It took me 25 years to be comfortable and honest enough to accept the fact I am gay.
When you grow up in a conservative household where anything but straight is wrong, it's a hard truth to come to terms with.
I dealt with questions like, "What would people think of me? My friends? My family?" I was, for the most part, very good at denying certain things.
However, when you find yourself in a loving and nurturing relationship (which is what I did), you can't deny the inevitable. You owe it to your significant other (in my case, my girlfriend at the time) and yourself to fully come out and embrace who you are.
In the past few years, society has become more understanding and accepting of the LGBTQ community, but this wasn't the case when I was struggling with my sexual identity.
Here are the 10 things I wish I knew when I was coming out:
1. Being different is a good thing.
Growing up in the '90s was a confusing time. Everyone wanted to be different. But at the same time, everyone wanted to be like everyone else.
If I had known then that being different wasn't a bad thing, I would have embraced my tomboy demeanor rather than been ashamed of it.
I would have been proud of the fact that when it came to sports like basketball or soccer, I could compete and play on the same level as the boys, without being ashamed I was a girl.
If I had known being different as an adult would be embraced and celebrated, I would have started being my awesome self when I was younger.
2. The people who bully are likely insecure themselves.
Though I was fortunate to not have experienced this, I have had close friends who were bullied in elementary and high school for their "unique styles."
If I had known then that bullying and intimidation was a form of insecurity, I would have stood my ground rather than just be a bystander.
According to psychologist and LGBTQ Supporter, Dr. James D. Spangler, those who bully youth, especially those who fall within the LGBTQ community, could be suffering from their own identity insecurities and questioning their sexualities.
3. "Gay" is not on a scale.
There is no such thing as being too gay or not gay enough. I think this is where the struggle often lies for people who are questioning their sexual identities.
They wonder and look for all these precursors, trying to determine whether they are gay or not.
However, what it ultimately comes down to is this: What makes you happy? Where is your happiness?
Is it in a relationship with a boy? Or with a girl? For the longest time, I used to think that because I had "man crushes" I couldn't possibly be gay. Wrong.
4. "Gay" doesn't have a mold it must fit.
If I had known then that there wasn't a "true" stereotype that gays fit into, I think I would have been more comfortable in my skin.
I would have been better aware there is no particular "look" one must have. In high school, we assume the butch girl is a lesbian and the guy who dresses really well and doesn't like sports is gay.
But, that girl who likes to do makeup and sew could be a lesbian, and that quarterback and all-around athlete is actually gay.
If I had known then that stereotypes didn't dictate our sexualities, I would have spent less time worrying about not fitting the mold of being gay.
5. My sexuality doesn't define who I am as a person or the things I have accomplished in my life.
One of my biggest fears when I decided to fully embrace my sexuality was everything I had done up until then would be judged, wouldn't count or wouldn't matter.
The fact that I was gay would overshadow all of my accomplishments. The reality is that it doesn't.
One's sexuality doesn't define everything he or she has done and will do. It is just one of the many things that adds up to one's uniqueness.
My success and failures could not and would not be a result of my sexuality.
6. You can't predict the reaction of those you come out to.
I am a very strategic and logical person. When I came out, there were certain people's reactions I could predict. But, some people's reactions really threw me a curveball.
That's just the reality of coming out. You can't predict how people will react.
If I had known then that I couldn't control the reactions I would receive, I wouldn't have refrained from coming out to certain people.
7. Being secretive about whom you see or sleep with is hurtful to those people.
I did this because I was insecure and afraid. I never referred to them by names nor pronouns.
I used "they" if someone asked me about where I was or about my personal life in general.
I realize now how disrespectful that was and how "they" deserved so much more.
But, fear and insecurity does that to a person. If I had known then that being truly honest about who I was could actually set me free and lead to a happiness, I would have been honest instead of letting fear rule over me.
8. The weight of my secrecy could have been relieved if I were simply honest with myself.
Thinking back, I realize I would have come out sooner if I knew where I would be now.
I would have embraced the trait that makes me, me.
I am so happy knowing there is no shame in being part of a community that is loving and accepting.
9. Coming out is less painful the more you do it — and you'll have to do it plenty of times.
Though I may "fit" a stereotype, it doesn't mean people are certain I'm gay. I keep realizing the journey to coming out never really stops.
I think this is good because you can choose who you come out to. In a way, the fact I must come out every so often to people I meet means I'm comfortable and I'm embracing my sexuality.
If I had known then my daily life would be filled with rainbows, I would have been having a parade every day!
10. Embracing your truth brings you closer to those who genuinely love you.
One of the biggest factors that propelled me to come out and embrace who I truly am was my girlfriend.
When we met, I identified as "bisexual," which, of course, is a totally acceptable identification.
However, if I were truly honest with myself, I did not entirely identify with that term.
After a few months of dating, I realized I was definitely a lesbian. Since embracing my lesbianism, I have found a peace and happiness I don't think I would have found without her and her loving support.
In a way, I am forever indebted to her. She was the first person to love me when I was transitioning to a truth I wasn't sure how to accept.
If I had known then that coming out and being honest with myself would show me those who loved me for me, I would have screamed the truth years ago.
If I had known then what I know now, I don't think I would have held in the greatest secret of my life for as long as I did.