My spouse, Jennifer, and I didn’t make it to NYC Pride this year. That’s partly due to the temperatures, which have us under a heat warning. It’s also partly because of the pandemic. We’re both vaccinated but still staying away from larger crowds.
But it’s mostly because we are homebodies. You see, the only place that either Jennifer or I feel completely ourselves and comfortable is in our own home.
I don’t think a lot of people will understand that when they read it. Let me give you some examples of what it feels like when we venture out.
For both of us, every excursion outside requires us to spend a chunk of time getting ourselves mentally ready to interact with others.
I won’t speak for Jen, but I tend to be an introvert. Interacting with other people takes a lot of mental and emotional work because I worry that I will say or do the wrong thing.
That is, I am hypersensitive when it comes to how other people perceive me. Interactions with other people have a large part of my brain worrying that I will do or say the wrong thing. I doubt that people like me, even if they say they do. Every get-together has me thinking that this might be the time I do or say something that leads others to judge or harass me.
Will someone make some remark about my appearance? About my weight? Will someone hassle me for the music I was listening to or for how I carry myself? Will someone comment on my short hair or my clothing?
When this is how one views the world, interacting with others takes a toll.
Another reason for my uncertainty around others is that I think of myself as butch. That is, I tend to dress in clothing that’s more masculine in style. While that’s what feels comfortable and makes me feel good when I look in the mirror, I always wonder if choosing to step outside while wearing the clothes I like will be okay. I am always on edge in public, half-expecting someone to harass me for my clothing.
I’m also always conscious of the possibility of being gay bashed. Particularly when Jen and I are together. She also tends to prefer more masculine attire when we’re dressed up for an evening out. While I think the two of us look amazing together, I also think our attire makes us easier for the homophobes to peg.
I go through each day feeling as though I’m wearing a mask. Or that I’m an actor in a play, trying hard to say the right lines at the right moment so that people will think I’m allowed to be in that space at that time.
And this, folks, is why we have Pride marches and rallies.
Because too many people walk through every moment of their lives wondering if they’re allowed to exist.
Wondering if there’s something “wrong” with them for who they find attractive. For what clothing and hairstyle makes them feel complete. For feeling that the body the world sees isn’t the person who’s inside.
I know a lot of people never experience the feeling of being an outsider. They spend their days interacting with people who look just like they do. They spend their work, home, and social lives surrounded by people who have the same beliefs and values. People from the same socio-economic backgrounds.
For folks who are surrounded by homogeneity, stepping into a space where they are the minority is uncomfortable. It feels threatening because they don’t experience it often (if at all).
And because they are uncomfortable, they lash out in anger at what they don’t know. At the people or place that has made them feel uncomfortable and unsafe.
What those folks don’t realize is that moments of discomfort are indications that we still have some growing to do.
Those times when we feel most insecure and unsure are opportunities to learn.
I think the world would be a much better place if we all spent more of our time experiencing a little discomfort.
I’m not saying people need to take dangerous risks to grow.
I’m saying we all need to spend a bit more time with people who have different points of view than we do. We need to spend time in places where we aren’t in the majority.
We need to read books with characters that do NOT look like us. We need to watch TV shows and movies that show people and places outside of our own experiences. We need to listen to a wide range of musical styles and artists.
We won’t always understand what we’re experiencing. And we may find that some books, shows, or music styles aren’t for us.
But we’ll be more knowledgeable about the world for having experienced something new.
Of course, I expect people to do this work in a respectful, responsible way.
The LGBTQIA+ communities need safe spaces where our needs are centered. That is especially true for my trans siblings and those living at the intersectionalities of race, gender, and/or sexual orientation.
There are times and places for white, cisgender, and heterosexual allies to show up. And there are times and places where those of us who are white or cisgender aren’t welcome and don’t need to be present.
Nota bene: If you’re feeling called out or want to respond with, “Why do I have to be outside my comfort zone? Why can’t LGBTQIA+ people or people of color step outside their comfort zones and meet me where I’m at?” then let me point out a few things:
For decades, almost all media images were of white, straight, cis-gendered people. That’s because society was (and still is) structured around white, straight, gender-conforming people and their comforts. Therefore, LGBTQIA+ people and people of color in the U.S. are well-versed in how white, heterosexual, cis-gendered people and their families function.
On the rare occasions when characters of other identities were presented, those images were often stereotyping of their communities (e.g. effete gay men, the sassy black friend, the Latino gang banger).
And, it should go without saying, but we also need to spend less time picking fights with others over our entertainment choices.
I’ve seen a few fantasy and science fiction writers phrase it this way: Don’t yuck someone else’s yum.
Just because you’re not a fan of Hamilton, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, romance novels, or rap doesn’t mean you need to shit all over someone who loves those things. If you really, really despise Bridgerton but someone at work loves it, try politely saying, “I tried it, and it’s not for me.” Then, go on with your day. You don’t need to convince them that you’re right and they’re wrong.
The universe contains multitudes. The world is an amazing place full of diversity and wonder.
If we all spent more time seeing the beauty in what other people bring into our lives, we’d be better off. If we learned to respect one another and to agree to disagree, we’d find opportunities to learn and grow. If we learned to respect our differences as strengths, we could end the strife and conflicts that mar humanity’s existence.
And we’ll need to do all of that soon if we’re to come together and save the planet from climate change.
Happy Pride, from our home to yours.
May this year’s Pride be safe, joyous, and energizing. May it spark the global change that our world needs.