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When I was a little boy I loved to play with Barbies and dolls. Though my parents were supportive and loving, they could not shield me from the world; it didn't take long for me to realize that these toys weren't meant for me, whatever that means. It didn't take long for me to realize I risked verbal lashings or physical violence from other kids if I didn't learn the role I was meant to play.
So, I played with Barbies and dolls in secret, behind locked doors, and under covers, always scared that I would get caught. I was terrified of what it meant that I liked "girl toys" instead of those meant for boys, and confused about how my childlike inclinations could make grown adults so ill at ease.
I wish I could go back, knowing what I know now, and tell that little boy a few things. I wish I could tell him that he need not feel shame for doing what makes him happy, and that people being uncomfortable about what toys he plays with only speaks volumes about them, and reflects nothing about him. I wish I could tell him all of the times life was going to try to tell him to be one way, and how he always had the option to be himself. I wish I could tell him not to waste his time pretending to have crushes on girls, or forcing himself to walk with what he thought was the gait of a man, or feeling angry that these things did not come naturally. I wish I could tell him that though the threats of violence he feared are real, and that he would be called a "faggot" more than once, or made to feel less than based on something he could not control, that he would one day create a life where he felt comfortable being who he was.
I wish I could tell him that he wasn't alone, and that he'd never been alone. I wish I could tell him there were people at that moment who were fighting and risking their lives to make things better for him, and that one day it would be his job to do the same thing for the other people who needed it.
I wish I could tell him that the world was big, and not always so scary, and it would one day open like an oyster, despite the times he tried to close it, and that he deserves love, from other people, yes, but most importantly from himself.
I wish I could tell him that though he felt so much safer hiding who he was, true happiness would come, later, when he was ready, and he moved out of the shadows he chose to cast onto himself.
I wish I could tell him all of these things now, but I can't. I am not him then, but I am rather him now, all grown up.
But on this National Coming Out Day, there are people I can talk to, who might find my message encouraging, or necessary. As many people question whether or not give up their secret -- a secret they shouldn't have to be scared they need to keep -- I hope they know there will always be beauty in the truth, and power in being who you are, even when you cannot imagine that might be so. I hope you know that though there may always be some people who are cruel, there are so many more who are kind.
You deserve to live your life aloud, out in the open, not secretly, or in fear. The world is not perfect; our country is not perfect, and there are still too many people who make the lives of LGBTQ people harder than they need to be. But, whether you come out today, tomorrow or next year, know that there are people working tirelessly to achieve progress, and slowly and steadily we make our way there.
For, when I was a little boy, I played with Barbies in secret, and now I live as myself in full view.