I realized that I wasn’t straight when I was thirteen, an age that many claim is too young for kids to know their sexuality. After all, my favorite band would change from week to week, so who was I to judge what gender I would like for the rest of my life? When I was growing up, other kids weren’t openly exploring their sexuality; it honestly made me feel like an outcast.
Over the years, I repressed this part of myself, only allowing myself to express it over various social media outlets. Talking to other people in the LGBTQ+ community made me feel normal, something that I wasn’t allowed in such a heteronormative place like school.
It wasn’t until freshman year of high school that I even told my friend that I identified as anything other than heterosexual. Shaking hands and a stomach full of butterflies, she told me that she loved me whether I was straight or not and promised me that we would go to Pride next year when she got a car. I didn’t actually go to Pride for two more years, but when I did, it completely changed how I treated myself.
I was 17 when I finally went to Pride in Chicago. It was a day of firsts — the first day I went to Chicago without my family; the first day I felt like I actually belonged somewhere; the first day I could actually accept myself for what I was; and the first day I actually realized how hated the LGBTQ+ community is, even though we can’t control the way we are.
When we walked into Boystown, we were met with the infamous protesters that stood behind a group of police officers, as if we would hurt them. They quoted Bible verses at anyone passing by, telling us that we were living a life of sin, telling us that we were going to Hell for being ourselves, something that we could never change. This was my first brush with the hate that many LGBTQ+ people had already faced in their lives. It conjured a feeling in my stomach that I couldn’t place and I started to cry. How can they hate me if they don’t know me? What had I done that condemned me to Hell? We rushed down the street where it was a completely different scene.
The parade was one of the best experiences of my life. Everyone was so committed to supporting others and making sure that everyone was comfortable and safe. Some were handing out water bottles to battle the heat, and some were even handing out pamphlets and protection for safe sex.
Seeing so many people celebrating this one part of themselves, a part that was such a large factor in who they are, it was honestly such a warming sight that it was hard to not celebrate with them.
Pride is more than just a place filled with rainbows. It’s a place where you can be whatever, whoever you want to be and celebrate your identity. Before going to Pride, I hid behind a false self. I realized that my queer identity wasn’t just a small part of myself — it’s a large part of my identity. I cannot separate myself from my queer identity because they are one and the same. It may seem cheesy, but Pride really taught me how to love myself, even if others won’t, just because I’m queer.
Photo courtesy of Flickr/Benjamin Kerensa