My stomach sank as my friend looked at me sympathetically.
"You know I love you," she started. "But…"
I sighed, already knowing the words that'd come next.
You'll lose your job, your friends... You'll never be accepted.
I ran my fingers through my shoulder-length hair and nodded sadly. Maybe my friends were right. I'd never be loved for who I was.
At birth, I'd been given the name Dave. But, at age 27, I came out as transgender to my loved ones. I'd grown out my hair and started wearing skirts around the house.
Sadly, the reaction hadn't been as supportive as I'd hoped. I'd always known I was different.
At school, I looked at the girls – not out of desire but because I was jealous of their pink, sparkly tops and flowy dresses. I wanted to wear them, too!
When I was 11, I hid in my bedroom, secretly cutting out the crotch in my shorts to make a skirt.
I didn't dare tell anyone how I felt. I saw the way the world laughed at people like me.
When I finally came out, decades later, I'd hoped for support. But nearly everyone said that if I lived as a woman, my life would be over. I was devastated.
So I tried to be masculine. I got tattoos, grew stubble on my face, did factory work and even married a woman.
On the outside, I looked like a typical Aussie bloke. But inside, I felt hollow.
By 37, I was so depressed, I only saw two options. You can come out to the world, I told myself, or you can end your life.
Nervous, I spoke to a few close friends and they all told me to do whatever would make me happy.
I told my wife what I was going through, and ended our marriage of five years.
Feeling empowered, I took to Facebook. I'm a transgender woman, I wrote. My name is Holly.
Amazingly, people started sending me kind messages.
A buff, macho man I'd trained with in mixed martial arts even commented.
We fought together as brothers, he wrote. Now we're brother and sister. I've got your back.
Tears welled in my eyes. Finally, I could be myself.
I started on hormone medications and also had gender confirmation surgery.
I was the happiest I'd ever been, but I wanted to see more acceptance from the wider community.
The annual Mardi Gras parade in Sydney made millions of LGBTQ people feel loved and accepted.
What if I could bring that to Wagga Wagga? I wondered.
I approached the local council and they gave me a grant for a pride parade.
Then businesses like Charles Sturt University and my employer, Tumut Freight Service, sponsored the event.
A few months later, we hosted the first Wagga Wagga Mardi Gras Festival and a whopping 15,000 people lined the streets, cheering as 900 people marched.
I was thrilled as I paraded past the crowd. Even in this small country town, love and acceptance could overcome hate and fear.
Afterwards, loads of people thanked me for organising the event.
One man, about 18, approached me nervously.
"This parade gave me the confidence to come out," he admitted.
Dozens of locals said the parade had made them feel accepted for the first time.
I still can't believe how much this town has embraced me, their local trans truck driver.
I thought I'd never be able to live as a woman. But the past four years have been the best of my life.
I want every LGBTQ kid to know that no matter how alone you feel, there's a community that will love you, exactly as you are.
I hid who I was for 37 years, but I'm proud to be a transgender woman, and I won't stay quiet anymore.
If you or someone you know is struggling to cope, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or visit their website.