By Crystal Defatte
June is Pride Month; the month used to celebrate the lives, victories, and truths of the LGBTQ+ community. It is where the “out and proud” and their allies gather for rallies and parades, wave rainbow flags, and change their Facebook profile pictures to include some kind of supportive imagery. For many of us LGBTQ+ folks, Pride is a painful reminder that we often don’t feel like we truly fit in within our own community. Not all of us have embraced our Pride.
I realized I wasn’t straight when I was about six years old. At five I had a crush on a boy named Dan. I liked it when he’d chase me around on the playground and tried to kiss me. We were children, yet I understood (though with less complex language) that this was something akin to the way adults, mommies and daddies, felt about each other. I thought maybe I’d marry him someday and have cute babies. Then first grade rolled around and I noticed a girl named Rachel. She was the prettiest little girl and I wanted to chase her around the playground and kiss her. I was too young to feel shame in this, but, never before seeing a homosexual couple or relationship, in real life or tv, I knew this wasn’t the norm. I didn’t try to kiss her. I didn’t tell anybody. I kept that secret, along with so many I held throughout my childhood.
When I was 11, my aunt came out as a lesbian. This was a huge shock and quite controversial within my right wing, Christian, conservative family. My aunt had just divorced a man and had two children, how could she be a lesbian? The way I heard it was that she’d always known she was gay but had married a man in hopes that he would “fix her”. She finally had enough of the shame and denial. She had found her Pride.
I remember my mother, her sister, telling me this information with trepidation. As liberal as my mother was (a rarity in my family), I could tell she wasn’t completely comfortable with it. Before I could process my mother’s reaction, I had already processed my own. In my first, small bit of defiance against the beliefs my family held, I responded with a clear, “So?”. That was that. She brought her girlfriend home to visit, a nice woman she ended up dating for years, and my family was polite and kind. Love the sinner, hate the sin was whispered frequently though when they were out of the room. This is when I learned shame in my sexuality, and nobody knew what they were really teaching me.
The most confusing reaction came from my father. He loved his sister-in-law like she was his own sister, continued to love her just as much, yet would openly tell me how he wanted to hold a “Gay Bash Pride Day”. He would say how he wanted to take a baseball bat to the heads of all the dykes and faggots. I’d say things like “What about Shay?” and he’d reply that she was different, he loved her. I knew there was no way I could ever tell him about my own feelings of same-sex attraction.
When I was 14, I was seduced by my female best friend. She came on to me pretty strong, guiding me into my first sexual experience with a girl. I remember trying to resist these urges, feeling shame that I was enjoying it. Jesus was watching and he did not approve. We never spoke of it, but it would happen a couple more times between then and 18. I cried when I got home from her house. I prayed, begging God for forgiveness, begging Him to remove these feelings of attraction. He never got around to it I guess.
A couple years later, while I was living with my aunt, my aunt’s daughter came out as bisexual. This is when I started to really believe that there could be a genetic component to sexuality. What were the odds that my aunt, first cousin, and myself would all turn out to be queer if it wasn’t genetic? I almost told my aunt I was as well, relieved that I could finally let go of my secret, when she said something along the lines of “I don’t really think she’s bi. I think bisexuals are just confused. She’ll grow out of it one way or another.” I was absolutely shocked. This was a woman I was close to, a lesbian woman, the woman who I had counted on to support me. My grandfather would echo the same beliefs a few years later in passing. My secret stayed hidden. My shame deepened.
Finally, I had had enough. I believed God didn’t “fix me” because I wasn’t broken. I stopped feeling like I was sinning by being true to myself. I was still too afraid of how my family would react to tell them, but I began telling my friends. I was lucky. Nobody made a big deal about it. One female friend asked if I was attracted to her, clearly concerned that somehow our sleepovers were tarnished. I somewhat apologetically and reassuringly told her that “Sorry, I’ve never looked at you like that.” We continued our friendship and I was the first “out” person in my high school during my tenure there.
Then, when I was 18 and living on my own, the unthinkable happened. The thing I had dreaded most came to pass. One of my “friends” outed me to my father. He called me up one day and asked if it was true. I panicked, frozen as I debated internally if I should lie or just come clean. I decided on the latter and held my breath. The blow up I feared never came. He told me he still loved me and that I was still his daughter. My homophobic father, who would later tell me I was just confused and grow out of it and that he still hated gay people, loved me still. I was so lucky to not have been abandoned and disowned as so many LGBTQ+ people are. I have had it relatively easy. I feel guilty about this sometimes.
Years later he would go on to have gay male friends. The fact that he didn’t know they were gay for a long time probably helped those friendships bloom, but he said he loved them like brothers. He no longer wants to harm gay people. He still worries that some gay guy will hit on him, he still believes homosexuality is a sin, but he no longer truly hates. I’d say that is a vast improvement, and I’ll take it any day of the week.
I’ve spent the rest of my life relatively comfortable with my sexuality, yet I feel hidden. I feel like I’m cheating the community somehow because I “pass” as straight; my partner is male and I have biological children, so people assume I’m heteronormative. The rest of my family still has no idea, well, unless they’re reading this article.
See, this is my true coming out. I’m pansexual, defined by Merriam-Webster as being “of, relating to, or characterized by sexual desire or attraction that is not limited to people of a particular gender identity or sexual orientation” for those of you not in the know. I have found myself attracted to cisgendered males, females, trans men and women, and androgynous or gender fluid people. This doesn’t mean that I’m attracted to or sleep with everybody I meet. I am attracted to minds, not genitals. I can feel a romantic connection with someone, no matter their gender identity, if the chemistry is right. I am not confused, despite what some gay or straight people may think. I lost my religion a long time ago; I don’t care what your holy book says about it. I’m in a heterosexual, committed, monogamous relationship; this does not erase my sexuality. I’ve found my Pride in who I am. I’m here, I’m queer, get used to it. I have.
For all of you LGBTQ+ people who haven’t embraced your Pride yet, stay strong. Remember that it will happen when you’re ready. Please, don’t feel guilty if you’re not ready yet. You are loved. I promise you, you have a place in our community whenever you’re ready to take that place. I’ll save you a spot.