Last week I went to my second gay pride parade ever and my first since coming out. At the last one I went to, maybe five years ago, I wore shimmering blue eye shadow and decided I was dressed as Ke$ha. I stickered up my body and wore multicolored necklaces and danced around to whatever music was blasting from parade floats as they scooted by.
At that time, the Pride Parade was just a fun event for me, an excuse to have a dance party. It was always just sort of obvious to me that gay people should not be seen as less than anyone else, so I did not quite comprehend the significance of what that parade probably meant for so many of the people there, of what, years later, it would begin to mean for me.
While I always had an easy time accepting others, it took a lot longer for me to accept myself. This year, nine months after I finally did, I stood on the sidelines of the Chicago Gay Pride Parade, and as music blasted, rainbow-painted bodies danced by, and children hopped along, high-fiving me and flinging bracelets into the crowd, I began to cry beneath my sunglasses.
Finally, I felt like I was where I was supposed to be—not only accepting and embracing who I am, but joining the fight to help others accept themselves, too. To me, that’s what having gay pride is really about. Yes, it exists to show the haters that we will not back down and that we will fight for what we inherently deserve, but it is also about showing the closeted just how happy embracing their sexuality can make them and just how many people out there are ready and willing to help them through their fear and their confusion.
When I first came out I didn’t know how to feel about the notion of Gay Pride. It felt strange to feel proud of something that came encoded in me at birth, strange to feel pride for a part of myself that a straight person doesn’t at all consider a defining piece of her identity. But standing along that parade route, I finally understood not only what it truly feels like to have gay pride, but why I need to have it.
While I was certainly born gay, being gay was still something that I worked very hard to achieve. I am proud of myself for finally overcoming everything that scared me and for accepting that I cannot change the past and come out sooner. I am proud of myself for telling my story, and I am proud of myself for drowning out the haters, those out here in the world and those who once existed within me. Overcoming all of that deserves a celebration.
For twenty-three years I was ashamed and afraid of this part of me, a part of me that a lot of people out there still think is sick and unnatural and wrong. Until we eliminate all of that discrimination, accepting it is not enough. Embracing it, being Proud of it, is everything. It is everything that will help terrified kids feel a little less afraid, that will help anyone reach the point that I did, where they can stand along a rainbow-streaked parade route and feel indescribable feelings of joy.
As I watched that parade, cheering and screaming with friends of all sexualities, I kept pausing to breathe, to soak it all in, to take in every moment of the first time I let myself be truly, boldly, and fearlessly proud of being gay. Cheering with my arms around my greatest friends, all I could think was this is love, this is happiness, this is pride.