(WOMENSENEWS)--I remember sitting on the couch next to my Dad watching the news on television when I was about 10 years old.
There was a report on about the gay and lesbian parade going on in Manhattan. I did not know what it meant to be gay.
I asked my father and he told me, "That's when two men or two women love each other like a boy and a girl do."
"Why would someone want to do that?" I asked.
Without ever looking at me, he answered, "Well, they can't help it. Gay people are just born like that, like having brown eyes."
"Oh," I said, thinking that it sounded really weird. But then I became worried. What if I turned out to be gay?
So I said to my Dad, "What would you do if I was gay, daddy?"
He jumped up and looked at me and said, "Why?"
"I was just wondering," I answered, sorry that I had asked at all.
"Well, you would still be my daughter," he said, sitting down again. But for some reason his answer didn't make me feel any better.
Scared of the "L Word"
A few years later, during my freshman year in high school, I met Jennifer.
We became very close, but I knew that the way I felt about her was different from the way I felt about my other close friends.
I was very possessive of Jennifer and didn't want to share her with anyone else. At times I even felt jealous of the guys she liked.
Soon I began to realize that I liked her as more than just a friend. It was very scary for me to think about it, because I'd heard how the girls in school would talk about "lezzies" and the disgusting things they did.
It was hard to figure out whether or not I was just confused, or if I really was a l-e-s . . . Yuck, I couldn't even say the word.
That summer, because of how out of control I felt, because I couldn't handle the feelings I was having, I ended my friendship with Jennifer. I never told her why.
Filtering the Real Friends
Marilyn and Elaine were my two best friends. We had been in school together since first grade.
They were always there for me and always understood me when I had a problem. I was sure that after they got used to the idea they would open up to me and everything would be the same as it had always been between us. So I just said straight out, "I think that I am a lesbian."
They were shocked. They asked me a couple of questions. But after that one time, they never mentioned it again.
Soon we started to talk less and less about anything at all. I don't know if who I am caused that to happen. But I do know that it made me feel really bad.
I learned the hard way that they were not my real friends, and I also learned that I had to be very careful about who I told and who I absolutely could not tell.
Finally I decided that it was time I went out and found people who I could talk to, who would understand how I felt: other gays and lesbians my age.
I remember standing outside the door of a drop-in center for gay teens in Greenwich Village, afraid to go inside. I had no idea what to expect, and I was petrified that I wouldn't fit in there, either.
Finally, I just walked in. A funny-looking girl with a baseball cap came up to me and said, "Hi, I'm Marie."
Marie became one of my best friends; a real best friend, because I know that she loves me for who I am, completely.
Marie told me about a group that was forming for lesbian and bisexual women who are under 21.
The next week I went to one of their meetings and the women there made me feel right at home. It felt great to be able to goof around with them, joking about ourselves and the people around us. If I talked like that with my straight friends, they wouldn't understand.
Ever since that first meeting, I've gone back every week. I've finally found a place where I can be myself and belong.
Excerpted with permission from "Out With It: Gay and Straight Teens Write About Homosexuality" (Youth Communication), edited by Al Desetta.
Gina Trapani, now 33 years old, wrote this story when she was 17. After graduating from college, she became a tech writer and Web developer. She is the founding editor of http://www.lifehacker.com.
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