My Personal Pride Story
The first sign that I was different came when I was 10, at my friend’s house for a sleepover. All of the girls turned the lights off and got very giggly and started whispering boys’ names. I was confused. I kept asking questions like “Chris? Who is Chris?” But all of my friends were focused on the girl who had admitted she liked this Chris person. The girl next to me in our girl huddle exclaimed “He’s so cute!” But when I asked her what Chris looked like, and if we even had a Chris in our class, she just shrugged. This process of girls saying boys’ names, giggling, and complimenting that boy’s appearance even if you didn’t know him, went on for what felt like forever. The entire episode made no sense to me.
In middle school, what used to be a silly little game to my friends got serious. My wake up call came when I saw two kids making out in the halls at school. I had no idea what was up with all these girls falling over boys and all this kissing, which I honestly thought no one did until after marriage. So I believed that I had to start where everyone else had started: picking a random boy’s name and telling people he was attractive.
When I look back at myself now, I cringe, but I guess I can claim that I faked having a crush on some poor kid named Jimmy very, very well. I told all my friends things like “his ears are beautiful” (I’m not kidding, those words came out of my mouth) and through the thriving grapevine eventually most people became aware that I liked him. Everyone accepted it as fact without question, and I slowly learned to incorporate little quirks into my life, like staring at him and acting nervous when I talked to him. I’m sure it was a hilarious act to those who saw right through the disguise I built, trying to fit in with all the other girls. I don’t think I even realized that I was all that different from other girls, since their crushes seemed so superficial that I couldn’t tell the difference between their actions and mine.
The first week of high school changed my life. It was a whirlwind of band practices and harder homework and hundreds of new faces, and I was completely lost in what felt like a world with new extra dimensions. The definition of girl had changed, from just liking boys to actually hooking up with them, going places in their cars, and all sorts of scary new concepts. My pretend-crush Jimmy didn’t go to the same school as me, and I searched desperately for a new boy so that I could reconstruct what little feminine identity I had in middle school. But inside me there was a growing terror that I wouldn’t be able to pull it off anymore, that I would never get in a strange boy’s car and do things with him in the dark, and so I couldn’t be a girl anymore.
The moment when my life really started was at band practice, during some silly icebreaker games. I was terrified that everyone could see how vulnerable I felt, and all I wanted to do was crawl under a rock and hide from real people and their stereotypes and expectations. We were playing a game that involved getting into pairs over and over, and at one point I found the winds of change pushed me into a pair with a girl named Lauren. She looked at me and said “hey,” and suddenly, it clicked. I looked into her eyes and noticed that they were warm and friendly and also quite pretty. I looked at her skin and noticed that it glowed in a way that no one else’s skin ever did. Most importantly, I heard empathy, for the first time, in her voice; she knew how I felt and why and she was right there with me in the struggle against heteronormative femininity. I believed with all my heart that Lauren’s “hey” meant that she didn’t judge me for who I really was…gay. In that moment, my life was transformed from “me against the world” to “me and Lauren against the world,” and even though I was shocked by this revelation of homosexuality, I felt overwhelming joy above all else, because this was the first moment when I truly identified with someone else. for the first time, I felt safe.
Now, I am a patchwork of many identities, and I feel more comfortable with my niche in the world since finding the LGBTQ+ community and its allies. When I say “I’m proud to be gay,” I think not of the pride parades, or marriage equality, or even my current girl crushes (which are much more than real than poor Jimmy). Instead, I’m remembering the pride I felt when I stood alongside Lauren and realized that my identity is who I am, and not just what the world wants me to be.