LGBTQ+ Pride? It’s very complicated.
It’s Pride month. Which makes one pause for some reflection about identifying somewhere on that long-lettered spectrum. How having LGBTQ+ “pride” is very complicated.
And as this piece was writing itself in my head as I tried to fall asleep last night, and all the other nights, I worried this might be rambling prose that’s more cynical than inspiring, more sedate than celebratory. Warning: it might be cynical and rambling. Warning: I worry a lot.
But that’s LGBTQ+ Pride for me, 20 years in.
See, in my early years of coming out circa 2001 or so, I had lots of pride. I did the parades. I marched. I protested. I wore buttons and pins and…all the things.
And then, as I aged, I saw things about “Pride” through new lenses. Coming out as trans* when I was 34 really helped me realize that being LGBTQ+ and having pride in my identity is very complicated. It’s not just about parties and rainbows and rah-rah fist-pumping chants of “I love you” from allies.
And after writing quite a few (read: MANY) posts since 2009 on my blog and GoodMenProject and even here on Medium that had a more positive, empowered vibe, I thought I’d bright light to the shadowy aspects of LGBTQ+ Pride because…it’s complicated.
a feeling or deep pleasure or satisfaction derived from one’s own achievements, the achievements of those with whom one is closely associated, or from qualities or possessions that are widely admired.
Pride. For qualities or possessions that are widely admired.
Like how mainstream media amps up and sells the stereotypes of our lives to be consumed and confused for reality. So when we’re sitting at dinner or coffee with new heterocis friends or maybe exchanging messages on Match, we have to spend much (too much) of a conversation explaining ourselves and debunking myths or otherwise being “othered.” Even though there’s a little bit of truth in every stereotype, right? Our lives are exceptional even when we’re being ordinary and all the explaining in the world never feels like enough. There’s always one more person who “doesn’t get it” or “needs to know what it’s like” or “how it works.”
Whatever IT is. Our Sex. Our Children. Our Marriages. Our Bodies.
Like the businesses that support us/make a buck off our highly-publicized social stigmatization and cultural marginalization. We don’t come by it easy, kids! Let’s celebrate those lives lived on the sidelines of society by spending money on rainbow-colored things! Businesses being on the Pride bandwagon has become more of a thing with each passing year on social media. Is it support? Is it great that so many people show it? Maybe it’s just marketing.
“Come buy our rainbow sprinkled cookies! Sorry you still can’t use a bathroom in South Carolina or have your preferred gender marker on your birth certificate in New Jersey…wait, you can’t?! REALLY?! Wow. That sucks. But hope y’all come out for our Pride sale and buy our rainbow-themed things because WE LOVE YOU!”
Like when our heterocis friends come out and wave their flags at the parades or post and tag on on #socialmedia so everyone knows they are woke and cool and have queer friends. Because it’s important that people KNOW they have queer friends.
But the friendships are sometimes more about being paraded around like a precious item or being selectively tagged on Instagram now and then for anything related to being queer which is when they think of us.
And it’s less the kind of friendship that includes phone calls to make sure we have somewhere to be on a holiday if we’ve been orphaned or are just single and lonely and scared on an average Tuesday night. It’s less the kind of friendship where our favorite color or favorite ice cream or the last movie we saw or any other random thing about our normal everyday lives is as exciting or boring as our sexual identity.
Our friendships are complicated because, unlike their other friends, we’re “that” person to them. It’s the thing that defines us and how they describe us to their heterocis friends. And we know this when we hear them talk about other queer people they know. They don’t talk about a person’s job or weird habit of talking over people or how they prefer IPAs. They tell about our sexuality.
[actual conversations from life]
“My gay friend, Rob, is coming tonight.”
“My friend Dillan is joining me. He’s trans*. I can’t wait for you to meet him.”
“My ex’s new girlfriend’s kid is struggling with her identity and they are coming tonight. I hope you two really hit it off!”
“Oh Ben LOVES lesbians like our friend, Sam. He says lesbians are so cool.”
“My friend, Jane, is newly single and has a thing for trans* guys. You should meet her.”
