Monday, July 3, 2017

Thoughts on Pride Month

    Growing up is never easy, but the difficulty is compounded when one is an LGBT youth.  Born a boy, I longed desperately to be female.  I knew who I was my entire life, but felt powerless to do anything about it because of what I was – trapped in a body that did not belong to me.  Even though I spent much of my youth in California, 90 miles from the Bay Area, it was still the 1980’s.  I was born in a conservatively religious family.  My parents were transplants from Salt Lake City, the family religion had strict gender roles,…and I was the only “son.”  In our home, gender was not a characteristic; it was a boundary that one could not cross without offending God.  The homosexual community gained national prominence in the 80’s.  A generation was lost to AIDS, and the epidemic ravaged the national headlines.  I knew very little of homosexuality, but I knew that Rock Hudson died of AIDS when I was in the fifth grade.  The news stories brought homophobic humor to the playground at school, and I learned about life in the way that most young boys do.  Sadly, the transgender community, where I would have found a safe home, did not gain prominence until Bruce Jenner became Caitlyn in 2015.  What I had heard of the transgender community was limited to curious playground talk and occasional oddities in the newspaper.

    To grow up transgender in that environment was a challenge.  Even though I did not come out until one year ago, the longing was constant.  Imagine having the same daydream for 40 years.  It was what I always thought about when I could think freely.  My mother used to take me along when she went clothes shopping for my sisters - I spent countless hours in the girls department at Gottshalks waiting for my sisters to choose new dresses or outfits for school.  My sisters used to tease me about being the only “boy" there.  Sadly, the life I truly needed was only accessible through spectator sports.

    My high school was originally built for 1000 students, but there were 2,500 by the time I hit 9th grade.  Out of all those students, there was only 1 that crossed gender lines.  His name was Aaron.  The nephew of a prominent television news anchorwoman in the area, he was openly effeminate.  My oldest sister sang in the women’s choir at the high school.  When they needed paper roses for a concert, Aaron was the one who volunteered.  The rumors about Aaron were that he was gay.  Nobody dared befriend Aaron, but everyone was an expert.  There was always talk, and none of it was flattering.

    I got through high school as an awkward bookworm, never going on a single date and rarely hanging out with friends.  I remember being a senior when I first had feelings for another student.  His name was Alex.  He was a junior, and he had the most beautiful smile that I loved.  Young love should be happy, innocent.  Yet, I remember being so afraid of what I was learning about myself.  Clearly, I was capable of love, but not worthy of it.  When it was time for prom, I simply had too much homework to attend.

   I feared I was homosexual, and quietly added that to the list of changes I needed from God.  For the next 25 years, I prayed that list every day – constantly.  I desperately needed to be something entirely different.

    The worst part of that environment is what I started to carry around inside.  The standards that I had to measure up to as a young boy were set by the family religion, the expectation that I would follow my father’s example, and society.  I knew who I was, but also knew being myself would make me a disappointment.  I had an undeniable identity, but knew I would be humiliated if anyone found out about it  Despite the consciousness of my identity, I was afraid and ashamed of who I was.  The three constants of being LGBT in the 1980s:  Longing, fear, and shame.   Self-acceptance was a luxury to which I was not entitled.

    That self-rejection and shame is the gift that society bestowed on the LGBT community.  In the U.S., we are used to thinking that solitary confinement is a severe measure reserved only for unruly prisoners in the penal system.  While there are striking similarities to society’s wholesale isolation of the LGBT community, we call that “living in the closet” - oppression tidily swept under a rug of nomenclature.

    At times, the oppression and shame were codified in laws and official policies.  There is a long unspoken legacy of violence and often police brutality towards the LGBT community that only came to light after the Stonewall Riots.  In the 1990s, President Clinton attempted to compromise on the issue of gays serving in the military with a policy called “Don’t ask, don’t tell.”  The idea was simply that homosexuals could serve in the military, as long as they kept it hidden.  While it appeased conservatives, the great crime of the policy is that it reinforced the idea that homosexuality was something shameful that needed to be kept hidden.  In a more recent scenarios, the fight over marriage equality openly questions whether homosexuals are worthy of having open romantic love.  There is currently serious political discussion about Transgender restroom use.  Imagine the humiliation of having your restroom use debated publicly.  All issues openly question whether LGBT individuals should be allowed to participate in public life.

   So, why a Pride Month?  It rights a terrible wrong - shame has been the solitary burden of so many of our LGBT brothers and sisters.  Pride replaces shame and fear, and mandates the presence of self-acceptance. I turned 42 last November, and I am just now realizing what Pride - life minus the pain of self-loathing - feels like.



  1. I'm so glad you're finally feeling better about yourself, Rebecca. Nice to see you write a blog post.

    Calie xxx

  2. Thanks, Calie! Life took off in many happy ways, so I became distracted and have not been to this space for a while.

    I wrote this piece ~2 weeks ago as a Pride Month piece for my workplace - I thought we could run it on the management blog at the lab where I work. Unfortunately, they thought it was too political, and it never posted there. In any case, the exercise made me realize how healthy writing can be - there are things that I will never make peace with unless I find some way to communicate about them.

    Anyways, I will be posting more regularly for the near future!

  3. Very very well said, thank you. I'm 61 so have some more years but I lived the same reality that it's not okay to be myself. Worse, I should be and was, so deeply ashamed. I'm recovering from that now thank goodness.

    Your writing means a lot to me. Keep it up, please. Shout it from the rooftops! We need everyone to understand and internalize that to be trans - like gay, intersex, or anything - is simply to be a part if normal human diversity. Nothing more, nothing less, and certainly nothing to be afraid of.

    1. Thanks for the encouragement, Emma! So pleased to meet you! After years of isolation and fear, it was so empowering to realize that my experience was fairly commonplace once I met the right community. For the first time, I began to feel at home in humanity.

      Never forget - we are history in the making. Your participation, visibility, happiness, etc. are frequently the most effective catalyst for change.

      Keep being your beautiful self!