Pride is something I’m still struggling to understand, and since it’s pride month I thought it would be a good idea to put my thoughts down. Pride means so many things to so many people. More than anything, I think it means being proud of who you are as a person. That is something I’ve struggled with my entire life.
My accomplishments in my life are marred by my failures. It took me six years to get a two year degree. I was fired from an internship, my first real job, what I thought would lead to my dream career. When I finally got a real career job in my field, it wasn’t long before I accidentally lost the drive the entire company’s files were on. With the help of tech support and my coworker we managed to get everything back 36 hours later. It was a nightmare that my grandma constantly reminded me off, when she happily told and retold the story time and time again of how I “saved my company when all the computers went down.” My first marriage is ending in divorce. At times it’s very hard to pick out what parts of my life I should be taking pride in.
Most recently, it has become hard to take pride in myself because of my coming out as transgender. It feels like a failure, in a way, to have not realized this important aspect of my identity until I was in my 30s. I look back on my life and see all the signs, and all of the times I could have made a change. How do you take pride in that?
I remember walking into the local LGBT community center the first time. The symbols on the walls, the rainbow, the talk of pride, none of it felt like it applied to me. I’ve spent my whole life outside of the LGBT community. Those symbols never meant anything to me, because I was very much closeted. Growing up Catholic and living a fairly sheltered life up until my late teenage years, the entire concept of LGBT pride was foreign to me. My first experience with anyone who would come out was my junior year of high school. It was very much drilled into my head that being gay was bad, immoral, delinquent. Until then, it was never something I even bothered to question.
Even when I first came out as transgender, the idea of LGBT pride, and especially of transgender pride, was something that didn’t connect with me. In a way, I felt ashamed of who I was and I certainly wasn’t comfortable with the idea of being transgender. The fact that I needed to come out, and further explore the person that I felt trapped inside was more of a necessity than it was something to take pride in. I felt as if I was letting down my wife, my parents, my siblings, and my friends by being who I truly was. It is impossible to take pride in being yourself, when you’re terrified of going out in public wearing a dress for the first time. I was too afraid of being looked at funny, of being judged, of some kind of terrible confrontation to being out in public.
A year and a half into officially coming out, my views have changed drastically. I’m beginning to understand what pride really means. As I said in my post about Geekway to the West, I missed going to pride last year, and I missed going to my hometown pride again this year. Last year, I am afraid that I would have felt out of place, much like I did at the LGBT community center, but I really regret not being able to go this year, but I am hoping to be able to make the St. Louis Pridefest later this month.
My first experience with a feeling of true LGBT pride, is when I decided to get my first tattoo. I am so incredibly proud of that tattoo, but I got in a place that could easily be hidden. Just like my own feelings of pride, it is something I am capable of showing off when I am feeling in the right mood, but can hide when I’m feeling self conscious. Something I’ve definitely noticed is that there’s an empowering feeling when I go out with a top that shows off the tattoo. It’s the same feeling I felt going out in public in a dress the first time. It’s as if I am screaming that this is who I am, and that I am proud of that, while forcing those fears and worries of being outed and something terrible happening away for a brief amount of time.
However, I still didn’t think of it in a LGBT pride sense of the word. I actually didn’t make the connection with LGBT pride and my tattoo until just this week. Geekway passed us by, and with it my hometown pridefest, but then June 1st came along. My Tumblr dashboard exploded with LGBT pride posts. For some reason I couldn’t quite put my finger on, seeing all those posts made me happy. They made me feel welcomed. They made me feel like I was a part of something. I wish I could explain it better than that, but for the first time since coming out pride meant something to me.
That evening, when I got home from work, I decided to practice doing my nails. The weekend before, my friends convinced me to paint them for the first time. They turned out really well, for a first attempt, and Friday night I bought a plethora of nail polish colors. Most of the colors I bought were various shades of blue, but I got a red and pink as well, and thought about buying a white, with the intent of someday doing transgender pride nails, but I chickened out. I got home, picked out a really cute sparkly light blue, and painted my nails. They turned out worse than my first attempt. So I redid them, in an attempt to improve. This time I did better, but they were still sloppy. That’s when saw the pink again. I peeled off the paint on my pointer fingers and ring fingers, and painted those pink. I regretted not buying white, so I went back out and picked up a white nail polish. The idea was stuck in my head, and I had to do it.
For the first time since I got my tattoo, I felt true LGBT pride. There was something freeing about so publically being myself. It’s a strange feeling saying “Yes, I’m transgender, and I’m proud of it.” I was nervous going out and about this weekend, because of my nails. Just like with my tattoo the first time, but after a few hours of nothing bad coming of it, the pride returned.
It’s strange how three colors so simply arranged can suddenly mean so much. Just as I’ve always felt that it’s strange that the 6 colored rainbow could mean so much to so many people. It’s strange, but wonderful, and for the first time in my life, I understand it.
Pride isn’t the rainbow, and it’s not the blue pink and white flag that symbolises being transgender, or any of the other pride flags that exist. Pride is about how you feel. It’s about a love for yourself and who you are. It’s about being proud of your past, and what brought you to today. Those symbols, those flags, are simply reminders of that. They’re a sometimes subtle, and sometimes blatant exclamation of who you are as a person. I don’t want to be ashamed of being transgender. I don’t want to feel like I am a burden to all the people that I love, to feel like I am disappointing them. I just want to be the person that I feel I have to be. The person that I feel I have been hiding for so much of my life.
Pride is about not being afraid. It’s about being surrounded by people who are just like you, who struggle with their identities just like you. For the first time in my life, pride means something to me. I feel included in something greater than myself. A community that has been through hard times. A community that has fought for decades for acceptance.
I might have the privilege of coming out at a point where the LGBT community is far more accepted than in the past, but I feel a kinship with those that came before me. Those who struggled before me helped pave the way for me to be who I truly am, and being a part of pride celebrates them.
Happy Pride Month. Be proud of who you are.