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As many may know, life for those of us who are a part of the LGBT+ community has it’s own set of hardships and hurdles. There are many public stories about individuals within this community who have had to deal with anti-gay rhetoric from family and peers, and there are some who are even verbally and physically attacked because of their openness about who they truly are. It’s because of situations like this that people are afraid to come out as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, etc. and instead choose to mask their true selves in hopes that they can live a life free of confrontation and societal belittling. I’m writing to tell you that life doesn’t have to be that way.

Suppressing your genuine feelings and putting on a facade may make you think that you’re doing something that will help you in life, but in the end, it may end up being more of an emotional and mental detriment. Yes, being an out member of the LGBT+ community may come with a few people with asinine opinions about you and your “lifestyle choice”, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is your own inner happiness and living your life to the fullest regardless of the irrelevant anti-gay verbiage that you may hear.

I officially came out in high school, sophomore year I believe, and while it was a bit nerve racking at first, it felt great to be free of the burden of pretending to be something that I wasn’t. Of course, I didn’t hide it too well anyway as peers always suspected that I was gay due to my mannerisms and the way I spoke, but I would vehemently deny it in fear of being socially ostracized and heckled. The years of pretending to be something I wasn’t were mentally exhausting – I felt like I wanted to just come out and say that I was gay, but feared that my friends wouldn’t want to be associated with me anymore. I also feared that there would be certain family members who wouldn’t approve due to some of them being religious and their general lack of discussion about the LGBT community which I thought translated into intolerance due to my insecurities.

After a few weeks of the constant emotional turmoil of deciding whether I would just admit that I was gay, I finally did it. I first told my best friend Bre, who I’ve now been friends with for over 12 years, and was terrified of what her response would be. She told me that she wouldn’t look at me an differently, that she loved me, and that she was glad that I was finally honest with myself. With the first huge weight lifted from my conscience, over the next week or so, I began coming out to other peers that I was acquainted with and even some teachers at my high school, who were (and still are) incredibly supportive of me in every capacity. Then, I slowly began coming out to family, although quite a few of them pretty much knew or suspected that I was gay, so it wasn’t a huge surprise to some. For the most part, my family was supportive and showed that my negative thinking was mostly due internalized fear and anxiety.

Surrounding yourself with people who will love and support you no matter what is not only crucial in general instances of life, but especially in the coming out process. Trust me when I say that the support and positive reinforcement that you’ll get from your peers and loved ones will make things a lot easier and will show you that you’ve got people in your corner who are willing to go to bat for you no matter what. Luckily for me, it wasn’t just friends and family who changed my perception of life through their support. While they may not know it, there are a few high school teachers who completely changed my outlook on life for the better due to their unwavering encouragement, both academically and personally, and I will forever be grateful for having them as support systems.

Now at 26, I am incredibly confident in myself, to the point that I get a bit emotional when I look back at who I was as an adolescent and how insecure and emotionally fragile I was due to suppressing my true identity. I never thought that coming out would boost my confidence and mold me into the unflinchingly motivated, loving, and genuinely supportive young adult that I am today.

All in all, your happiness is what truly matters and you shouldn’t sacrifice that for anyone or anything. Coming out can be a big deal as it can change life as you know it, but keeping a positive attitude and refraining from self doubt can assist in making your coming out experience an extremely positive milestone in your life.

If you’re an LGBT+ youth and you ever feel like you’re in a crisis or need a judgement free zone to simply talk and vent, please use resources like The Trevor Project and It Gets Better to get the care and assistance that you need. Your life is truly valuable and there are always people willing to help out.