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This is 20biteen, but we still have millions of people hiding who they are every day. I am one of those people. We are often told we are not normal. So today, I’m here to talk about how it feels to love a woman or a man and live in constant fear of it coming out. Because you aren’t normal. Because normal is a man kissing a woman — anything else is out of the question. At least that is what many of us are taught. That we are not normal. Today I want to show you what we are, since we are often told what we aren’t. 

  1. You are five years old and there is a girl named Lisha in your class that is really good at basketball. She throws a shot and she scores. She is barely four feet tall. You feel yourself be drawn to her. You go home and talk about her for hours. One day, she comes up to you and kisses your cheek. You feel butterflies in your stomach. You are coloring and your mom jokes about you marrying a boy in your class and you say no, you are going to marry Lisha. Your father hears and says that girls can’t marry girls. It's wrong and that kind of talk is not allowed in this house, and he shakes your shoulders and asks if you understand. You say you do.  

  2. You are 12 years old. All the girls in your class have crushes and are talking about them avidly. They push you to know who you like. You think of the girl across the room. You open your mouth then close it. You can’t like a girl. That’s not possible. “I don’t know,” you say. “But you must like someone! Who gives you butterflies?” You think about Lisha. “No one,” you reply. But they push and push, so you say a random boy’s name and go silent.

  3. One day in class, you learn about how God punished those who liked the same gender. You listen to how people were stoned to death or burned and feel terror in your bones. A girl says, “But what if you love a girl? Will God stone you?” “God will punish those who don’t follow,” the teacher says solemnly. You cry yourself to sleep, hating that all you can think about is the girl who sits two rows in front of you. 

  4. Yesterday, you kissed a girl. You felt the excitement bubble inside until you realize someone saw you. Fear flows down your spine and you push the girl away.  “We can’t,” you say, crying. At home, you trace nails on your legs and dig them in your skin. You think that maybe if you drain enough of the blood out, you’ll be “pure.” 

  5. You try kissing boys. You try kissing with no heart. You can’t. You cry and cry. One day, you fall in love. She tries to send you care packages and love letters. But you fear being caught, so you wait by the door when the mailman comes and you go to every post office in search of a place that can hold your mail for you as a general delivery. You can’t find any post office who will do this and so you beg her not to send things. But then, it's too much, so you finally cave and ask a friend. You cry from relief when they agree. Because you feel safe. For a moment. Just a moment. 

  6. You never touch a girl in front of your father or mother because last time, they yelled and hit you for hours, screaming to get you sent away.

  7. You never call your girlfriend at home. Not when your father is home. 

  8. You try to make money as discreetly as possible to find a way to live your life how you want. 

  9. Your sisters turn against you. “YOU ARE GOING TO HELL!” the thirteen year-old screams. 

  10. You feel alone all the time. All the time. 

According to the Trevor Project, “LGB youth seriously contemplate suicide at almost three times the rate of heterosexual youth.” So be kind. You have no idea how lonely it feels when your aunt talks about her hate for “gays” while you are in the closet. Or how it feels when your dad shakes you to make sure you know that you may not, under any circumstances, love a girl. Because girls love boys. That's just how it is. Sometimes the ones that look very consevative are fighting battles you can’t see. They just want to live long enough to get out. And to my fellow closeted, you, I promise, are normal. And you will live the life you want one day. I promise. 

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