When I was a kid, I thought that I was one of a kind – that there was no one else like me. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t think that I was the most talented, the best-looking, or even the smartest kid around. Maybe I should rephrase that. I didn’t think I was “one of a kind.” I thought I was the only “one of my kind.”
I felt as if there was something off about me. Growing up in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, I seemed to be the only person, young or old, who wasn’t like everyone else. I was roughly the same height as the boys my age. I loved video games like the boys my age. I loved playing outside, reading comic books, and for a short while, I was really close to considering taking up a sport.
What I wasn’t, though, was compelled to chase the girls on the playground. I didn’t dream of a sneaking a kiss when the teachers weren’t looking. I didn’t fantasize that one day I would marry the prettiest girl in school, or the girl on TV. I didn’t imagine that I would have 2.5 kids and I would live in a two-story house behind a white picket fence and all that.
Honestly, as a child, I mostly dreamed of traveling the world and seeing what existed beyond those immaculate mountain peaks. However, when I did dream, when I did look into the future, it was with hesitation. I felt a feeling akin to dread when I realized that the person standing next to me in all of my visions, was a boy. He didn’t have a face or a name in my visions. He wasn’t there because I asked for him to be, or because I had any comprehension of what seeing a man, rather than a woman, by my side meant.
This dream man was there because of something the adults around me spoke of with great disdain. I was gay. I didn’t think I was doing anything wrong by simply becoming aware that I wasn’t attracted to women. I hadn’t done anything differently than anyone else that I knew of.
I got up in the morning. I showered. I brushed my teeth. I went to school. I did the same routines as my peers. I never read a book titled; “So You Want to Be A Gay: A Guidebook to Men, Fashion, and the Pits of Hell.” I never drank from a bottle labeled, “Gay Tonic.”
I couldn’t have chosen to be gay any more than I could have chosen my eye color.
I didn’t know that by seeing myself with a person of the same sex, whether I knew him, or could see him clearly at eight or nine-years- old, that some people would see it as if I had set out to destroy the very foundation of the American Dream.
Children don’t set out to do anything, other than to be children.
We are taught hate, fear, bigotry; and in 1990’s East Tennessee, it might as well have been 1825 when the subject of homosexuality was mentioned. These reasons are why I decided to add my two cents here, on this page you’re reading right now. I wanted to say that, in spite of all of it, I am proud of who I am. And you should be proud of who you are. Whether you’re 9, or 14, or 40 – you have nothing to be ashamed of when it comes to who you love.
If you’re feeling alone, if you’re struggling, know that there is hope. There are people who will love you more than you can imagine, and they are waiting for you to find them. You have to be alert, you have to be mindful, but most of all, you have to stand up. We can’t find each other, we weird and wonderful, if we stay silent.
This year, remember why you should be proud. Remember why you can come together and march and be open about who you are. Also, try to remember that even in 2018, some people feel they cannot do the same.
This year at Pride, remember the men and women who came together to give us the ability to speak up, to hold jobs without the fear of being fired for our sexual orientation. Be proud that we are continuing the traditions of the fearless thousands who stepped out and said; “No! You will not treat us like sub-humans.” Be proud when you remember our brothers and sisters who died so we can say “I do,” and it be recognized in all 50 States.
Be proud when you look back on the kid you once were knowing that you never have to be afraid again.
Pride is a chance to stand up for that kid, for all of our inner kids, and the kids out there with no one to confide in. This Pride, remember the real reasons we have these rights. Remember that this wasn’t free, and not too long ago we weren’t safe.
There is still a fight ahead, but while you celebrate, while you enjoy this time with your friends and your family, with the people who see you and love you, remember what Pride should mean, and make it matter every single day.