Every year, Pride Month rolls around in June, and I ask myself, “What does Pride mean to me?”
This year, the question feels especially urgent, in light of the horrifying anti-queer and anti-trans laws being passed in states all around this country, laws that seek to shame us and send us back into the closet or make us flee their borders.
When I was six years old, I knew I was different. I didn’t have a name for it at that age – back in the mid seventies in a small town like Tucson, “gay” wasn’t a word you ever encountered in polite conversation, and certainly not one you would use around a small child like me.
There were other words, though, words that were thrown around with abandon (and often the special venom reserved only for the most horrible of things).
Once I discovered what being gay was, I stayed deep in the closet for years. Some kids teased me in school – it was especially bad in seventh grade – but more for being the scrawny unathletic kid who was often the teacher’s pet.
Still, I made it through (relatively) unscathed, and in 1992 I met Mark, the love of my life (and my husband). And when I finally came out to everyone else – family and friends – I learned what Pride meant for the first time.
If you’ve never come out, it’s hard to explain how this feels. Imagine as a small kid, you are handed a sack and told to carry it over your shoulder. As you grow up, people approach you, each one putting a stone in your bag. They are labeled “sissy,” “f@gg@t,” “disappointment,” “weakling,” “shame,” “disgusting,” and many other words besides.
Friends, family, people on the street – everyone feels entitled to add one, and if you protest, you’re told it’s your fault, that this is the burden you have to bear. Sometimes they don’t even realize they’ve done it. And your shoulders slowly sag under the weight.
Sometimes, in the dark at night, or alone with a close friend, you’re allowed to put down the sack for a few minutes to catch your breath. You treasure these stolen moments, but in the morning, you know you will have to pick it up again.
And then one day, someone tells you the secret.
You don’t have to carry all that weight. Those stones aren’t yours – they belong to the people who gave them to you. They are not yours to carry.
You can set down the sack and leave it behind, and you can do it right now.
When you finally let it go, the whole world changes, as the weight you’ve been carrying around for so long is suddenly just gone.
That’s what Pride is.
That unexpected clarity of mind, that startling revelation that we are exactly what we were made to be. That the part of our lives that was used to shame us is actually the thing that makes us beautiful, if we only are brave enough to let it enfold us.
That’s what Pride was for me, the first time I felt it.
Over the years, its meaning has shifted. For a while, it was the marvelous feeling of being surrounded by people like me, of being the majority in our own little world for an afternoon or a day.
Later on, it was the Pride of the struggle for our rights, the long, pitched battle to make the world see we were beautiful, we were worthy, we would no longer be denied.
There was the Pride I felt when all of our community’s hard work finally paid off – when I married my husband in 2008, and seven years later when the Supreme Court told all the world it was true. The day we marched hand in hand, two married men, wrapped in the love of hundreds of thousands of people lining the streets for San Francisco Pride.
So what does Pride mean to me now?
This weekend, our local LGBTQ+ authors group the Queer Sacramento Authors’ Collective had a book sales booth at Sacramento Pride. As people approached the booth in waves looking for books that reflected their love, lives, and experiences, I felt at home. Alive. Engaged.
Mark said I was in my element, and he was right. Not just as a writer, but as a proud gay man who no longer carries the weight of other people’s expectations about who and what I am.
Pride is living as my best self among people who love and appreciate me, not in spite of the fact that I am gay, but because of it. Pride has made me a stronger, happier, more compassionate person than I would have been without it.
Pride (right now) is my life.
What is Pride to you?