My race began…
when I was five years old, the day I excitedly told my mother about my crush. Spoiler alert: it wasn’t a boy. I could tell right away that she was ashamed. She looked away, and I saw something in her that I had never seen before - embarrassment towards me. It hurt in a way that I was barely able to comprehend at the time. This interaction was my first cue to keep my feelings like this to myself. As an only child, I was very interested in keeping the peace in our house and making my parents happy. So I learned to keep my secret locked away in a little compartment deep inside of me. And I was determined to keep it there for the rest of my life.
Growing up, I went to a Jewish school in Queens from first grade through the end of high school. My class was always small and until the very end of senior year, no one came out. It wasn’t something that was really talked about, so I knew it was safer to conform and adhere to expectations. I was captain of the basketball team and in true stereotype fashion, was called a dyke on more than one occasion. It cut me deep, but I was determined to prove the others wrong and keep the veil of “normalcy” on. I pretended to have crushes on boys when all the while I was falling hard for a fellow teammate. Typical lesbian adolescent turmoil.
By the time college came along, the facade felt harder and harder to keep intact. It was slipping and I knew it. It terrified me. I was a sophomore in college and once again, I was falling for another close friend. (Through basketball again, obviously.) I started realizing that it was getting impossible to keep my secret while still living an authentic, happy life. But at the same time, I couldn't bear the thought of disappointing my family. The pressures of being an only child in a Bukharian family (i.e. very old school Jewish!) were almost too much to handle and I knew that my mother’s side of the family wouldn't understand or accept this. I was also worried that my Dad would see his little girl differently.
At the time, I didn't have any friends that were queer. I felt extreme shame in thinking that I was the only one going through this. I felt weird. I felt like I wasn’t “normal.” I was also worried that when telling my friends, they would see me differently. That I would be labeled as the gay one. Or worse yet, that I would lose their friendship. I was a 19-year-old who felt lost in one of the biggest cities in the world. I was lonelier than ever.
The weight of it became more and more suffocating. On one random winter day, I found myself waiting in front of the subway and saying to myself, “Just jump. Just put an end to this.” And in that darkest of moments, something inside of me snapped. I realized how unhealthy my thoughts were becoming and that I was in serious trouble.
If it weren't for my NYU therapist who I reached out to soon after this and to the friends who held me up during this painful time, I’m not sure where I would be today. There was no shortage of depressing music and tears in my dorm room that semester but somehow, I was able to make it through. The few friends I came out to assured me that this was only another aspect that they were learning about me and that it didn’t define me in their eyes. Instead, they reassured me that it helped them know the real me and that it added a stronger depth to our friendship because I was finally able to be my authentic self. For weeks, though, I would wake up morning after morning, thinking to myself, “Oh my God, I can’t believe I said this out loud. I can never take it back now.”
Admitting that I hit such a low is still not easy for me - even though almost 12 years have passed since that dark winter day - but I also know how important it is to share these stories. So many people are going through similar experiences involving sexual orientation, gender identity, or something completely different altogether. Acknowledging these kinds of lows (and not just the highs we splash all over social media) helps us feel connected to each other, realize our shared humanity, and recognize that we all have our own challenges and hardships.
This past June, I got engaged to the love of my life. I met her when I was 26 years old, and since then, we’ve lived together, traveled around the globe together, moved to Colorado together, adopted a dog together, and set up a life for ourselves. I never could’ve imagined finding a love like this when I was younger. I was never one of those little girls who dreamed about her wedding day, and I certainly didn’t want a prince charming. But now, I absolutely cannot wait to marry this woman who is my best friend, my love, my home.
I sometimes daydream about being able to time travel, just like the character from The Time Traveler’s Wife. I would go back to myself when I was five, when I was in high school, when I was in my early, coming out days, and tell that frightened, uncertain girl:
Everything will be okay.
This is all worth it.
You’re worth it.
It is my strong belief that our greatest love story is the one that we have with ourselves. I know that the process of learning to love myself didn't come easy, and it wasn't always linear, but it‘s been the most rewarding journey of my life. I wouldn’t be the partner I am today if I hadn’t worked through my issues and learned to truly love myself. It’s almost hard to recognize myself when I look back on my days of being closeted, in denial, and feeling the kind of self-loathing that I did.
I’m so grateful for the people in my life who helped me have confidence in myself and who helped me to see that I am a worthwhile individual who deserves to love and be loved fully. We all do.