I suffer from an unpleasant, sometimes paralyzing, condition lots of gay people have in common: gay anxiety.
For me, my gay anxiety comes on really strong when I get a manicure, which sucks because this self-identified mascara lesbian loves to gaze down at her shiny, deep red nails.
I start to feel the anxiety swish through my body as I round the corner to my local nail joint, and it reaches its peaks when the manicurist and I start to get intimate. After all, she's touching my hands — a wildly intimate act between two women, you know?
She'll look me in the eye, usually after my first nail has been filed, and say, "So, do you have a boyfriend?"
She'll look me in the eye, usually after my first nail has been filed, and say, "You have a boyfriend?"
And then, my brain divides into two parts.
Fierce Dyke Zara, in her black leather jacket, will shout, "Tell her you don't have a boyfriend and that you have a girlfriend, you spineless, self-hating lesbian."
But Meek Zara, in a prim dress with a Peter Pan collar, will urgently whisper, "Do you really want to get into all of that right now, Zara? I mean, come on, you're just getting your nails done. And she might be homophobic. You don't need to stand on your soapbox 24/7."
"BEING HONEST about WHO YOU ARE is NOT standing on your soapbox!" Fierce Dyke Zara will roll her smokey eyes as she pulls a Marlboro red out of her pocket.
Meek Zara will get really close to Dyke Zara and hiss, "Don't get into that now!"
"Fuck that!" Fierce Dyke Zara has had it and stomps away in her black, leather, steel-toed boots.
Meek Zara is pleased with herself. "Just be the nice, straight girl she thinks you are!"
Meanwhile, the manicurist will clear her throat in irritation because I've left her hanging for a good 10 seconds. I've learned a lot of things in this world and one of them is, don't ever leave your manicurist hanging. She doesn't appreciate it.
So I usually let Meek Zara win.
The anxiety escalates because I just told a stranger that I was single — even though I'm in love.
And the anxiety escalates because I just told a stranger that I was single — even though I'm in love with someone — because I was worried that my gayness might jar her.
Of course, I'll hear some pretty, blonde girl gush about her handsome boyfriend to her manicurist, telling her where he works, where he's from, when they plan on moving in together and maybe even that he's "the one."
I want to scream, "Me, too! I'm in LOVE, too. She has a really cool job, and she's really nice and funny, too!" I just want to talk the girl talk because I love girl talk.
But I stay quiet. And the anxiety festers.
This underlying, low-grade anxiety has always been there. For a long time, I couldn't identify why it was there.
It lives in the stomach, but it's similar to a shadow. You can't run away from your shadow.
You can't run away from your shadow.
In my early 20s, I realized I was drinking too much because it seemed to be the only thing that temporarily quelled my anxiety. But I didn't want to be the person who needed wine to calm my feelings, like some sort oppressed, 1950s housewife.
So I went to a shrink to sort out that anxiety stuff before my little drinking habit spiraled into a full-blown addiction.
Medication can give you the wherewithal to get out of bed when you're experiencing a depressive episode, and they can help you go to a party without feeling so anxious, you think you might die.
Gay anxiety is the sole reason why a lot of us actually like to party like wild rockstars six nights a week.
Medication is a terrific bandage for our anxiety and I'd never undermine it. But it doesn't heal the wound entirely.
Medication is a terrific bandage for our anxiety. But it doesn't heal the wound entirely.
In my case, it helped ease the anxiety just enough so I had the courage to look underneath the bandage and take a good look at the wound.
But this was when I realized my anxiety was gay anxiety, and my queer friends suffered, too.
It's that anxiety we feel when we're on vacation in a country where we could be arrested for holding hands with our girlfriends or boyfriends.
Is it safe to hold hands at the hotel? Do you save it for the bedroom? Maybe you should just do it. But what if you offend someone or even get arrested?
It's the anxiety we feel when we start a new job, and Peggy from accounting asks us if we're dating someone, but we're not sure if Peggy is homophobic.
It's the pressing anxiety we feel when we hold hands with our partners while meeting their parents for the first time, unsure if it might make them uncomfortable (even though their straight sibling is cuddling with his girlfriend right in front of their eyes).
I feel it when my doctor asks me if I'm sexually active, and he dives right into a lecture about how I should be on the birth control after I say yes. Do I bite my lip and let him talk? Or do I tell him I don't sleep with men, but I sleep with women?
When you're constantly in these subtle situations, and you're faced with the choice to out yourself or not to out yourself, how can you not have underlying anxiety all the time?
And my friends who are more visibly gay suffer from the same anxiety, only it's rooted in a different place.
They fear being harassed in the streets, they fear their visibility will make them a dangerous target and, sometimes, they wonder if they should tone down their gayness just to be less vulnerable in certain places.
But we are who we are, and sadly, we live in a world that's unpredictable for gay people. And now that we're going to be under the thumb of Trump and Pence, I feel even more anxious.
When you have a homophobic leader who thinks being gay is inherently wrong and that with enough "therapy," you can turn straight, it's now totally OK for every other homophobic person to express their bigotry as well. In fact, it's already started happening.
We are who we are, and sadly, we live in a world that's unpredictable for gay people.
So how do we deal with the gay anxiety? I'm not quite sure. The only thing I've vowed to do is not to let my feelings dictate my behavior anymore.
I can listen to the anxiety, and I can even embrace it, but I'm not going to let it stop me from being out... even in the goddamn nail salon.
It's like that powerful saying: "Speak the truth, even when your voice shakes."
I might suffer from gay anxiety, but that doesn't mean the anxiety has to win. You get up on stage and perform the play, even when you're so nervous, you vomited right before the curtains opened.
And really, your homophobia isn't my problem. If a person is homophobic, then it's their personal problem they need to work through. In fact, I could recommend Pence a great therapist to help him get over his deep-rooted, emotional issue with gay people.
It's not my job to hold another human's fear or to stifle something so natural and nonthreatening just because someone is freaked out by what's unfamiliar to them.
And most importantly, it's not my job to make anyone feel comfortable.
And maybe speaking the truth will be the very thing that lifts my anxiety. I don't know, but I hope so.
But when I'm at the nail salon, and the manicurist asks me if I have a boyfriend, I'll proudly say, with a trembling voice and shaky hands, "No, I have a girlfriend."