As I was growing up, I had a difficult time socially. It wasn't easy for me to make friends. I was somewhat of an outcast- easily made fun of, left out of activities, and generally left feeling like an outsider. I grew up alongside people who made me feel like there was something inherently wrong with me. Who made me feel like it must be me who's all wrong, because no one wanted me or understood me.
This was even before I ever realized that I'm gay. Thinking back, I always knew that there was something different about me. Being unaccepted gives you that feeling, but with an added negative twist.
It's different now. I'm different now. A few years into college I discovered that there are people in this world who accept me the way I am. I made friends- friends who wanted me, who made me feel accepted. Some of them even understood my struggle with my sexual orientation before I understood it.
I've stopped believing that there is something wrong with me. I accept, of course, that I am different. Not only do I accept it, I embrace it. Because everyone is different. I just happened to grow up with people who did not understand that, who demanded conformity because they couldn't comprehend that being yourself is a good thing.
Sometimes, when I'm with my friends today, hanging out, watching a movie, eating dinner, talking and laughing at the Shabbos table- I pause. I stop everything I'm doing and just take stock. I think about the friends I have in my life, and I realize how grateful I am.
On Thanksgiving, my family doesn't go around the table and say out loud what we're all thankful for. So I'm doing it here. This year I'm thankful for my friends. My friends who love me and accept me the way I am, who want to know the real me and who help me keep my secret because they understand that I cannot yet show the real me to the world, who have taught me to explore who I am and love everything I find out about myself. This year, I am thankful for the people in my life who I can look at and say, "You are a friend."