New York, New York (1997)
Growing up in an immigrant family from Russia, I was everything that nice immigrant children weren't supposed to be: outgoing, chatty and not interested in becoming a doctor. I can't recall sensing I might be gay, but I definitely recall having crushes or "falling in love" with different women in my life: the third grade teacher whose class I wanted to be in, the friend I always wanted to stand next to in ballet class, and the blonde camp counselor who always left me speechless.
I even told her that a guy friend liked her, just so she would call me to talk about it.
As I got older, I definitely knew that girls interested me in a way that guys never did.
Despite the feelings that I developed for girls, I never truly thought I was gay.
Because that just didn't happen in Russian families, and I knew there was no way that could happen in my family, or in my culture.
When I finally entered my first relationship with a girl at age 20, I couldn't even acknowledge that same-sex attractions were normal for me. But I soon had an epiphany and I just knew. And it felt so wonderful to understand myself in a way that I never had before: I am gay.
And I felt so light, as if I could fly. My life made sense for the first time. I told my closest friends and we just laughed about it. My friends treated me the way my parents should have.
My parents will never be happy that their daughter is gay, but they have come a long way in a few years. I know they love me, and our relationship has grown significantly since I first told them. I'm learning to forgive them for their initial reactions, which were less than kind.
I recently came out to my two male cousins and my grandmother, who is my biggest ally. They were both super supportive. One cousin, a health freak, said,
"As long as you don't eat dairy or gluten, I don't care."
I've always known that I was extremely lucky to have been brought to America at a young age, but that feeling has never been stronger than it is now. I'm thankful that I am thousands of miles away from Russia's virulent, violent homophobia.
And my heart breaks for the Russian LGBT community today that suffers at the hands of its government and their intolerant citizens every day.
Click here - "Born This Way: Real Stories of Growing Up Gay" book
Click here - "My First Gay Crush Blog"