I began June not with celebration, but with tears. “Happy” Pride, right? Who the fuck thought I would be watching a TV show with a character who was wearing overalls and I would absolutely breakdown in tears? And now, I’m alternating between writing and ugly crying. And the makeup I put on earlier today is a mess all over my face. But that’s where we are right now. We’re heading into June and I’m finally crying. It’s time. This year, Pride is for tears. Or at least, for me, the right way to kick off Pride Month this year is with tears.
These are tears I’ve been holding back since April, when my ex-girlfriend was “murdered by metastatic breast cancer.” (Her words, not mine.)
Pride is for… Remembering
Why am I crying over my ex from almost 30 years ago? And WTF do overalls have to do with it? Well. We were together when she was in her early thirties and I was in my early twenties. We were just at different places in our lives. And so, in spite–and also because–of the fact that we loved each other, she let me go. Meaning she broke up with me, so that I could grow. So that we could both grow. Years later, after all the pain of breaking up, all the anger that was felt, she was brave enough to look beyond the hurt and reach out. So that we could be part of each other’s lives again, as friends.
And the overalls? I was wearing overalls the day I met her. And not long before she died, she still reminisced about how hot I looked in overalls, and how she had to buy herself a pair after seeing me wearing them.
Pride is for… Going Back in the Closet
As I sat in bed crying, I was grateful that it was the middle of the night. That the hallways outside my room were empty, and no one around me would hear. Don’t get me wrong, I do want to talk about the death of my ex. About the grief and anger and regret. But here, in a rehab hospital that’s run by conservative Christians? I can’t be sure that it’s safe to talk about it honestly. To talk about it without having to watch my language, change pronouns, or mischaracterize the relationship. So I’m not talking. I’ve gone back into hiding. I’m more closeted now than I have been in about three decades. And it hurts.
Like many queer people, since I made the choice to come out nearly three decades ago, I’ve been able to choose how and when to come out to different people. Friends, family, roommates, colleagues. Each gives different clues as to whether it’s safe and each requires a different kind of conversation. Sometimes it’s glaringly obvious like when I worked for an AIDS service organization doing HIV prevention and testing.
Half of my department was queer, along with plenty of other people who worked for us. I couldn’t imagine not being out while I worked there. On the other hand, when I was working a retail management job, I was much more selective about how out I was. It wasn’t an environment where being out was safe. It could have seriously damaged relationships with some of my colleagues. It definitely could have limited my advancement opportunities. I made careful choices about who to be out to, and when to come out. And I’ve worked jobs where it wasn’t safe to be out at all, too.
When you Don’t Have a Space that’s Yours
Whatever my situation has been, though, I’ve always had real life spaces where I could actually be out. Places where I could connect, face to face with other queer people, and be my authentic self. Even when it’s just been going home and spending time with a partner, there’s been somewhere safe. Where I could go and spend time with people; where I didn’t have to watch my language or switch pronouns; or worry about finding the balance between saying enough to satisfy the requirements of small talk and not outing myself by talking about my real life. I got to just exist.
It’s just one more thing that makes me wonder what there is to celebrate this year.
Because right here, right now, in 2023, not only am I stuck in a place where I can’t be sure it’s okay to talk about my whole life, I’ve also lost my real-life safe spaces where I can connect with other queer people. I’m dealing with that against a background of grieving a tremendous loss. We’ve just finished Mental Health Awareness Month, where I should have been able to really talk about things, to really deal with the grief in a very open way, and instead, I spent more energy on hiding the grief than processing it. My coping-energy went to burying big pieces of who I am.
The Closet is Bad for your Mental Health
That’s not the way to deal with mental health. That’s not the way I want to exist. Ever. I’m doing it now for my own safety. To preserve the quality of medical care that I’m getting. Especially now that the Florida governor has signed a “License to Discriminate” bill that would allow health care providers to deny care based on religious, moral or ethical beliefs.
The law is written so broadly that it would allow any provider (insurance company, physician, nurse, ambulance, etc. to deny care to anyone–women, queer people, people of color, for just about any reason, and to not have to provide a referral to a care provider who will provide care. Obviously this puts things like gender affirming care at risk, but it also means that a doctor could deny care to a woman seeking contraception because it might prevent babies. Or because she’s not married and having sex. Or to me for any number of reasons.
I keep going by reminding myself that this situation, this time in rehab is temporary, but I’ve been here long enough to gestate an entire human, and the closet is harder and harder to deal with. I’m worn out by just existing. And I miss my life outside of rehab, too.
