Finding Pride, losing it, then finding it again

By Mikayla

When I say I only knew of one gay person growing up, I’m not exaggerating. It’s not that I was sheltered, I have no memory of my parents actively trying to keep gayness out of my realm of knowledge, it’s simply that gay didn’t really exist. I grew up in a very small town – a total of 90 kids in my K-12 school kind of small. In my town, I knew of one gay person: Chad. A wonderful, beautiful, VERY gay man. Come to think of it, I didn’t actually register he was gay until my early teens; before then he was just a fun, flamboyant guy my older sister hung out with sometimes.

I, however, knew that I was attracted to women from a very young age, about as young as you can register attraction towards others. As much as I like to credit this to my obsession with Bend It Like Beckham, the 2002 smash hit British film starring a stunning young Kiera Knightley, and the unhealthy number of times I stared at Missy Peregrym in Stick It (2006), it was more of a completely uneventful, painfully boring subconscious acknowledgement. I couldn’t tell you one specific moment where I said to myself: “I like women.”' It was just part of me, always had been.

But my exposure to any kind of queer lifestyle didn’t come until my mid-teens, when I attended an all-girls boarding school in a new town, slightly bigger than the one I had spent the entirety of my adolescence in. For all of you who just rolled your eyes as you read about the young queer girl attending an all-girls boarding school knowing exactly where this was going, you’re right, okay? I’m a cliché, I get it! This is where I first met other WLW people my own age, it’s where I met my first serious girlfriend, it’s where I first fell in love with a woman, it’s where I was when I came out to my parents.

However, this town still wasn’t a huge amount bigger than my hometown. Our town wasn’t big enough for any kind of Pride celebrations. Just like where I grew up, Pride still didn’t exist. All I knew of Pride was what I saw on movies, TV and, occasionally, in the news. Growing up, I saw Pride as this beautiful, colorful, inclusive, monumental event I was destined to be a part of but could never see a way to get to. But by this stage, I was 17, had been in a committed relationship with my then-girlfriend for a year, had graduated high school, had made lifelong friendships with other WLW people, and was about to make another move. This time, to a much bigger city.

I thought to myself, “Wow, I’ll finally get to go to Pride!” The excitement I felt was like I was a five-year-old trying to get to sleep on the night before Christmas. I could barely contain myself as Pride Month started to approach. I had started my first year of university, of course, had gravitated towards all my fellow Alphabet Mafia members in all my classes, and the day had come – my very first Pride Parade, in 2016.

At the time, I could not fault that first Pride Parade. It was vibrant and exciting, I had finally made it to the big city, made so many wonderful queer friends, and was getting to celebrate our beautiful individuality in the most collective way possible. It wasn’t until a while later when I realized how many mixed feelings I had about Pride.

Once the excitement of the first Pride Parade wore off, reality kicked in. I had been looking at Pride from the perspective of a privileged, white, straight-presenting person. I was blind to all the things that were wrong with Pride, how much fake-inclusivity it involved, how ripe it was with “rainbow capitalism”, how unsafe so many members of my community must feel wanting to attend the celebrations. I didn’t attend 2017 Pride; in fact, I took a few years off from Pride altogether. It was heartbreaking and frustrating. I felt guilty, like somehow I was abandoning my community by not being a part of it all. I had found my people, I had found myself, and in the process, I lost the thing I was most drawn to.

In the last couple of years, though, I have found ways to celebrate Pride in a way that makes me feel proud, events that were ACTUALLY inclusive, events that involved meaningful partnerships. And as much as I am grateful to have found that, I am also painfully aware of how much work still needs to be done. I tried to think of what I could do, what I could truly influence. Which is what landed me where I am now.

Ever since that first Pride Parade, now eight years ago, I was repulsed by the amount of rainbow capitalism I had been exposed to. Giant corporations slapping a rainbow on their logo and calling it a day. No action, no accountability, no cause for celebration. The bare minimum still would have been a stretch. I knew I had to join a company that was actually doing something to better the lives of those they claimed to support.

Every day since joining the HUD App team, I have worked to improve the lives of my community. To provide support when others didn’t, to show solidarity, to shout from the rooftops “I see you! I am you! I’m trying!”. I know it's a small thing, but if I can play a part in building a space for my community to be true to themselves, find meaningful connections, and be safe, well then that’s a bloody good legacy to me. I’ve got a long way to go, and I’ve still got a lot to learn.

But what I have learned is that Pride isn’t about a parade, and it isn’t about getting dressed in as many rainbows as one can manage. It’s about support, solidarity, recognition, trust, and authenticity. My first Pride experiences weren’t authentic. I was being performative, the events I attended were performative, nothing was real. Over time, through education, listening, and bettering myself, I have learned ways where I can have a real impact. So no, I still don’t attend a lot of Pride parades. But I do have Pride.

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