Our relationships with our parents and family are complicated. They often have to choose between loving us or leaving us. Or having to advocate for us so we can use a bathroom on layover flights or drives on vacations in many American states. They have to defend us and fear for us and protect us or hide us or lie about us or avoid us or overcompensate for us or with us during conversations when we try to express ourselves and ask them to stop trying so hard.
We are something to accept. Or deny. Reject or embrace.
And it’s a choice to be made. Something to be decided. Or understood. Or explained. Unlike heterosexuality, which is never, ever as black and white as it’s believed to be.
And this sits on our chests, hairy or smooth or scarred as they are.
Our relationships to ourselves are complicated. We make daily decisions to walk or talk or hold our bodies in ways to blend in less or stand out more. We keep thoughts perched on our lips to make things easier on ourselves. Or we scream them aloud when we tire of saying them to our stuffed animals.
We wonder if who we are will ever be right or wrong or real enough.
Pride. Associated with satisfaction from one’s achievements.
Like successfully passing as female or male so the people at the bar where you work don’t harass you or wait for you outside after you clock out.
Like looking straight enough so your office colleagues won’t “wonder” about you.
Like concealing you’re bisexual or pansexual or asexual or demisexual because it’s still considered a “phase” or invalid or weird or insufficient or linked to something else to get over…even among other LGBTQ+ people.
Like getting a job as Director of the LGBTQ Office when your heterocis friends don’t even have that kind of position or title to strive for in their professional lives because there’s such a thing as being a professional gay but no such thing as being a professional straight. Not to say there isn’t a need. Seems like even straight folks can use help with sexuality issues. Dating and sex seem to confuse and/or frustrate everyone.
Like being yourself becomes an accomplishment. Even when it means you lose things that once mattered very much to you, be it your family or your face or your name or your job. And grieving all that loss isn’t understood because you chose it, didn’t you?
“Aren’t you “your real self” now?? You should just be positive since it was your choice.”
Coming out stories with happy endings are…often rare.
Coming out once means you do it…seemingly forever.
Coming out means there’s an “in” that heterocis people inhabit with relative ease, privilege and sometimes some ignorance that you envy on occasion.
Sometimes. Or quite often. Or maybe never. It can occur like a prison.
Does getting married make it better? Some kids thrown in for good measure? Do the lumps in our throats from the looks on the street ever leave for good?
Pride. From achievements associated of those with whom one is closely associated.
Some of us do great things and we celebrate vicariously when we win awards or gold medals. Or for some of us who plucked “accepting” parents from the lottery.
Some of us write books or make movies becoming the “celebrated LGBT+ author or filmmaker” of a certain span of time.
Some of us skillfully avoid ever coming out at all, mastering the art of deception until we die. It takes nerves of steel to hold out that long. Unrelenting in one’s tenacity to avoid disclosure.
Some of us walk the line forever. Straddling the fence, halfway out and in.
Some of us sexualize or tokenize or terrorize each other, individually and collectively. We reject a certain body type or we embrace a certain mindset even if it doesn’t serve us and we often generally inflict internalized oppression on one another because we’re rarely even aware of ourselves. We cause harm to our minds and bodies because others don’t validate or affirm us.
We take our own lives because don’t value ourselves.
Some of us spend our lives justifying our unrepentant anger, donning the socially-approved and celebrated title of Social Activist. We forever blame and shame, expecting others to shift or save us so we never have to sit quietly with ourselves in the solemn solitude of knowing only we can accept or change the ways things are. Sometimes we even shame other queers for being too assimilated and “part of the problem” that keeps us victimized. But victimization is an individual thing — confusing especially when everyone subscribes to the LGBTQ+ community being a thing.
The community is complicated. A wide-ranging collection of dissimilar individuals striving for comfort.
Calling each other out or in to the movement of the moment. Competing for resources and often crying and then calming ourselves and each other until it gets better.
And that feeling of deep pleasure or satisfaction from being just like all human beings in that sublime way, yet differently, makes LGBTQ+ pride very complicated.