I was nine when I happened upon a letter from my dad’s young lover, who later died from the effects that AIDS had on his frail body. I didn’t understand what I had read, only that this man signed off professing his love to my dad, who was married with three children.

It became my mission to discover the mystery involving this love affair, so naturally, I waited for my parents to leave the house before sneaking into their walk-in closet to uncover my father’s leather-bound journal.

In it, I found a treasure trove of secrets that I would carry with me for years to come.

I learned that my daddy had a second-grade crush on Jack followed by more sentiments involving males.

At such a young age, I didn’t understand the magnitude that this would have on my childhood. I was confused, devastated and overwhelmed.

It was all making sense to me now, the fact that mom and dad didn’t share a bed. Rather, mom slept on the couch for as long as I can remember while dad came home in the early morning to catch a few hours of sleep.

Dad spent very little time at home because much of it was consumed by work. A fair share of his time was devoted to various boyfriends while mom turned a blind eye. I am nearly 40 years old and I will never understand why.

Why was it then, that my mother and father chose to get married in a Catholic reception all those years ago? They were 19 when I was conceived, and my two younger brothers followed.

Why was it that he became a baptized convert to the LDS church and attended weekly meetings with our little family of five here in Utah? How could he be living so comfortably in what one believes to be a contrary lifestyle?

I remember being nervous to bring my boyfriends home because I thought he might love them more than he loved me.

I was in high school when I brought Brandon, a new friend I had met at school, home to meet my family. I could only assume that he was gay but he hadn’t yet admitted it. I didn’t care one way or another. I just knew we had developed a friendship that encompassed all that one should – laughter, fun and trust.

Now, I knew dad was gay. It had never been confirmed, nor was it talked about. But, my investigatory work solidified all that I needed it to.

The confirmation came when, a month before I got married at 18 years old, dad explained he and Brandon would be moving in together and that my parents were finally divorcing after 20 years of marriage. I was pissed.

I wasn’t upset because dad was gay, or that he was moving out with who started out as my friend or even the fact that Brandon was my age. I was hurt because they chose to move forward with their lives at a time that should have been focused around my wedding plans.

I got over it. Of course, it took some time as you would imagine, being the selfish and ignorant young girl that I was. He and I both shed a tear as he walked me down the aisle to marry the man who made me a mother four times over. As luck would have it (and I do say luck because I am stronger for it) he and I parted ways.

Looking back, I am grateful for the role my dad took in parenting me. He instilled in me the power of ambition, the significance of knowledge and a sensitivity to those that are not cookie-cutter molds of one another.

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Dad chose to live a good portion of his life in an unhappy marriage to a woman when he was internally tormented by his sexual orientation.

Today he and I have had our ups-and-downs, but we are deeply devoted and share our favorite recipes for chip dip and offer life advice full of encouragement.

I should note, I introduced him to his husband Nick (who, coincidently, is one year younger than me) at Utah Pride in 2010. I love them both dearly and am proud to say I have two wonderfully handsome, genuinely good human beings to call “dad.”

Growing up with a gay dad had its struggles.

Kids can be mean. Hell, adults can be heartless. I got teased for having a “fag dad.” As I got older, I cultivated empathy for not only dad but also those around me.

I realized how difficult it must have been for him to live in hiding because back then, the LGBTQ lifestyle wasn’t nearly as acceptable as it is now.

The person I am today was shaped by my experiences as a child. I find it difficult to lock myself into a box of what society considers suitable. Who are they to tell me how I should live my life just so long as I am a worthy individual.

I am a mother, a daughter, a friend, a student, an employee, a human. I am me.

Happiness should be obtainable regardless. If fluidity is key to life, why then is it not part of who we are in terms of relationships?

Nearly eight years ago, I met Megan at a mutual friends Christmas party. She and I have been inseparable ever since. It didn’t take long for her to move in with me and become a part of our family.

She loves my kids as though she bore them herself, and they look to her as a parental figure. Well, as much as a teenager regards any adult.

Meg looks like the stereotypical “soft-butch.” She has short, platinum-blond hair styled in a faux hawk. She and my boys share clothes because she wouldn’t be caught dead in a woman’s wardrobe. She and I do, however, share mascara!

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Megan is a huge part of my world and makes me want to be a better person. Together, we have experienced more than most – from the syncing of our cycles to the loss of my daughter. She was the first to perform CPR on my little girl, who simply stopped breathing while on a camping trip.

She rallied our little family and ensured we remained strong in unity and that we smiled through our tears.

It is for these reasons and so many more (the conventional reasons that people choose to spend their time together) that I can’t imagine spending my life with anyone else. For she and I have a bond that few people will ever understand.

She is my “person.”

Hatred has been spewed our way. We have both lost family members and friends because they refuse to acknowledge us as individuals.

Here’s the thing – no one knows who we are. Most assume that we are a couple. But are we? I will let you decide because I stopped placing categories on myself long ago. I refuse to allow labels to rule my world and dictate who I am.

I was not born gay. I was not bred gay. I was not born white, religious or female.

I was born human.

Those characteristics though they may be a part of who I am, certainly do not, nor will they ever be more essential than the simple fact that I was born with a soul and as such, I deserve to be treated with respect.

Do not lock me in a box.

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