Like many members of the LGBTQ community, I didn’t feel prideful when I first realized I was gay. I felt confused and scared. I was confused about what this meant about my past and for my future. I was scared my family and friends wouldn’t accept me, which some didn’t, initially. I wanted to hide more than I wanted to go march in the streets. I wanted this to not be my truth. However, it was, and with the love and support and occasional kick in the ass from friends, lovers, matriarchs and of course therapists, I came to embrace that being Gay is is who I am and I am so grateful and proud.
My RING of KEYS
I remember the first time I saw myself in another person. I was introduced to one of my mom’s colleagues and something inside me said “that’s what you are.” She didn’t introduce herself with a “Hi, my name is Dr. Cantwell and I’m gay.” And yet somehow I just knew. I was 10. It wasn’t until 11 years later that this knowing about myself and about Dr. Cantwell would be confirmed. I was then 21, dating the girlfriend who would motivate me to come out to my parents, joining the lesbian softball league, attending lesbian poetry reading potlucks. Once again there she was. She didn’t recognize me, or if she did she didn’t acknowledge it, but I definitely recognized her.
When the month of June arrives, and I begin to see rainbows adorning local businesses and my social media feeds are full of announcements for Gay Pride events, my mind is immediately filled with images from my past. I see myself at my first Gay Pride, my first March on Washington, my first Folsom Street Fair, my first Dyke March, and my first ACT UP protest. I see images of myself coming alive on the dance floor of gay bars (UC, Scandals, Sisters, Club Red), being embraced by strangers who shared this beautiful and complicated yet so simple commonality.
These beautiful images from my past also bring forth the recollection of images that are not so pretty. Fortunately, I have now healed enough that I have choice about whether or not I open those pages in my scrapbook. And now if I do, it’s with compassion for myself and for the limitations of those who at the time weren’t able to celebrate the me I was revealing and who had always been there. I see the page of the depressed teenager, the messy young adult, and the inconsiderate girlfriend. For many of us in the LGBTQ community, we have to spend years re-raising ourselves after we’ve come out and left the limitations of our families or communities.
We spend years reminding ourselves that we are worthy, loved, special, amazing, unique. We spend years practicing new behaviors of setting healthy boundaries, listening to and trusting ourselves, and daring to dream and then owning and pursuing the lives we really want. Throughout those years, we make lots of mistakes and learn valuable lessons all under the watchful eye of this new chosen family of gays, dykes, queers, trans elders – whoever create the place where you feel seen and valued. Wherever you find community that has come together because of their commonalities and who works hard to respect differences in who and how they love each other and define themselves.