Why did I march in my first Pride Parade?
Because for years I was deathly afraid that people would guess. I was certain that, if people knew I was gay, that everyone would despise me. Why would anyone want to be friends with, let alone love, such a freak?
The earliest moment I remember feeling that fear was when I was four (yes, four!). I didn’t even know there were words for what I was. I had made a linguistic error, referring to two neighbor boys my age as my “boyfriends.” At that point, I thought that the word “girlfriend” meant a friend who was a girl, and “boyfriend” was a friend who was a boy. But my use of that word sent my grandmother into a tizzy, explaining to me that I must never, ever use that word. And as she explained, so emphatically that it scared the bejesus out of me, that boys would occasionally have girlfriends, and then eventually would find the one special girl that they would spend the rest of their life with, but would never, ever have those kinds of special feelings for boys, that was when I first realized that there was something wrong with me.
Later, after getting teased at school for being a “sissy,” or because I “threw like a girl,” I started to form a better picture of what that difference was.
For years, whenever my dad was angry to the point of beating me with something clublike (as opposed to just slapping, punching, and generally knocking around), he hurled the word “c*cksucker” at me repeatedly. That’s the word I remember most when I think about the time he broke my collarbone (I was ten), for instance. I didn’t know what that word meant until I was eleven. But that simply solidified everything I had already gleaned from the notion that every bully, harasser, and teaser at school, the park, or Sunday school had already made clear: boys like me were horrible, unloveable, detestable creatures.
So I did everything I could to hide it.
When puberty hit, a few months before my twelfth birthday, any doubt that I had about why all those words kept being hurled at me was gone. I threw myself into every church activity I could, because I thought if I just worked hard enough for him, surely god would eventually stop ignoring my years of tearful praying to make the feelings go away.
I honestly can’t say which motivated me more to try so many sports in middle school: trying to find a way to appease Dad, or trying to find a way to become a “real boy” to appease the bullies.
By my late teens I had finally realized that words like faggot, pussy, queer, homo, and so forth were hurled at any guy that someone meant to demean. It didn’t always mean that they thought you were literally homosexual, it was just that that was the most dehumanizing, detestable thing they could think to accuse you of being.
But because that was the most horrible thing someone could call you, it just amped the terror of what might happen if anyone realized that I actually was gay.
Even when I stopped believing that I was going to hell for feeling this way, the terror didn’t leave. Because what was really scary was the certainty that everyone I cared for would abandon me. Even when, after applying logic and ethical analysis to the abstract concept of sexual orientation, I came to the conclusion that there wasn’t anything inherently wrong with any two consenting adults choosing to love each other, I still feared that abandonment.
It took a few more years of being closeted, being extremely careful about who I let know that I wasn’t heterosexual. A few more years of telling even those few people that I was bi—it wasn’t that I was lying so much as trying really hard to convince myself. Because somehow being bisexual meant I was only half a freak, or something. A few more years of furtive attempts at having relationships with guys (and trying to do that while constantly fearing someone who wouldn’t understand might see is dreadful enough on its own, let alone all the other problems inherent with the inexperienced trying to figure out relationships)—before I was finally ready to stop hiding.
I marched because I finally realized that the sorts of people who would abandon you weren’t worth having as friends. I finally realized that my worth wasn’t dependent on their approval. I finally realized that if they had a problem with me being gay, that it was their problem, and not mine.
I marched because I was tired of hiding. I marched because I was tired of trying to be invisible. I marched because I was tired of all the people trying to make me invisible or urging me to keep it to myself.
I marched because I was ready grab the world by its metaphorical lapels, give it a shake, and say, “Hey! I’m standing right here!”