As I’m approaching 40 years of age something my father had told me keeps coming up, it used to terrify and scare me; but now every time I think of it I get a feeling of achievement and self-improvement.

“You won’t make it till you’re 40, you’ll either die of AIDS or people will kill you cause you’re gay”

Still got a year and I’m not afraid of the stigma of HIV in my community and I’m definitely not afraid of those who tried to change who I am.

Growing up in the 80s realizing you like boys can be difficult, growing up in a greek patriarchal family is a whole other level of difficulty. Having to realize, accept and explore your sexuality without normal representation of queer people on TV and while the internet wasn’t invented was challenging and one of the first emotions I felt was shame. It was dark and for many years I felt I either had to become “normal” or kill myself, but little by little, day by day it got better, I couldn’t tell back then but self-preservation kicked in, and was spared the last minute to begin my self-improvement. That needs a village and by village I mean a big chosen family that redefined what love is, cause the contrary to what my father always told me, their love is absolutely unconditional; there are no expectations of you becoming successful and creating a family, there’s just mutual respect and boundaries created to let each other grow. The head of that village though, and the person whom respect and validation I always seek is myself, cause as miss RuPaul has famously said “if you can’t love yourself how the hell you’re gonna love somebody else” and boy do I have a lot of love to give! Just loving who you want to love or becoming who you wanna be is the most powerful thing that can bring down patriarchy, creating your own happy future is the manifestation of self-determination, the middle finger to those that expect you to become what they want instead of creating your own unique self.

Everyone in this world has a story that shaped them, but I’ve realized that the core of these stories is pretty much the same. We’ve all struggled with acceptance, the need for approval, body image, and discomfort while getting no validation for your struggle because you have to be strong. The more I talk about my trauma, the more I heal but most importantly the more we feel that we’re not alone. The trauma is a collective baby and we’re all survivors! Learn how to be strong enough to overcome every difficulty, every struggle, and never let yourself close up to protect yourself from harm cause you’re missing on life. We gotta let the struggles shape us and teach us. Celebrate your imperfections, go to your mirror naked and give your lush figure a compliment no matter how awkward it feels after a while you’ll love your body more. Learn how to leave with that voices telling you “You’re not good enough” and prove them wrong.

I matured into the person I’ve never thought I could be, found a way to forgive my father and demand his respect for me while making it apparent that I don’t need it, and loved my imperfect body enough to let Kris take my pictures somewhere where I’m the happiest, left my fear of overexposure behind to let him publish them.