A young person I met recently, still in high school, told me how "cool" it is to be gay right now. They were straight, but envious of their gay friends, almost remorseful that they weren't also gay. Isn't that wild? The pride parades worked; being gay is something to be celebrated, or so it seems. I smiled in agreement, wanting to pull the kid in close to me and whisper, "You have no idea."
This new era we're in is a foreign country to me. Marriage equality is legal, we've had major medical advances in HIV/AIDS research, LGBTQ characters are on TV, and on a personal level, I really like myself. I haven't always been able to say that.
You see, pride in oneself — the ability to look in the mirror and like what you see — is a fight that LGBTQ people are thrust into, against our will and without any warning. Ultimately, through great trials and trauma, it's something we must teach ourselves. There's a brief moment in your childhood, right around the dawn of puberty, when you haven't fully learned the expectations of your gender and sexuality. You'd chase a classmate around the playground, not knowing what a crush was or that your personal relationships, both romantic and platonic, would be policed for the rest of your life. As LGBTQ people, too often our entire existence is spent in pursuit of that, a return to that feeling, that freedom.
Self-acceptance colors your experience in gradual shades, like the rainbow, and the longer you're open with yourself and those around you, the more comfortable you become.
Our people are fighters; beautiful, fabulous fighters
I feel most at home, most tethered to this earth, when I remember that though the history books don't acknowledge us, we've been around forever. We are the descendants of some of the most significant people who have ever lived: Alexander the Great, Joan of Arc, Virginia Woolf, Alan Turing, James Baldwin, Marsha P. Johnson, Sally Ride, and countless, nameless others.
Let us forever honor them. Our people are fighters; beautiful, fabulous fighters. One of the greatest realizations I've made on my journey toward radical queer self-acceptance is how completely obsessed I am with the different LGBTQ people I've met and befriended. Being part of an LGBTQ community wasn't available to me while I was growing up in North Carolina and during the early part of my 20s, and now that I do have it, the love and empathy and affection that I experience elates me.
One of the people I met early on was Jack Smith. He was my college professor and his favorite colors were periwinkle and pink, which were echoed in the painted walls of his office. He was gay — like, really, really gay — with a wit and kindness that was unfamiliar to me. At that time, I'd mumbled out the words, "I like boys" to exactly two people and was just beginning to come around to the thinking that it might be all right if I was gay, as long as nobody ever found out. It was a secret I accepted, but thought I'd never disclose. Until I met Jack, such overt gayness wasn't an option that I knew a person had. It changed everything for me.
I said that being gay is now cool — and that is true, in a lot of places. But the fight isn't over. Discrimination still exists, and the way it plays out for those whose identities do not neatly fit into the boxes of gay and lesbian is categorically harsher. Bisexuality is still considered a myth, transgender women are among the most marginalized people in the country, and for nonbinary folks who experience their gender outside of the spectrum of man and woman, the movement has not yet begun.
This is our fight. When part of the group turns their backs against a segment of our community because they themselves aren't facing direct discrimination, we all fail.
In a recent study, 20 percent of millennials surveyed say that they identify as LGBTQ (this is compared to 12 percent in Generation X and only 7 percent of baby boomers). We have struggles ahead of us, but LGBTQ people are here and we're the future. I'm filled with a certain lightness — a cautious euphoria — when I think about the future, because it's coming fast, and it's queer as hell.