“We tell ourselves stories in order to live…” I remember reading that recently in The White Album by Joan Didion. Immediately my head went into a spiral. I’ve always proudly lived by the idea that stories are how we live. How we understand each other, and ourselves. Suddenly it was like the world had shifted its axis. Everything turned upside down. Yes, we tell ourselves stories to live – the kind of stories that make people want to love harder and be heroes – but we also tell ourselves lies {lies told so well, they can become stories} in order to live. Lies in order to be loved. Lies in order to feel accepted. Lies to feel like we belong.

This is probably one of the hardest stories I’ve had to write. In fact, it’s not even really a story. It’s more of a letter. I’ve grown accustomed to hiding behind characters and plot lines to speak my own truth, avoiding sharing first hand what I’m actually feeling.

Before I was comfortable in my own identity, I did A LOT of pretending. I told myself this narrative that being bisexual wasn’t real or was “wrong” and I told it to myself so well that I believed it. What I didn’t realize was how damaging pretending was. How this toxic story I was telling myself was dictating my life to the point where I realized one day the life I was living didn’t feel like mine. That is why I choose to label myself; although there are times I wish we could live in a label-less world, society isn’t there yet. I noticed the more I spoke out about my experiences, the more other people spoke out too. The more I identified as bisexual, the more other friends felt comfortable to share they too were. Or even felt safe to explore their sexuality. That is the power of honesty in stories. And building community. The LGBTQ community has finally given me the chance to feel like I belong.

As a storyteller, that is why I feel this immense responsibility to create stories with diverse, LGBTQ characters that are authentic. I was tired of never seeing a “girl next door” who was like me. I was tired of seeing stereotypical LGBTQ characters whose only purpose were the comedic relief or plot twist. We relate to the protagonists we see on screen. Imagine never seeing anyone else like you? No wonder so many kids think loving someone can be wrong. Or living their truth isn’t an option. We need representation in stories to connect. To navigate. And inspire.

My love for the arts & storytelling led me to discover Free2Luv. I started working with them as an advocate when I was directing my first short film. I wanted to work with Free2Luv to reach younger kids, who may be struggling with their identity. Or feel like there’s no place for them in the world. There is power to giving someone the tools to create and share their story. I appreciate so much how the outreach program within Free2Luv empowers youth through the arts.

This letter is mainly for anyone out there who wakes up every day thinking they will never come out. I was you. I know how painful that feeling is and how the “it gets better” seems so far away. Sometimes too far away. But it really does. This is for anyone who feels alone. You are not. There are amazing organizations like Free2Luv out there, ready to provide support and resources. Remember, you have the right to be happy. To live your life to the fullest, authentically. And to tell YOUR story. Happy Pride month!

We invite you to join Ella and help us support LGBTQ youth. Together we can change lives.

Contributed by Free2Luv Advocate, filmmaker and activist, Ella Lentini @ella_lentini