This month, I’m attending my first LGBT Pride as an openly queer woman. It’s a strangely emotional experience.
Until last year, I thought I was straight. Because I always had gay friends, and because I’m open-minded, and because I’m a sociologist, I thought I understood what it must be like to be queer.
In one sense, I did know. I knew one queer experience: Being so ashamed of myself, and so threatened by my feelings, that I was so deep in the closet I didn’t even know it myself.
It’s amazing to me how effectively one can bury those feelings. Looking back now, I can spot exactly four times in my life I was attracted to a woman and I was aware of it. Once in junior high, three times my senior year of college.
Looking back, I can see many other times I had crushes on girls starting in sixth grade. But I never realized those feelings were crushes. I didn’t know what they were.
In the end, it wasn’t any same-sex attraction that helped me solve the mystery of my own identity. It was that I got upset when two women I knew married each other. I wondered why it bothered me, since I thought I wasn’t homophobic.
After months of chewing on it, an answer came to me from somewhere in my brain: “It’s not fair she gets to marry a woman and I don’t.”
At that time, at least consciously, I felt nothing for women. Not a thing.
I want to be the sort of person who confidently embraces my own identity, but I’m not yet. When you shove down your true feelings for three decades, you can’t simply retrieve them overnight.
Doing anything “gay” was — and is — scary. I don’t want to be seen hanging around outside a gay bar. I’ve finally gotten to the point where I am OK being inside the bar, but I don’t want to hang around outside it, in case anyone sees me.
I don’t know who I’m afraid will see me, but I can’t shake that fear. And I’m still too afraid of my own feelings for women to even dance with them, let alone date them.
What started to turn the tide was finding a community. I began hanging out with other queer women. I fit in, in a way I’ve never fit in with anyone before. I like them. And — often — I hear my own story come out of other women’s mouths. That’s an entirely new experience for me.
Going to Pride still scares me a bit. It’s going to be a weekend-long party with all of my new friends, and I can’t wait… but I’m still terrified of parading my true identity around in public for all the world to see.
I’m lucky. Every person in my life accepts me — including my parents, my landlord, and my employer. The person who doesn’t accept me is myself.
I thought LGBTQ+ Pride was needed to protest for our rights in a society that still doesn’t entirely accept us. But that’s only half the story.
Pride isn’t only needed to proclaim our identities and demand acceptance from the rest of the world (though it is that). We also need it to work toward acceptance of ourselves. It’s not just for those of us who are already out, but for others who aren’t yet out — perhaps not even to themselves.
Pride celebrates that when you’re ready, it’s OK to be who you really are, whoever you are.
OtherWords columnist Jill Richardson is the author of Recipe for America: Why Our Food System Is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It. Distributed by www.OtherWords.org.