Welcome to Pride Project 2020! In this day-long series, a few queer writers share a moment of Pride on the last day of Pride Month. Read all the Pride Project posts (and identity posts) here. This post is by me, Jess M.
My most Prideful moment? My eyes flashed to a photo-covered wall in my bedroom, half of it decorated in pictures with my girlfriend. Her eyes finding mine before the London Eye. That kiss under the town’s Christmas lights. A book-signing selfie with our favorite gay YouTubers.
My identity locked into place because of her. That slip from questioning to bisexual to queer to lesbian. At the beginning, I used to be worried that my own identity would become inextricable from her because of circumstance. I loved her, and that made everything real enough for me to face who I was. Maybe it was just for her. And maybe she faced herself just for me. Maybe part of that was the infamous lesbian co-dependency. A four-year phase we definitely fell victim to.
We’re apart more than we’re together. Months spent on different points of the globe somehow encouraged co-dependency, and breaking those habits eventually happened as a byproduct of my girlfriend’s BPD diagnosis and treatment, me taking boundaries a lot more seriously, laying groundwork for our relationship that we were too in love and too reckless to lay from the start. But the hard work has paid off in the last few years, and unsurprisingly, identity has been part of that payoff.
My most prideful moment didn’t happen with her. We went to London’s Pride in the Park in 2016—our first Prides ever. I bought a pin. We sat in the grass eating 99 flakes that we paid at least two pounds apiece for. She smiled a lot, and I loved taking pictures of her. When I posted one of us together, an aunt said, “You look so happy, Jesse.” And I was. The following weekend we went to Sussex Pride and saw S Club 7. We sang and kissed and danced and cried. I think about that day as one of the best days of my life.
But we weren’t quite ourselves just yet. I wore a skirt to one Pride and a bisexual flag pinned as a cape to another. And I’ll never forget walking up to an LGBTQ books vendor at the Sussex Pride and hearing the woman behind the table ask us if we were LGBTQ. What? I thought, We don’t look the part enough? We only nodded. I threw away her leaflet after we walked away.
Pride and identity always seemed to mean more to me than it did to my girlfriend. Being queer helped me really get me. Suddenly, I understood myself. My life clicked. For her, I think her personality disorder always made the experience of identity weird. Her click was probably the diagnosis more so than the Great Gay Realization. But it was precisely this click that had me coloring Gay as my entire personality. I finally, finally, finally, knew who I was, and this was it. Gay.
Two years later, and suddenly, maybe it wasn’t so much of my whole personality anymore. Partly because I detached from the bisexual label, partly because I had just turned twenty-three, finished college, and did a little bit more self-reflection. I burned past the queer-centering of myself, and of everything around me. I needed it at one point, but I now enjoyed a multi-faceted intersectionality of identities in myself, in everyone around me, of the characters I found in books and onscreen.
I went to Pride without my girlfriend in 2018. We wouldn’t reunite until I flew out to her that October. I hadn’t been to a Pride without her yet. In a string of circumstances I won’t bore you with, I went to Pride in Grand Rapids with a girl I shared half-conversations with through Twitter. Anxiety begged me to cancel the trip every day after making the plans. I’d been wanting to meet up with this Twitter friend for a while, and kind of (definitely) already chickened out twice.
Here’s the thing about Prides: they’re music festivals. Especially when they don’t have parades. They’re loud, they’re crowded, they’re filled with drunk people. Joined there with a friendly acquaintance, her sister, her sister’s girlfriend, and her roommate, I dreaded feeling on the outside. In concept, everything about this day would flare the anxiety. Meeting new people. Meeting a lot of new people. Drinking in public or not drinking in public. Wading through crowds and maybe losing mine. A dead phone battery. People dancing. Maybe I will just sit in the grass. Spending a huge chunk of change on snacks from a food truck. The small talk. The pretending I’m not thinking about every word that comes out of my mouth. I really, really wanted to cancel.
Betty Who was at GR Pride that year. I only knew her from her feature on a Troye Sivan track, but she was clearly the one everyone was most excited to hear. Vendor stalls and beer tents emptied onto the concrete in front of her stage. I’d been wedged between people pretty close to the stage. My Twitter friend just ahead of me. I danced one song in, even when I’d been convinced I wouldn’t. I danced on the next one. And the next. And the one after that. My friend turned around sometimes mid-song, smiling at me; I smiled back.
We shared an ice cream after Betty Who’s set finished. The summer heat lingered on our skin as the low sun cast long shadows on the pavement. Vendors cleared out and we sat on the sidewalk curb. I imagined telling my girlfriend that I had fun today. I knew she would be proud of me. And so was I.
I hadn’t taken so many risks for myself up to that point. I really only combat anxiety for my girlfriend. And maybe I thought I only had it in me to do that. After all, traveling across the world by yourself every few years is the peak of anxiety. But this day? That was all for me. The solo travel, my first time at Pride without her, dancing.
I knew myself a little better this time. I inched so close to “lesbian” that whole year. I knew I had it in me to enjoy myself that day, even when I didn’t quite believe it. I made a lifelong friend out of that trip, and I probably wouldn’t have if I wasn’t there.
I spent a long time hating myself. Not just hating the part that loved women, but hating the part that made me anxious and hyper-sensitive and second-guessing. And maybe I don’t love that about me now, but I love when I don’t let it stop me from being myself.
Jess is the lesbian blogger behind A Lesbian and Her Laptop. She finds peace in her vegetable garden and could happily eat nothing but tacos for the rest of her life. If you enjoyed this post, please consider donating $3 to the blog’s ko-fi page or subscribing to AL&HL’s Patreon for additional content and goodies.