughts. And, eventually, a single attempt, which failed when I couldn't bring myself to cut deeper. I wanted to die and at the same time, I didn't. There had to be another way. A way that didn't end in tears or blood or destruction. I turned to the internet, to helplines and resources for queer teenagers. It was only then that I began coming to terms with my sexuality. This was me. I wasn't straight, I wasn't gay, I simply liked people regardless of their gender or their sex. Those factors never made sense to me as far as what dictated who I fell for. A girl I met – out of the flurry of friendships I made with other queer teens through online blogging – said these feelings I described seemed to align perfectly with Pansexuality, which is something like a branch off from Bisexuality. I did more research, I interacted with more queer teens, made more friends, and I felt less alone. I felt okay. I felt like I could breath comfortably in my own skin for the first time in a long time.

But this wasn't even the hard part. At this point, I was living a double life – one online, where I could express myself freely, and one in real life, where I was forced to keep my secret. And double lives never last. Again, my secret began eating me up from the inside out. I wanted so desperately to tell my best friend, Ariel, but I had no idea how she would react. There were so many moments when I had my thumb over the send button on my phone, wanting to tell her everything, and so many times that I couldn't bring myself to hit Send. One night, it became all too much, and I sent her a long text as I broke down silently backstage at a theatre rehearsal. The text depicted my hatred of myself, my confusion, my loneliness in all of it, how much I wish it wasn't happening to me, how much I wished I could just be normal because not being normal was killing me. She asked what I was talking about – what was killing me? What did I wish wasn't happening? And I told her.

And she told me she loved me, no matter who I liked, no matter who I was attracted to, nothing would change our friendship. She knew I had been suffering, she had even considered asking if I was gay because to her, that was the explanation that made sense. The next day at school she gave me the biggest warmest hug I had ever felt and our day continued normally. We cracked jokes, went to class, hung out with our friends. My secret was safe with her. It was such a weight off of my shoulders. And the best part was – I could tell her about my long-lasting crush on Danielle! I could talk to my best friend about the person I liked, just like any normal person would, and it was the most amazing feeling to me. Once in class, Danielle turned to me out of nowhere and told me that she thought I was a very cool person. Ariel had teased me relentlessly after class about how hard I had blushed (and was still blushing). It is still one of my fondest memories of friendship.

And still, this was not the hardest part. I had asked Ariel to keep my secret for me for the time being, because I didn't want just anybody knowing. Not yet. Not until my mother knew. And this was the trickiest part. My mother – aka the greatest person on earth – was an open-minded conservative. Meaning she was raised conservative but has since developed a very open mind about many things, but still, her conservative roots will often make their appearance in many of her opinions. Including her opinion of bisexual people. "If you're attracted to both, then you have the choice to just pick one!" She would say in an angry huff – and I mean angry. I never to this day understood why she would get so angry when I would ask her for her opinion on bisexuality. "I mean, I get if you're gay or whatever and you don't have a choice but if you're able to date the opposite sex then that's what you need to do!"

I was horrified. Again, I had no idea how she would react. "She's my mother, she loves me no matter what," I would tell myself. But that didn't mean should could be angry at me or disappointed in me. Still, after joining these online communities, I was able to consider myself lucky, knowing that I could be stuck with a parent who might kick me out, stick me in conversion therapy, or attempt to beat the queer out of me. I had read horror stories online but I knew my mother was not that type of person.

That didn't stop my hands from shaking that night as she and I were driving home from a trip to the mall, the summer before my junior year. I finally broke down crying as I tried to say "I need to tell you something," and when I had her attention, I couldn't find the words. So I shakily pulled out my phone and found the text I had sent Ariel many months before. I read it out loud to her, stopping every few words to allow the sobs that forced their way out of my chest. She was quiet when I finished. After a moment, she asked if I thought I was gay. I explained as coherently as I could what pansexuality was and braced for her inevitable anger.

But when I finally looked at her, I saw that she was crying and her expression was free of any anger. She told me she loved me, that she had suspected something like this was going with me, and how heartbroken she was to know that I had been going through all of this alone. We talked for a long time about my journey of coming to terms with my sexuality and the battle I had been fighting within myself. I told her who knew, and she asked if I wanted to come out to my sisters. But I was exhausted, I told her that I could not go through this process again. Coming out in a fragile, uncertain state like that is the most terrifying and emotionally draining conversation I would ever have. I asked her to tell them for me, and she did. They still loved me.

After that, I did not care who knew. If they asked, I would tell them. I could talk freely about a girl or guy that I liked – it didn't matter to me anymore. I had gotten past one of the biggest obstacles in my life – I had learned to love and accept myself for who I was even for the things that I could not control. And that's all we can really do.

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