I have been thinking a lot about identity this Pride month. I still have this automatic affinity to New York Pride even though I haven't lived in the city for 19 years and this year with Stonewall 50 and World Pride held in New York, it is hard not to think of the city, even if you have never been there.
I remember my first ever Pride. There was an atmosphere like I had never experienced before. Same sex couples holding hands and kissing in areas that any other day of the year would lead to harassment or worse. It was exciting. There was a fusion of politics, anger, humour and music in what seemed like an endless procession down Fifth Avenue towards the Christopher Street Piers, which even in the early 90's remained a symbol of urban decay, freedom and destitution. It was a crumbling sanctuary for many of us and although I am under no illusion of the safety and reality of what it was like on those piers, I also know that it remains a part of my story, my experience and my personal narrative.
There's this bizarre belief in this world and an active push to put us all into neat categories and create one story for that category. To create one experience to create a neat and tidy story that makes sense to the outside world. For as long as I can remember, I was different. I felt different. I looked different. I was told I was different. When I came out at the age of 15, I finally felt like I belonged somewhere because I met others who were different and embraced being different. My friends did not try to emulate one another, they were their own productions and there existed a space where all the things we each brought to the table were able to coexist. I fitted in because there was room for me to fit in.
It may seem at times that I can romanticise or even pine for a simpler time but that is too simplistic of a brush to paint me with. I would never want to go back to the days when my rights did not exist. The days before I was able to legally marry my husband. I am lucky that we now live in a time where we shouldn’t have to worry about the life we have lived together being erased because there are no legal protections in place. These things were a reality when I came out. Scarier still, they could become a reality once again in the US with the GOP's face lift of the judiciary system whilst the world is distracted by tweets. They could become a reality in the UK with its impending exit from the European Union. I don't believe those times were simpler. I think getting older and remembering your youth can at times fool you into thinking life was simpler.
When I think about Pride and Identity, I reflect on that road I have travelled since I came out in 1992. Three years ago, when the Pulse shooting occurred, I struggled to comprehend anything. The fact that it was targeted at not just LGBTQ+ but also that the majority of the clientele were Puerto Ricans left me feeling isolated in a way I had not felt before. This was not helped by the lack of compassion from the highest office in the US. Not since Reagan refused to utter a word on the AIDS crisis had a President shown such a disdain for other Americans, and continues to do so.
I still struggle to comprehend and I watch with growing horror on social media how divided the LGBTQ community has become. Perhaps we were always that way. I don't know, as I mentioned earlier, sometimes your youth can fool you into remembering a "simpler time." Perhaps even because my LGBTQ+ circle is diverse that I don't often see the divisions as clearly, but when I do, it angers me. It reminds me of the hatred that is directed towards us, except that more and more the threats are coming from within the community. All you have to do is look at the treatment of our Trans & Bi members. Just this weekend in Penzance, we had a case of vandalism directed at our Trans community by self identified gay men who feel that Trans representation has no place in Pride. On a simpler level is the tension between masculine v. feminine all too common amongst gay men.
I am lucky that my circle is not just diverse LGBTQ+ wise but also in that I have many close friends who are heterosexual. It can sometimes fool you into thinking that the world as a whole has become accepting, that we are done fighting. We are told it is just a minority of people, right wing, whatever who have an issue with us. If it is a minority, it is an armed, mobilised minority and that they are that organised should frighten not just the LGBTQ+ community but all of us. All of us who want to live and love in peace.
Over the years my own identity has evolved to include multiple passports, languages, and experiences: extra layers on already layered identity. It is a reminder that I still don't always fit neatly into one category. Sorry world, you’ll never put me into your nice little category that you can file away on a shelf. If I had to sum myself up in one word, how I identify, it would most likely be Queer. Even so, that label still causes debate in the community. It is one that some embrace, it is one that others reject. It does though create a dialogue which is what I feel we have lost sight of during Pride. Dialogue is a nice change from the shouting at one another that has become the norm.
I'm reminded often of a childhood memory.
When I was a kid, all the other boys at school had these black Adidas sneakers (or trainers if you must), and they were the coolest thing that year. I begged my mother for a pair and she said, "Why do you want something that all the other kids have? Why don't you choose something different? Something just for you."
I didn't want to be different and she reluctantly bought me the sneakers. When I finally got my pair, the kids had moved onto a new style and I was stuck with something that was now un-cool. I was made fun of, and this was on top of the usual bullying for being too skinny, a sissy, a cry baby or their favourite word, mantequilla (butter).
I wish I had listened to my mother but I didn't.
What I learned though as I grew up is that there is no point in fitting in. The system of fitting in is about conformity. Conformity is about control. Control is about subjugation. What used to be something outside of the LGBTQ+ community and Pride, has become a driving force within and that is what saddens me about Pride today. It can sometimes feel like Pride and the community as a whole has become a living parody of Mean Girls, “You can’t sit with us.”
My first Pride experiences were about standing out. I saw all walks of life present and accounted for. Most comically, one year were the "Gays Against Brunch." It was what made me feel Proud because that was what I felt when I came out. I had found a place I could stand out and be myself. I could be that awkward kid who was different and that was okay. In fact, that was more than okay, it was fantastic.
We don't have to fully understand one another but we have to remember what unites us. The one thing we all have in common is that to a homophobe, or anyone who wants to hurt us, is that we are all the same to them. Their goal is to hurt and destroy us because we live as we do or because we exist.
This is why we need to stand together and protect one another. When one of us is attacked, we are all under threat.
Pride should be a reminder of all that we have fought against and all we still have to fight for, together.
John Lugo-Trebble considers this more of a space to engage personal reflections and memories with connections to music and film.