I came out to my aunt over the phone the day after Christmas. I knew she would tell everyone else, so that made it easier. It was less dodging and more delegating, really. I considered doing it the day before during Christmas dinner because—why not? What better memory could a large, southern family from a small town in Alabama ask for? But after a dozen plates of food, listening to my uncle’s creative (to say the least) racial epithets and some pretty nice gifts (Egyptian cotton towels and a Crock-Pot), I never quite found just the right opportunity.

So, I made the call. I don’t have parents, so there was no need to stand on any kind of ceremony. I just told her and that was that. While holidays are sometimes lonely and childhood memories are bittersweet, it had been that way for me for a long time. I was very young when I learned that nowhere is it written that family will always love you, no matter what.

Several years earlier, I came out to my friends. That proved to be more difficult. I valued their opinions. I found my significance in their perceptions. I sought their advice. They were my family and I loved them. I spent many sleepless nights crying and agonizing over what to say, how to say it and when. For every one person who accepted me, there were two who turned their backs. Something inside me broke. I cut off everyone around me and refused to let anyone else in. I concluded, going forward, that I was the only one whom I could trust. I came to despise family-centric holidays while sullenly refusing invitations from friends to spend those days with them. I did not need people. I did not need friends. I did not need family.

There is a danger in putting faith in people who have not earned it. Unfortunately, the act of conception does not fulfill any kind of qualification. That validation only comes through time. Those who celebrate our victories and carry us through our trials, those people are our families. Placing faith in the wrong people, though can do some damage. It affected how I saw myself. I filtered my self-worth through them. I saw myself as unworthy, unlovable, and lost. It affected my relationships with other people. By the time I got around to telling my aunt I was gay, I was almost completely disconnected. I isolated myself and I was free, finally, but alone. I could not be happy living a lie, but I wasn’t happy living in my truth, either.

“The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb.” In other words, those people we trust – our comrades, our friends, the ones who hurt when we hurt, who won’t let us travel our dark paths alone – our bonds with them are much stronger than those of a group of people we just happen, by chance, to share DNA with.

We cannot allow ourselves to become disconnected. I had to learn that there are people who love me. I did have a family. And my childhood self, that sad little girl, was happy to learn that family will always love you. She just needed to learn what family meant.

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