Recently, I attended my first PRIDE event, the local PRIDE Festival that is now in its eighth year. I’d been thinking about attending all week, but with the Supreme Court’s historic decision to legalize same-sex marriage across the US, I knew I had to attend. I wanted to do something to show my support for the community, to try to actually be a part of the community, and to celebrate SCOTUS’ decision with the community.
Although I’ve dated and been in love with my girlfriend for about seven years now, I still have trouble reconciling myself as a member of the queer community. Perhaps it’s because I’ve never liked labels and prefer to just be myself, whatever that may be. Perhaps it’s because for most of my life I’ve “passed” as heteronormative/thought of myself as heteronormative. Perhaps it’s because I never grew up feeling persecuted for my orientation and don’t have the common experiences that bind together the queer community. Perhaps it’s because I still feel as though I’m straight and have simply fallen in love with a girl. Perhaps it’s because I’ve never dated much (read: “at all). Perhaps it’s because I grew up in Texas, which to this day does not have the most friendly or accepting attitude towards members of the queer community. Perhaps it’s because I grew up in the ‘90s and early thousands when the queer community was in hiding and a joke and to be queer was a fate worse than death. There are so many “perhap’s.”
Whatever the reason (and I’m sure it’s variegated and psychologically interesting), the fact is that I don’t necessarily think of myself as part of the visual queer community. Individuals and issues, sure, I’m right in line, but the more visual section that includes PRIDE festivals and parades, alternative hairstyles and make-up choices, and pageantry and pomp just aren’t my thing. Part of it is that I just don’t like attention. I enjoy praise and want to make my opinions and creations known (you are reading my blog), but I don’t want attention. Another part is that for many years I didn’t understand the need for parts of the queer community to want to develop their own sub-culture with their own speech patterns, dress, and actions. I’ve never understood the stereotypes that depict gay men as a certain way, lesbians as another way, and transgenders as a third. As I’ve grown and learned more about the community and other marginalized ones, I’ve come to realize that this pushback is important for oppressed groups. It’s a way of creating a safe, inviolable space that can help people relax, be themselves, share their past traumas, and find supportive networks. Since being queer isn’t as visible as being black or a little person or an immigrant (or etc., etc., etc.), the queer community needed to develop something visible to show the world they existed, they loved themselves, they will support themselves, and that others are welcome. It’s an important movement, and one that I’m glad exists, but I’m still not sure if I have a place in it.
As what it means to be queer has grown and changed, I’ve begun to find my place in the community. Comics like these two from cartoonist Erika Moen have helped me understand how okay it is to question your sexuality and place in the community. Web sites like this one from the Asexual Visibility & Education Network (AVEN) have helped me find a community of my own. Even Tumblr, despite its histrionic and toxic elements, has been invaluable in learning who I am and how I express myself. I try to take minor risks like speaking openly about my support of the community and my girlfriend, even to the kids and elderly that I work with. It is a slow, sometimes embarrassing process, but I am getting there.
However, I’d never attended a PRIDE event before. Yes, I’d gone to drag shows and queer bars, but I’d never attended a festival or parade. I’ve seen pictures, usually of people energetically waving rainbow flags and drag kings and queens dancing in the street. I’ve seen this amazing picture of Sir Ian McKellan going under the name “Serena McKellen.” But I’ve never gone and I wanted to. So with girlfriend and friend in tow, I went.
The event was both disappointing and a relief. The disappointing aspect was that there wasn’t much to do at it, there wasn’t a parade, and the organizers weren’t as energetic, upbeat, and hands-on as they really should have been. It was pretty much like any other street fair I’d been to but with a lot more rainbow flags and a few more drag queens. Arguably the best part of the day was when one of the organizers, a very energetic and vocal man, got up to announce the Adult Prom they were doing for, “All of you who, ten years ago, didn’t know they could take whoever they wanted to prom and celebrate who they love, this is for you!” He also went on to talk about the Supreme Court’s decision and what it meant, and the crowd cheered and cheered and cheered. It was wonderful.
The flip side is how comfortable I and hundreds of other people felt being with our partners and being ourselves. Recently, I’ve begun to pay attention to the couples I see when my girlfriend and I are out. I scour the many clasped hands, giddy kisses, and small touches to find same-sex couples, but I almost never do. At the PRIDE Festival, that was almost all I saw. Overwhelmingly, the couples were either same-sex or queer. I loved getting to see the two men with matching man-buns leaning against each other. I loved seeing the elderly transgender couple in bright lipstick and hair dye laughing and touching each other. I loved the black gay couple that protected a shivering puppy in their coat and took pictures. I loved the casual assurance of the two girls holding hands as they walked down the street. I loved the young transwoman who had gotten all dressed up today, perhaps for the first time ever, and looked so beautiful. It was so nice to see, and it filled and soothed a part of me I hadn’t known was aching.
Given the relative disappointment of the event itself, I don’t know if I’ll attend it again next year (I just don’t see the point in attending boring events.). But I’d like to begin exploring more queer-friendly spaces. I’d like to tap into that community more. I’d like to see people relaxed in a safe space. And I’d like to get more comfortable with myself as a queer person. After more than seven years struggling to figure out who and what I am, I’m finally ready to go out and explore. It’s a relief.