National Coming Out Day, or maybe not.

About six years ago my mom came into my room and saw I was Skype-chatting with someone and we were clearly flirting. She apologized for interrupting and smiled, happy that I was potentially dating someone. Later she told me that was such a cute boy. I laughed and told her, yes, she is such a cute girl. Her face changed to disappointment. She might have remembered all of the Lifetime movies about learning to love your gay kid because she reluctantly told me,  “Well, whatever makes you happy.” I didn’t use that moment to sit at the edge of her bed and say, “Momma, I like girls.” I never came out.

I came into my sexuality at eleven years old and only realized it when I was caught staring at my classmate’s butt as our class walked across the playground. She was a soccer player and had the strongest legs I ever saw. I watched the way she swayed her hips as she walked with her friends ahead of me–in that moment she was nothing short of a goddess. Corny, but true. I wasn’t fixated on her butt itself; I was struggling to find the word for wanting to be another girl while also wanting to hold her hand and find out secrets she didn’t share with even her closest friends.

It must have been a long intense stare because another classmate yelled my name and asked why I was staring at her butt. A few others turned to hear my answer. I awkwardly laughed and mentioned I thought there was something on it. The person who asked said I should have said something instead of just staring like I liked her, like I was gay. From what I remember, they didn’t say it maliciously as I wouldn’t want to be caught being gay, as if it were a bad thing. We were going through puberty, our preteen hormones were all over the place and everyone wanted to know who crushed on whom. On the playground I realized my recent crushes were on girls. But no, I wasn’t gay, or so I didn’t think.

Some months later, I sat in the car with my older sister and the topic of same-sex marriage came up. I might have mentioned I didn’t think it was a big deal. She quickly asked, “Are you gay?” I told her something along the lines, “No, I am not gay, but I don’t think it matters who I like or love. It’s not like we have a choice.” At this time, my sister was homophobic and turned to the popular phrase, “You might go to hell if you are.” All I could think was, I hope my cute classmate is there with me.

I guess I am gay, I admitted to myself at twelve years old. But I had a crush on the four-eyed, freckled boy, so maybe I wasn’t that gay. Or maybe he was my exception. Or maybe I didn’t care about gender, I just wanted someone to hold my hand and talk about books (Note: my desire for this has not changed).

I never officially came out because I felt like I was bad at being queer. By time I graduated high school, I only kissed a few girls at parties and had one ‘secret’ girlfriend in middle school. I wasn’t shy about liking girls, but all of my major crushes were on girls from Livejournal who lived across the globe. I had little experience with people, especially girls, specifically the ones who were so comfortable in their sexuality, they practically yelled at anyone who assumed they were straight. Maybe I am not that queer, maybe it was those few girls who captured my attention. No, baby, you’re pretty queer. Not many straight girls daydream about living in cabins with girls and snuggling with them by the fireplace as much as you do. Maybe it’s okay you’re queer, maybe it’s okay you aren’t shouting it.

I have been openly calling myself queer since I was seventeen. Open to those who ask or those who are getting to know me for the first time. I don’t correct family members who ask me if I have a boyfriend when I am dating a woman or non-binary person; I use the term partner and hope they catch on. I still don’t mention romantic partners who aren’t men to most of my family members, including my parents. They know but they don’t really know. Maybe it’s okay I am still learning to invite them into the part of my life that is intimate and sometimes dark because I am still learning how to carry my queer femme body.

National Coming Out Day can be a negative reminder to those of us who hide parts of ourselves from loved ones. We don’t owe anything to anyone–not our families, not the so-called community that ignores our stories when it doesn’t fit their narrative of what it means to have a marginalized sexual orientation or gender identity. Not coming out does not make my relationships or my commitment to myself less valid.

Not coming out because you don’t want or need to do it or don’t feel safe enough does not make your identity less valid. Not everyone can feel grateful enough to be invited onto your journey. But you are still important and you can exist as silently as you want.