i am a little girl and we are walking.
'i just don't know, daddy,' i say. it's a bright day, with the sky a bright cotton-candy blue and the clouds chasing each other across its expanses. the news is riddled with politics, as it always is, but i am only just starting to open my eyes to it. 'i don't even know if i'm a democrat or a republican.'
he eyes me for a moment. 'ok,' he says thoughtfully. 'well, it should be pretty easy to tell.'
'ask me questions,' i say. 'and tell me by my answers what i am.'
and he does. he asks me many things. he asks me about black and white and freedom and confinement. he asks me about the death penalty. he asks me about abortion.
some of these things are easier to answer than others.
there's one, though, that stands out to me now. we're three-quarters of the way home, and the hill is steep enough that the dog is starting to lag.
'what about gay marriage?' he says. this is before it's been legalized, and we are in north carolina where politics has always been a few steps behind.
i think about this for a moment. i have an answer but i don't know how to say it. 'i think,' i say carefully, laden with eight-year-old wisdom and confining societal philosophy, 'that they should be allowed to marry. it's weird and i don't think it's...natural, or whatever, but it's not my business what they do.'
we stop as the dog sniffs a spot in the grass. my father is frowning slightly, eyeing me with a thoughtful gaze. 'why isn't it natural?' he asks, and i pause.
he tells me that it is. that it's perfectly natural. i'm troubled, and doubtful, but i am eight years old and i do not question the things i'm told.
(he tells me i'm probably a democrat, based on my other answers, though it doesn't really matter at this stage in life.)
homosexuality comes up more and more over the years and i start to warm to it. it's still weird, and unnatural, but i brush it to the side. if they're happy, then fine. i don't care. and besides, it's not like i'm gay. i've had crushes on boys, right? and, after all, you can't be gay if you don't want to be.
that's what i think, ten years old and staring out the car window. you can't be gay if you don't want to be.
you hate that, right? you hate everything i've said. it's funny to think you might have hated me, then, if i hadn't been kind and adorable and lovable in every way.
i'm fifteen and it's dark out. i'm dressed in my dance clothes, almost bare naked in the winter; my dad and i have already had our argument about car temperature. i'm hot and sweating, having just exercised, but he's been sitting in the car for an hour and he's freezing. the overpass curves before us, lit only by the headlights of his blue jeep cherokee, and we're talking amiably.
i don't know what leads to it, but he says something that night that lingers.
'and when and if you have a husband...' he pauses for a moment, and then says, gentler, 'or a wife, then—'
and the rest is obscured by foggy memories but i remember thinking,
'thanks, daddy, but i'm straight.'
but it stuck.
i'm straight, right?
what follows is hot showers and existential dread. i've since opened my eyes more to the community; i have queer friends. i know more. one of the things i know about is bisexuality.
'i'm straight,' i think, but then i think: 'am i?'
it's mid-winter. it's freezing and i'm in the car on a way to an audition. everything is perfectly normal. my mom is beside me, the radio is playing soft music, and i'm texting my best friend. she's dating her first boyfriend and she needs advice: she wants to break up with him but she doesn't know how to say 'no' or 'i don't want this anymore'. she's afraid that it'll hurt him and his family, and so she's content to let this continue to hurt her.
i have no experience with relationships but i give her advice anyway. the three little dots bounce on the screen and she says 'thank you for putting up with me. if you ever need help with anything, don't be afraid to ask.'
and i stop dead.
this is the worst timing possible; i'm in the car next to my mother, who does not know, on the way to an audition. i'm hopped up on anxiety: if this goes awry, my audition will be terrible. i will likely not manage a poker face in the small confines of the car.
i'm not thinking about these things, though, as i text her back.
'actually there is something. i've been thinking about this a lot over the past year and i haven't told anyone but i think i might be bisexual.'
there's a long pause, wherein i very nearly die. oh god, i think. she hates me.
the three little dots are back.
'i'm back. sorry, i was walking into the house.'
a pause. i'm trying not to cry, from anxiety and fear and relief and tension.
'oh. i'm so sorry i have literally the worst timing.' the little dots bounce like they're taunting me. 'ok first of all, know this changes nothing. i'm still your friend and i love you.'
and suddenly it's real.
two months later it's my birthday. i'm sixteen and i'm bundled with nerves and i sit my family down and i say, in many more words: 'i'm bisexual.'
my parents tell me they love me. my dad says, 'i want you to know you can tell us anything.' my brother says nothing, but leans over to give me a hug.
this is the first time i've said it aloud and it's the first time it's felt so real.
now i think i may have been wrong. i may just be biromantic; i may be asexual or demisexual, i might even be aromantic, but that's not the point.
the point is you would have hated the me from the beginning, who called you unnatural and thought it was a choice.
the point is i grew.
anyone can grow; it's easy, once you open your eyes. it's okay to make mistakes if you someday will learn from them.
so do not hide people away; help them learn. help them grow.
but most importantly:
define yourself as who you are now: someone who has grown. someone who has learned.
do not let yourself be defined by who you once were.