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  • It is a November night in Bremerton, WA, and I am 16. The air is crisp and the wind is dead, much like me if I miss curfew. So I roll off the couch, say goodbye to my friend, and leave. As I pass through the door, he pulls me back by my shirt and hugs me. I laugh when he grabs my shirt again, but this time he kisses me.

    As I sprint home, my head is spinning. I try to decipher that moment, but instead rotate three key thoughts. One, I have no idea what just happened. Two, my parents are going to murder me. And three, that was a really great kiss.

    This is how I start dating Josh, the star of Bremerton High School's basketball team. He is tall, gorgeous, and solid muscle. I, however, am a scrawny choir nerd who would rather play video games. We aren't an obvious pair, but that makes things easier.

    Bremerton houses a massive naval base. "Don't Ask Don't Tell (DADT)" isn't just a law here, it's the culture. DADT allows individuals to serve their country, and protects them from harassment, as long as they hide their sexuality. Being "out of the closet" is not safe. Two young men in a relationship are easy targets for hate, so Josh makes it clear, "If you tell anyone, I will deny everything and beat the crap out of you."

    We stop saying hi in the halls, he goes on dates with cheerleaders, and I can only come over after dark. I am only worth affection behind closed doors. I need out.

    The following February I leave Bremerton to sing with the All-Northwest Honor Choir in Spokane. I meet some amazing people, and on Valentine's day text Josh, "I found someone else and I'll never have the same feelings for you again." It's harsh, but a stranger from Montana is my escape. I don't mind the eight-hour van ride home because I am free again.

    When we reach the school, my parents are waiting for me. I climb in the back seat and as soon as the car door shuts, my mom asks, "So who was that guy you were kissing?"

    "What guy?" I didn’t realize they had gone to see the concert.

    "We saw you." Thanks, dad.

    "Oh, that was Travis." Then quiet.

    After an eternity, the car parks outside our house. I grab my suitcase and sprint inside. Behind me my mother starts asking more questions. She touts the phrase, “We love you anyways” over and over again.

    She doesn’t understand why I’m upset, why I can’t look them in the eye. But how could she? As one youtuber puts it, "Heterosexuals haven't had to come out."

    It all boils down to the one question I never thought to ask, "Am I gay?"

    Instead of answering it, or any other questions my parents have, I lock myself in the bathroom. It is a long time before I am ready come out.
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