Growing up a queer femme in a small town, I never had a relationship to Pride. I came out at 19 and although I had access to queer theory via the Internet, living in a familiar and deeply heteronormative environment left me feeling like Pride occurred worlds away from me.
I felt the particular type of queerness celebrated at Pride events was incongruent with my experiences; my brain chemistry does not do well with hard partying, I get anxious in crowds and ultimately, I felt invalid and unsteady within my identity, a feeling I was used to carrying as a mixed, Jew-ish Latina living in Australia.
Prior to coming out and meeting my partner (two separate events that happened close together), I had only had sex with (cis) men. Throughout my adolescence, a mixture of trauma and foundational self-worth problems dictated my sexual behaviour(s) and I felt that sexual intimacy which truly aligned with my desires was out of reach. So, for the first year of my twenties and being publicly gay, I held my breath, waiting for somebody to call me out on my sexual track record and effectively cancel my membership to the Queer Community.
As time passed and I started creating links to other queer people (as well as witnessing several friends come out) I began to see there is no queer experience more valid than the next.
There is no true way to homogenize something that is unique and ever-evolving at its core and any attempt to do so is deeply destructive to the fabric of our community.
I delved deeper, reading, listening and watching queer icons and theorists, learning again and again how important it is to make room for all the queer stories out there – starting with your own.
During this time, I found better ways to think about romance, relationships and the vital role of platonic intimacy; something upon which the heteronormative ideal places very little importance. I un/re-learned about gender diversity and the dangerous, harmful limitations of the binary as well as how to do better at dismantling it in my day-to-day. I owe so much of my education to the beautiful friends around me who were present and patient as I journeyed.
Owning my queerness, developing as an individual and feminist expression have and will always be intrinsically tied. When we live in a culture that enforces cis/heteronormativity through most sorts of legitimized public representation, living as queer becomes layered with facets that go above and beyond sexuality. It’s not as simple as being a girl that wants to kiss other girls. It is as complicated and all-encompassing as rejecting the script you’ve been given to follow culturally, societally and personally.
It is claiming your understanding of self in ways that transcend the definitions you’ve been handed.
For me, queer agency came hand-in-hand with the complex and bewildering process of unlearning the destructive coping mechanisms I’d developed to compensate for living an inauthentic life.
As I mature, my understanding of Pride has shifted dramatically. What looked like a raucous and intimidating series of parties to my naïve 19-year-old-self has taken on a completely new meaning. Pride is a vulnerable and life-affirming response to a world that places indescribable pressure on us to assimilate. It is a joyous opportunity for solidarity and a real chance to honour the icons and heroes who worked tirelessly and suffered tremendously to secure us a more liberated future as well as those who keep their legacies alive today.
I love that it falls halfway through the year, a perfect marker to celebrate how far we’ve travelled as well as an invitation to look forward and see all there’s left to do.
My dream is for our LGBTQIA+ history to be further uncovered and uplifted, for queers of all cultures and backgrounds to be given respect, protection and visibility. I want a stronger universal grasp on intersectionality as it shows up both in theory and practice. I want queers across the world to be given tenderness and grace from within our community and throughout our lives. Let us hold space for each other to celebrate, to grieve, to build, to come out and go within.
Right now, I’ve been living in the city for less than 2 months. The small-town dust has barely washed off my clothes and my 23rd birthday is coming up. There is much about my queerness that is still revealing itself to me, so much still to learn.
But when I sit in the park with my queer friends and see the sun hit their faces or when I turn at night to find my partner’s body, I feel a giant, uncontainable swell of love and gratitude to know I’m anchored to something that will never stop making me better.
I still haven’t attended a Pride event but will I always feel it there, where the love lives.
Words: Gopi Lev Dupain
Photography: Ella Jane