Saint-Petersburg, Russia (1988)
My photo shows me doing my first drag performance, as my silly 'Auntie Valya' who lost her reading glasses, while they were always on her forehead.
But then puberty hit and my classmates no longer thought I was that fun to hang around with anymore.
In fact, the bullies tortured me for years on a daily basis. But I survived, and that still amazes me at times.
I eventually ran away from my home country of Russia to find freedom and safety in the USA.
At age 15, I died my hair red. Then green, blue, and pink.
I came out to my mom when I was only 16. Twelve years later, she is still struggling to accept my "life choices." We speak to each other now, but not often.
My father has never been around, and he left for good when I was 12. We never shared any bonds, and he always treated me as if I was some kind of some foreign exchange student living in his house.
I've struggled all these years to overcome anxiety and depression which stems directly from the years of bullying and living in a viciously homophobic Russia.
I have lived in the United States for 8 years now. I will become a citizen this year, provided everything gets done on time. Being gay is still a work in progress for me.
But I am doing better - and feeling better - than I have ever felt before.
Click here - "Born This Way: Real Stories of Growing Up Gay" book
Click here - "My First Gay Crush Blog"