Imagine a rural southern trailer park with a gravel road, a cul-de-sac, and a herd of cows so close on the other side of the fence you can reach out and pet their noses. A line of trailers, each with their own family and problems inside. This is where I grew up until my teens, and where I formed my first sense of self. It’s also where I had my first crush.

I made it through most of my childhood ignoring my crushes. But in this new neighborhood, I made two best friends I spent all my time with, a brother and a sister of similar age. Their parents would always say, “I think we’ve got lovebirds on our hands,” and nod towards the little boy. I was maybe 7 or 8 years old, but I knew then that something was wrong with me because it was his sister’s name that showed up in my notebooks. I pushed that down and ignored it until I couldn’t anymore.

It turns out that choice was eventually taken away from me. In 7th grade, a girl in my shop class (stereotypical, I know) opened up to me, and I opened up to her too. That was a mistake, as she proceeded to share with everyone the next day on the morning bus. I remember my friend getting off the same bus, and the way he pulled me aside to tell me what had happened. My gut dropped as I had never felt before, a feeling that I would grow all too familiar with. The names I had been afraid of, I was called. The looks I was afraid of getting, I got. I did damage control as best as a 13-year-old can do.

When my best friend, who was a boy, approached me about dating, I just leaned in. It was easier; I got fewer stares and I enjoyed spending time with him. I told myself it was a low price to pay. I didn’t let myself think about the future—about the fact that choosing comfort over reality can’t last forever. So, I hung in there, and I paid my debts when I met my future wife in college, with interest.

When I finally had to face my truth, it was buried in a pile of difficulties of my own making. My apartment, car, and pet were all intertwined with my boyfriend. How was I supposed to uproot all this for what seemed like my whims? I could have let myself wallow in my frustrations, but luckily a new woman in my life held my hand and walked me through things. I had been hiding something my whole life, but I couldn’t deny it anymore.

It took months, and a study abroad alone, to detangle. When I came back from my travels, I had to face my truth. The breakup took months and was more than painful for him. Coming out to my parents was difficult, but they could see the cost I had paid for my honesty and could tell it wasn’t so simple. They helped me come out to my extended family, with varying degrees of acceptance. One grandmother “just couldn’t understand” and the other just cried. She didn’t cry because of who I loved, but instead because of all the prejudice and difficulty she knew this would add to my journey without my control. She’s now one of my wife’s biggest supporters.

To learn about myself, I learned about the community. I listened to or watched anything I could get my hands on to see people experiencing similar things to me. Strong women in the community gave me a model that I never saw as a child. This community became my lifeline, and they are still there for me today. Being a member of the LGBTQIA+ family comes with difficulties, but this community is more than worth it. When I’m down, they bring me up; when I’m uncertain, they reaffirm. When one of us hurts, we all hurt, but we all stand up again together.

It took 22 years for me to come to terms with something that would eventually be one of my greatest assets. To accept a piece of me that was always there. Every person that comes out of the closet has a different experience, but this one is wholly mine. This is my truth, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Carolyn is a Senior Graphic Designer at Snow.