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I’ll never forget my moment.

Bracing myself against both sides of my bathroom sink as I scrutinized something significantly deeper than my own reflection, I finally whispered aloud my first truly honest thought about my own sexual orientation.

You see, I’ve never wanted to be anything other than straight.

Since I was eleven years old, I’ve been desperate to only be attracted to those of the opposite sex. I’ve masked and obscured any feeling I’ve ever felt that threatened my place within the realm of what I’ve been coached is both normal and acceptable.

Several months ago, I was finally forced to an edge where I couldn’t pretend any longer. The act of pretending had pushed me continually deeper into life-threatening depression, and it was time to figure out how to admit my own secrets to the world, and far more importantly, how to admit them to the one person who could never be at peace until I did.

To do so became my only option if I ever wanted to be authentically happy, if I ever wanted to be authentically intimate with another, or if I ever wanted to finally stop existing as a fake.

And so, I’ll just say it.

I’m not straight.

Those words are by far the most difficult words I’ve ever typed, and I know they’ll be far more difficult to share.

A very small handful of people whom I trust most know my secret now, and all of them only learned it in the last few months. Their love has been unconditional.

But love is not unconditional coming from every person. We all know that.

Guidelines for acceptable sexuality have been drilled into me my entire life, and the mandate has always been clear. Being anything other than straight will never be tolerable, at least not with the vast majority of the people in my family and in my community.

That damned mandate.

The one that tells us we are to claim love, but we are to never actually love those who we have been told are unacceptably different.

A few months ago, I used an admittedly effeminate hand gesture at family dinner. I naturally use it all the time, only this time it was shortly after the emotional shift toward coming out had started to happen within me.

My brother saw me do it. He laughed uncomfortably and then all too seriously said, “please tell me you’re still straight.”

There are many that have worried about my sexuality for a long time now. And the way he said it, I intrinsically knew that to be anything other than straight might do great damage to something between us. I just laughed it off. I wasn’t ready to tell him yet. I couldn’t tell him yet.

Dear God, please don’t let me be anything other than straight.

The thought pierced me then perhaps more than ever before, though I’ve struggled against the current of such thoughts thousands of times over the past 21 years.

Since that moment, I have been particularly sensitive and observational of such statements being made by others. My heart wants to tune them all out. My mind tries to absorb every one of them. It’s been a never-ending tug of war between the part of me that wants to maintain the love and admiration of those around me and the part of me that franticly seeks freedom to finally be who I have always dreaded that I am.

“I can’t stand fags,” a friend said so nonchalantly at game night one Friday evening. He then listed his reasons for his revulsion and the table got lost in jubilant conversation about how many gays there are where we live nowadays. Many thoughtless and vicious jokes were made within the group, all proceeded by raucous laughter. I laughed at some of them too so they wouldn’t suspect the truth that was melting me.

Dear God, please don’t let me be anything other than straight.

I brought a woman to a social event. I really liked this woman. I was very attracted to her. You see, I’m attracted to men, but I’m also very much attracted to women. Some friends we were with began joking about how we were all probably secretly bisexual. She turned to me and laughed, “there is no way I would ever date someone who was like that.” My heart bore its way into my stomach, and I did my best to maneuver the discussion elsewhere.

Dear God, please don’t let me be anything other than straight.

I was at dinner with some close friends. “I’m pretty sure those guys over there are gay,” one of them said, motioning to two men who were laughing together at another table. “It’s so weird and unnatural and I don’t think I’ll ever understand how people can be like that.” I assured them I didn’t understand it either.

Dear God, please don’t let me be anything other than straight.

Someone in my family told me that if any of the people in her family were ever gay, their partners or lovers would never be welcome in her home. “I will not support immorality,” she angrily said. I argued with her about how damaging and hurtful such statements could be.

Dear God, if there is a God, please, please, please don’t let me be anything other than straight.

For twenty-one years, I have said that prayer.

For twenty-one years, I have been paralyzed by the fear of what this society will do with me if they ever were to know of the thoughts that I continually push away. For more than two decades, I have made a choice to be straight. After all, it’s as easy as making a choice, isn’t it? This culture has made sure that I know that. Anyone who is anything other than straight was just someone deceived by the devil. He is unnatural. He is confused. He is mistaken. He is weak. He can control it if he desires to control it. Such a compelling and ongoing argument has been made that I have always trusted it.

I believed that if I hid it long enough, and ran from it long enough, and refused to acknowledge it for long enough, I could indeed succeed at living up to their decrees. I believed that I could force myself to never be anything else.

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Dan Pearce is an American born writer, photographer, and artist. His books include "The All-Important, Well-Fed, Giant White Man" and "The Real Dad Rules." He is best known for his blog (and supporting Facebook page) "Single Dad Laughing," with 2 million followers as of 2018.