Dear Baby Queer,
First of all, I’m proud of you. You went through some shit to finally make it to your first Pride parade when you were 22. You had known you were “different” since you were in kindergarten, but your different was exactly who you needed and would eventually want to be. It would take almost 20 more years after the first time you stood on the sidelines and watched gay people so at home with rainbow flags and their love for each other and who they were before you would find your own home. Queer was not a word on your lips yet, and nonbinary didn’t exist in any space you did. But first you had to test your comfort in a world that had always seemed forbidden; lesbian felt like a dirty word, but it was the one that made the most sense at the time, and the shame you felt justified the dirt because you took that label and tried to settle in.
You were finally out and with others who accepted you without explanation or resistance. You weren’t expected or assumed to be straight when you were with queer folks, but you still felt like an outsider. The gift of choosing clothes and hair that you really wanted on your body still felt undeserved. Your sexuality and gender identity weren’t pulled apart yet so you took on terms like butch and dyke to accompany the way your heart loved and to distance yourself from words like “femme.” How could you explain your gender expression when you didn’t understand gender or how to express it accurately? When you went to your first LGBT conference that focused on identity and sexuality a few years after living as what you thought was a proud butch lesbian, you became angry and resentful at the young transgender males because you wanted something they had, but you didn’t know it yet.
Forgive yourself for being an asshole to those boys, because you will eventually feel the same hurt you caused when you asked them why they couldn’t “just be masculine lesbians” — others will ask the same of you one day. You had so much to learn about yourself. You had more to learn about the community that would become your homeland.
Some of your queer education came from books, movies, porn, and internet searches. Most of it came from the people who came before you, the people who made it possible to explore the pieces of you that didn’t fit or that weren’t turned the right way to make the puzzle work. You have always been in awe of the folks who lived visibly out lives. You knew the fear of being gay in a time when same-sex civil unions were being discussed so you could imagine the fear of living in a time where it was easier to be arrested, fired, or killed for being gay than to be out. You quietly thanked — you still do — the loud activists, lawyers, and queer elders who fought for every one of your moments of queer bliss. You didn’t know how tired, scared, and hardened these fighters felt. You will though.
It will feel impossible, but one day you will anticipate Pride with an ache of despair and disappointment in humanity before you feel the excitement and joy that flutters on the edges of rainbow flags.
Some of this will come with the accumulation of time. Being out and queer means being exposed to more discrimination as the fight for equality continues; with progress comes resistance and you will see it all. Some of these hardened feelings will come from having kids because they will unlock a protectiveness in you that has nothing to do with yourself. You will spend money on adopting kids who were yours before their conception and you will be asked to prove your relationship as they cling to your legs around strangers. And when one of your kids turns out to be transgender, you know you will burn everything to the ground to protect her, even if it means burning those in your community because you will learn that transphobia exists in spaces that are supposed to be safe. The weariness will also come from sobriety and discovering what you have always known but drank away because burying something without a name was easier than not having an answer.
You will come out as nonbinary at 38 and feel like so much time was wasted, yet feel that familiar feeling of adolescent embarrassment to once again ask others to accept you. You will learn what gender dysphoria and euphoria means. You will understand that the ease with which someone gets your pronouns correct has little to do with you and so much more with them. This window into people’s desire to learn and willingness to try will create a jadedness in you that will eat at you. You will struggle to find ways to keep it from stealing your queer joy. You will finally concede that religion will always be a dangerous place for the queer community. Allies exist, but no organization can be affirming when “religious freedom” allows for bigotry.
You will discover that your own pride never goes away, but it changes. You will go from doe-eyed naivety to a more radicalized version of queerness. There isn’t anything wrong with this, and you will learn that everyone’s experience of their queerness and identity is valid and where it needs to be. You will also learn that you disagree with this — or don’t like it — at times. And then you will remind yourself that no one’s journey is linear, and people need to find themselves in their own time.
You will become a leader and an activist and you will feel misunderstood by your own community and friends at times because you are loud and public with your voice. You will hold folks to a level of accountability that may seem unfair sometimes. You will stop apologizing for this. You know what you need and deserve and will fight for it. You will do so because it means making the path easier to navigate for the young queers behind you and for the children you are raising.
You will always get the warmth of relief at Pride. You will always feel your body relax when you are finally part of the majority. And you will eventually feel whole. It will take removing body parts and old labels to get there, but your losses will allow for an abundance of acceptance.
And it will take seeing someone experience their first Pride to remind you of the joy and wonder of finally walking into their queerness to remind you that it’s okay to remove the chip on your shoulder every so often. You are so resilient and will always need to be. But you will stay in love with your queer life.
Pride is where both ends of the spectrum meet, and you must always remember you aren’t fighting for the sake of the battle; you are fighting because you are worth all of the glitter, scars, and queer magic.
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