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October 11, 2013It was well past midnight after a long, delayed flight to Florida. After having spent eight hours in an overcrowded airport, my partner Janice was about to meet my family for the first time. Worse, I could hardly put her fears to rest because my own nerves were getting the best of me. I’d never officially introduced anyone I’d been seeing to my father, stepmother, or sisters before. I was mentally preparing myself for awkward handshakes and embarrassing questions.   

But as soon as he saw us, my six-foot-tall father got out of the car and wrapped us both in a big bear hug. Nothing says “welcome to the family” quite like an embrace from a traditional Italian father. Most heterosexual couples would view this as a kind gesture; to us, this tender acknowledgement meant everything.

Four years ago, I couldn’t have imagined a world in which my family would see Janice and me as no different from my sister and her longtime boyfriend. Or one in which my 80-year-old grandmother would push me to get married before she is “no longer here” (her words), even though she knows very well that it won’t be to a nice Italian man.

My relatives have come a long way since extended family members outed me at age 20 after perusing my Facebook page. Surely, this is just a phase, they thought. How could a feminine woman whose favorite pastime is shopping possibly not like men? Thankfully, the trauma of coming out was cushioned by the recent progression of LGBT rights.

It’s much easier to feel comfortable in your own skin when Callie and Arizona are tying the knot on Grey’s Anatomy and the President takes a stand for marriage equality. The people I love quickly realized that who I date doesn’t dictate my interests, morals, or personality. My sexuality is a part of me, but it doesn’t define me. Just because I like girls doesn’t mean I’m two seconds away from chopping off my hair and moving to a vegan commune (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

Janice and I have also been fortunate enough to have the support of her family, though the road to acceptance has been rocky. For years, Janice’s parents believed that their having dressed her in her male cousin’s secondhand clothing as a young child had “turned” her gay. Today, they are supportive and proud.

Though we are lucky enough to have a strong support system and to live in an era in which support for LGBT rights has become mainstream, we’re still met with painful reminders of our otherness whenever we encounter mean-spirited stares or hear about hate crimes on the news. I never forget that I’m living freely and openly thanks to early pioneers of gay rights who sacrificed a great deal. But the progress I’ve seen in the last decade gives me hope that one day soon, every parent will welcome their LGBT children with open hearts (and maybe even a bear hug). Because when it comes down to it, my sexuality says as little about who I am as my hair or skin color. And in the age of marriage equality and shows like Modern Family, it really shouldn’t be a big deal at all.