At a prom after-party senior year of high school, I joked — half-serious — that I was probably going to be repressed for the rest of my life. I couldn’t imagine a world where every part of myself would be accepted without consequence. There would always be a price to pay — in respect, in my view of myself, in what I was allowed to do. But what I remember even more is my friend, grabbing me by the shoulders and looking me straight in the eyes, in full drunk-for-the-first-time seriousness, saying that the most important thing in life is living with authenticity. I shrugged him off and looked away.

And two years later, sitting on a bench outside my dorm at 2 a.m., crying about how childhood was officially over, feeling more lost than I had ever been or ever expected to be, after a girl texted me saying she didn’t want to see me anymore. I didn’t know how to feel except sad and confused, knowing I still had an essay to write and a problem set due and finals were coming up and, and, and…

I realized he was right.

Growing up, I didn’t pay attention to my body. I actively ignored it, and having a school uniform made it easy to do so. All I had to do was wear the white polo or button-down shirt and the green and white plaid skirt and the saddle oxford shoes, and I didn’t have to think about anything except looking the same as everyone else. Even on so-called “Free Dress Days,” where we could wear what we wanted, I insisted on wearing the uniform, consumed with an irrational fear that if I wore something different, I would be the only one at school out of uniform. I hated my too-short legs and my baby hairs that refused to grow out or be combed down. I hated my stomach and the way it stuck out instead of staying flat like how I looked when I sucked everything in and held my breath.

But, leaning back on her bed, warm despite the rain and the cold outside, and looking at her looking at me, I finally understood it was about power. I was afraid of my own power all along, made to feel unimportant and ugly. But it was me, my body, my legs, my stomach that she was running her hands over. I wanted her to, I made her do it willingly, and I would do the same to her, anyone. Loving her body made me realize I could love my own, could love anyone’s. And that was all about power.

In the private meeting rooms of the career services center, the heating is a little too warm and my palms are slippery with cold sweat. The interviewer calls me in 5 minutes after the time I was scheduled for, a coffee cup from Small World in hand. He’s wearing a vest with the company’s logo on it. We go through questions about my background, my major, and reading from an iPad he asks me, “Tell me about a time you had to do something difficult and how did you handle it.” And I talk about planning an event and raising money for it and all the complicated logistics that come with that.

But I really want to say, the most difficult thing I ever had to do was realize I wanted to be free of holding up an illusion to my parents. To sit down with my mom on a random Thursday night during Winter Break, and admit that if she wanted to know me then she had to know this. I am queer. To sit in the car with my dad as he drove me to the airport and hear him say he wished that I would still marry a man and have kids and to just try and live some version of the future that never really existed for me. To hear him say that and to still handle it. No. Nothing will ever be as difficult. Or maybe it will. But I know the strength it took to just say those words to my parents, to dismantle my past self and reform her into today. That strength will always be there.

To my past self who wrote in her journal that “liking girls” was part of a list of problems, being queer ended up a gift. It showed a light forward and out and through and made me realize there was power and love and joy all along.

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