It's that Pride time of year again, a whole month celebrating The Gays and our insistence that we're here, we're queer, and you should probably be getting used to it by now. I've been celebrating this month since I came out to my friend Liz over a bottle of Boone's Farm in the beginning weeks of my second year of college back in 1994, and you know what? I'm still absolutely thrilled to be a lesbian. It's the best thing that ever happened to me, and I'm a regular celebrant of how lucky I am to get to be gay.
It hasn't always been this way, though. The standard coming out narrative—come out to yourself, fearfully come out to friends and family, come to terms with whatever happens, and finally be yourself—leaves so much out. I was lucky enough to know that my parents wouldn't have a whole lot to say about me being gay. They were a pretty hands-off pair, and while that has its downsides, a big upside was always knowing they'd love me whatever I did, if only because they had so little investment in the details. They wanted me to be happy, and mostly I have been.
Instead of dealing with fears of being disowned, I spent the months before coming out fearful that the Other Lesbians wouldn't believe me, that I'd never be cool enough to be one of them. It sounds silly to write it now as an adult, but 19-year-old Kate was terrified. I'd never kissed a girl (or anybody, for that matter), I'd never articulated any real desire for anything at all, and here I was saying I was a lesbian? Please. The real lesbians were all so glamorous and beautiful and they didn't give a shit about anything, and I gave so many shits about following the rules and getting straight As that there was no way I'd ever be accepted. My feminist theory professor assured me during office hours that I hadn't actually missed the day they handed out uniforms for Team Lez, but I wasn't so sure.
My first Pride parade was a chance to be called a phony by a zillion queers. I went to college in New York City, and that Pride is massive. I remember heading downtown with friends and spending the whole day trying to peek at women, simultaneously hoping they were looking and praying they weren't, oh goddess what if someone sees me looking and thinks I mean something by it or that I'm flirting what if someone thinks I'm flirting and doesn't flirt back OMG THE SHAME. I'm sure I eked out a little fun, but my self consciousness and anxiety was certainly what was mostly on display.
Subsequent Prides got easier as I got more comfortable in my skin and more experienced looking and being seen, though that part's still hard for me. There was the Pride where I told everybody I broke up with my girlfriend at the time, just to see how it felt to say I was single. It felt pretty good until the next day when I got a call from said girlfriend—I'd told everybody but her, and she heard from somebody else and had some questions. I'd like to say I got better at break ups, but that's not really true.
There was the visit to Amsterdam with my sister in college when we just so happened to land in town for the boat parade they do over there. What serendipity! We rolled into town on a bus from Paris and spent the day with a Dutch woman with whom we'd struck up a conversation. As we were parting ways she asked us how long we'd "been together." We're identical twins, not girlfriends, so things got a little uncomfortable, but we parted friends, expecting to see each other at the Pride boat parade later that weekend. A trip to the Heineken Brewery and a coffee shop killed that dream, but hey, we were in Amsterdam for Pride!
Pride turned more political for me when I hit graduate school in the Bay Area and started noticing that Pride was mostly about advertising booze and businesses. Maybe becoming a market means you've made it, but it also means you've sold out. I wanted Pride to be political, to make demands on public space, to say no, we don't have to be like everybody else to have a right to the streets without violence and abuse. That the local police departments had their own contingents in the parade at the same time they policed it didn't make me feel safer or more seen, especially once I understood the role of the police in violently maintaining heterosexuality and gender normativity. No thank you, nothing to be proud of there.
My heart was with the Dyke March, still organized without funding from Smirnoff Ice or whatever and with all kinds of women, few of whom would make the top of one of those fancy corporate floats later in the weekend. I'd been out for almost 10 years at this point, and the anxiety and nerves of seeing and being seen were less scary and more exhilarating. Nothing's sexier than thinking you're doing something radical with a bunch of radical women and queers, and I loved those anti-Pride parades.
Since those, I've done parades in Boise, New Orleans, and, of course, Baltimore. They've all gone corporate in their own ways, and to be honest, I sometimes wish instead of a parade we got health care, employment protections, an end to police violence, the ease of holding hands in public without getting the stares, housing rights, and so much more. But I also know how important Pride was to teaching me how to make eye contact, how to flirt, that it is possible to imagine a world with queer erotics in public and all the connections that eroticism can enable. I'd love to swap the corporate shilling and the police barricades for queer political street takeovers, but in the meantime I hope we all find snippets of what we need out of Pride, and that the baby queers know that what Pride will look like is up to them, and we can't wait to see how they make these streets their own.