Pride is for… Counting our Wins and Losses
I’ve been at this rehab facility since August, and it’s June now. We’ve arrived at Pride Month. And for the first time in years, it truly feels a little bit like we can celebrate Pride Month as a community, the way we did before 2020. All of us, I mean–now that COVID is receding. Well. Most of us. People with comorbidities like me still feel excluded, but that’s another story, and one I’ve told elsewhere. It’s a special year, too. It’s been fifty years since the APA decided that homosexuality isn’t a mental illness. Something extra to celebrate.
500+ Anti-LGBTQ+ Bills in State Legislatures Across the Country
But I’m wondering. With my current circumstances forcing me back into the closet and over five hundred anti-lgbtq bills pending in state legislatures now, what am I actually celebrating this Pride Month? We’re in a situation where we have places declaring themselves sanctuary cities or passing legislation making themselves sanctuary states. People are seeking sanctuary from their own elected governments in their home states.
And this is happening in a world where GLAAD’s (the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) 2023 Accelerating Acceptance Report tells us that:
- 84% of Americans believe in equal rights for Americans.
- A 91% supermajority of non-LGBTQ Americans agree that LGBTQ people should have the freedom to live their life and not be discriminated against.
- A 96% supermajority of non-LGBTQ Americans agree that schools should be a safe and accepting place for all youth.
(The Accelerating Acceptance Report is an annual report based on polling and research that gauges the state of Americans’ hearts and minds about accepting LGBTQ+ people.)
… Working through a Lot of Feelings
I know that last year Pride Month was difficult for me because I was working through a lot of feelings about being disabled. Stuff I’d been avoiding for a long time. I was angry and frustrated at the lack of accessibility at many Pride events, And I was filled with all the queer rage that 2022 deserved. But it felt like there were a few small victories. There was news about places around the world banning conversion therapy. Alabama’s Vulnerable Child Compassion and Protection Act had been stayed by a judge. I actually had a little bit of hope. So it’s complicated. But it’s always been complicated.
This year, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how it felt when I first started going to Pride. How it felt to finally be able to share something that had been a painful secret for a long time. How much connecting with such a huge community mattered. Pride felt joyful. It felt like we were able to celebrate something. Grief was still a small part of it. AIDS was still a major issue. The entire parade, all of the spectators, stopped for a moment of silence to remember those who were lost to AIDS. That still happens in 2023. There were still clusters of homophobes here and there along the parade route. That’s never going to stop.
… Remembering the AIDS Epidemic
But back then, the shadow of AIDS was still part of the celebration. The homophobes?” It didn’t feel like they mattered in the same way they do now. It didn’t feel like the world was collapsing. Like the entire world was trying to put an end to queer people. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell passed. And people recognized that it was flawed in so many ways, but it felt like a little bit of progres. There was a lot of movement on civil unions and marriage equality.
Again, not perfect, for a lot of reasons. Civil unions are not the same as marriage and substituting them for full marriage equality still denied rights to couples. And put queer relationships into a heteronormative framework. But it felt like there was something to look forward to. Like these incremental changes were eventually going to get us to a place where love actually is love, and is accepted as such no matter what form it takes.
Pride is for… Fighting Back
But now? With homophobes and transphobes having much larger platforms? With so much more anti-queer legislation everywhere? It feels like there’s nothing to celebrate. Everybody talks about celebrating Pride. Celebrating. Like we’ve arrived. The original point of Pride– honoring the riot against bigoted cops and the bigoted system they defend–seems to be forgotten. The first Pride March wasn’t called Pride. It was the Christopher Street Liberation Day March. It was about honoring the intention of the people who had rioted at Stonewall the year before. About continuing the fight for LGBTQ+ rights. It was not about partying. But I understand why people want to “celebrate” Pride and not feel like it has to be a fight. Because I want that, too.
Right now, I want Pride Month to be about Pride and liberation again. Not about grief and struggle and fear.
…And Taking what’s Rightfully Ours
I want to feel like I’m back in a place where I can celebrate Pride. Really celebrate. To be able to honor the origins of Pride but also how far we’ve come. There will always be battles to fight. Human rights are never given; always won. But you know what? One of the things that I’ve always taken away from celebrating Pride is the energy to keep fighting. I get to see the people who were in this fight before me. And the ones who have benefited from all of us who have been fighting the fight.
I don’t just want to celebrate Pride in the streets either. I want to be able to make it a part of every day and just… elevate it a little in June. If the personal is political then at least some of what that means is making this into a world where I’m not switching pronouns or hiding grief or afraid of what might happen if someone finds out that I’m queer. I need Pride month for renewal, not sadness. And I think this year, I need it a little more than usual.
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