My mother scans my Facebook feed with hawk eyes. She likes every photo. She knows my close friends by name.

“What is… Queer Bomb?” she asks, staring at an LGBTQ pride event I nonchalantly clicked ‘Attending’ on.

”Everyone’s gonna know if you leave that up.”
“I don’t care,” I calmly reply.
“What if an employer sees it?” she snaps back, and I know she’s armed with retorts.
“It shouldn’t matter. Why would I want to work there if that would deter them?
”You don’t need anything else working against you, honey.”

I pause.

“Well… maybe you’re right,” I mumble.

I scroll down to ‘Not Interested’ on the event. I delete the photo she thinks is too implicating. I double check my pronouns when I’m talking about dating. I don’t know if I abide by my mother’s requests because I want to appease her or because I’m a bit more scared of judgment than I’d like to admit.

I knew I was different from a very young age, but I didn’t quite know why.

When I was 6, I was scared of bloodthirsty pigeons attacking me from the sky. When I was 9, I watched the twin towers fall, and was scared my parents weren’t going to pick me up from school. When I was 12, I was scared of being called a faggot. When I was 14, I was scared to go to high school with my childhood bully. When I was 18, I was scared of being a faggot.

When I was 21, I cried after kissing a boy for the first time.

Since I was a kid, I’ve found ways to protect myself from the outside world. I’ve always been soft spoken. I kept my head down. I worked hard to get what I wanted without raising attention or getting in anyone else’s way. I tried to blend in, safely tucked away in my silence, burying the imperfect bits.

Imagine swallowing a large pill that’s equal parts insecurities, shame and fear. You feel the lump as it travels down your esophagus and it sits heavy in the pit of your stomach. The pill sat lodged there for 21 years. I prayed it would digest and the feelings would pass, but the vomit eventually came spewing out. When I finally acknowledged who I was, I instantly felt 20 pounds lighter. I knew I could never go back.

I’m turning 24 soon, and I’m open about my sexuality with my close friends and family. Although I made a real effort to eliminate fear and shame in my life, I’ve recently had to reevaluate my decision not to publicly come out.

On June 12th, 2016, I sobbed three times after the Pulse nightclub shooting. The first time was when I read the news on Twitter. The second time, over the phone to my mom. The third time woke me up in the middle of the night and shook my body for hours.

I’ve been to the Latin night at the gay club in town. I imagine myself in the shoes of Eddie Justice, dancing with my friends, making eye contact with the guy across the dance floor or grabbing a drink at the bar. I imagine hearing those first gunshots ring out and fear jolting up my arms like electricity. I imagine running into a bathroom stall and frantically texting my mother before telling her “I’m gonna die” seconds before being gunned down in cold blood. The shooter did not care who he was or what his family would think when they found out or where he went to school or who he worked for or his IQ. He only cared about his sexuality. And he deserved to die for it.

Was Eddie’s death his coming out? Would his aunts and uncles be shocked to hear their nephew was in a gay club? Would his location have confirmed the suspicions of a childhood bully?

Maybe I’m projecting.

“Sometimes I feel like I’m living every day with two targets on my back,” I quietly sob to my mother. She doesn’t quite know how to respond, yet I can still hear the heartbreak in her voice.

My blackness can’t be hidden, but does my queerness still live behind a mask?

I didn’t publicly come out because I was scared of what would be assumed about my life. I didn’t come out because I wanted to preserve some semblance of heterosexuality and its privileges. The fear of discrimination controlled me. The fear of violence controlled me. My sexuality lives behind closed doors, but do I keep it locked away for my safety or my shame?

No matter how my sexuality is veiled, someone still wants me dead for it.

I’ve decided that’s worse. Living in solitude. Not being able to share who I am with the people I love. It’s bullshit. So, I’m done hiding. I won’t be shamed or scared into silence. This is my coming out.

If I’m to die, I’m going to die free and loud and beautifully. I love who I am, and you’re going to know it.

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