Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
When I was seven I had my first crush. I remember the numerous sleepovers where I would be asked to divulge such a secret, with the stereotypical “so who do you like Dana?” I’d have no problem responding “I like Jessy,” which was always met with the clarifying “no, who do you like like?” Again I’d reply “Jessy! She’s really pretty,” and then they’d move on to their next victim. Then, when I was 8, in a harsh whisper my best friend taught me the words “gay” and “lesbian” and along with a definition came “but don’t mention it around my parents okay?” I remember that moment so vividly, but what I remember even better was the fear that struck me later. I liked Jessy, did that make me a lesbian? If I could get in trouble for mentioning it didn’t that mean it was wrong? Was I wrong? That’s when my “I like Jessy!” complete with a giant smile, turned into “I like Ben.” “I like Ben.” was never questioned, but Ben never gave my little stomach butterflies, and he never made me smile like Jessy did. Still, Ben seemed better than being a lesbian.
Then when I was around 10 I realized none of the girls I knew of wore sweatpants, baggy T-shirts, and skate shoes. Next thing I knew I was wearing bright pink Aeropostale shirts, skin-tight skinny jeans, and uggs. I hated pink, but if anyone asked, it was my favorite color. No one ever told me to be like them, but in my mind, as long as I looked like them I could be like them; I could be normal. When I was 12 I had my first boyfriend. He was tall, relatively attractive, and when he kissed me I felt considerably numb. I didn’t know what love was but I “loved” him, and because I “loved” him I stayed with him. I stayed with him even when he started calling me stupid, and ugly, and fat. I stayed with him was because he made me normal.
During this time, social media was opening my eyes to the world outside of my small town in central Massachusetts. As it turns out, the world can say the words “gay” and “lesbian” and it doesn’t get in trouble. The world is filled with so many lesbians. Lesbians wearing baggy t-shirts and skate shoes, lesbians in real love, lesbians who aren’t wrong. There was a whole community out there of people like me, and I had no clue. I was close to 14 when I came out, and it was only then did I feel normal. I found my normal, and it’s baggy t-shirts and skate shoes, and loving myself, and telling my friends “I love Jackie!” followed by a collective eye roll because they already know.
Sometimes I think about what I’d tell 7 year old me if I could go back. I could tell her there is no normal. I could tell her she’s just another color in the rainbow that is humanity, and she should be proud of her difference. I could tell her she will find love, and she deserves love. I could tell her she’s not alone, and her family and friends love and support her. I could tell her so many things, but I don’t think I would. Those years I spent hiding taught me how to be different better than any advice ever could. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t give the same advice to young people in my position. There’s a saying “be the person you needed when you were younger.” I can be the representation I needed. I think that’s my favorite part about finding my normal; knowing I can help others find theirs too.