Pride Month and being visibly queer

I spent fifteen minutes or so this morning scrolling through various gay hashtags on Instagram while laying in bed half-asleep. While I quickly got bored of the tanned abs and biceps on my feed, the rainbows and sticker adorned selfies reminded me that it was first day of June. This time of year has been special to me ever since I went with a group of young queer friends to Philly Pride in 2014, shortly after finishing our first year of college. My thighs led those blue shorts to an early grave, but thankfully my arms still look great in that tank top.

Since then, whether in Philadelphia or Boston, Pride has been an opportunity to celebrate queerness and have fun for a weekend without feeling unduly burdened by heteronormative society. It has also been a chance to reflect on queer history and the gay/trans/queer ancestors who devoted their lives to a harrowing struggle for liberation. Sometimes it feels like my life as a queer person (particularly as a queer person of color) is always equal parts jubilation and mourning, where every day that I am alive is a triumph. Despite some privileges like socioeconomic status and educational attainment, I am among the most likely of minorities to be the victim of a hate crime. Black gay men trail transgender women of color, but seeing as hate crimes against LGBTQ people are notoriously difficult to trace, these numbers are incomplete.

I think about these lives lost every morning. As someone that gets read as queer every day of my life, I am always in some sense thinking about the possibility of being assaulted and/or killed when I walk out my front door. Overall, Philadelphia isn’t a bad place to be a young queer person, we have a few thriving communities that extend well beyond the boundaries of the Gayborhood. But still, sometimes when I get called a faggot by an adult man for daring to walk by him in mid-thigh length shorts, I wonder if that might be the last thing I’ll hear. Being a visibly queer person makes navigating public space an exercise in anxiety management. Having a rose gold septum piercing and vibrant green certainly hasn’t helped me blend in. And yet, even if I wore the baggiest jeans and lumpiest t-shirt I could find, my voice and mannerisms would give me away. Passing isn’t really an option for me, even if I wanted to try. I have been “out” since middle school, but I’m sure I started being read as queer long before then. Femme black boys die a hundred times before puberty, a thousand times during it, and perhaps find some solace in college – if we’re lucky.

On June 12th last year, 49 predominantly Latinx LGBTQ people were murdered inside a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. 53 more were wounded, and Pulse became a reminder for us that we aren’t really safe, not even in our own spaces. I was at a gay club in Cambridge that night, doing exactly the same thing as those folks. Pride parties are full of flirting, dancing, grinding, touching, laughing, drinking, and loving. And yet, they can also be the perfect place to kill us. That night and the following day, I exchanged over a thousand texts and messages with queer folks in my various networks. I probably received another couple hundred from strangers and loved ones alike, concerned about how I was holding up. I even exchanged emails with professors, some of them queer themselves, checking in on how I was doing. I spent the next few days crying randomly, I couldn’t read or focus on my research work, and I developed an aversion to all of my social media networks because I didn’t want to see the faces of those beautiful queers whose lives were taken from them. It took me almost two weeks to sort through the details that emerged about the shooter and the logistics of the attack. I broke down sobbing uncontrollably when I finally read an article that covered the lives of many of the victims. However, even something like this won’t take Pride away from me.

The late queer theorist José Esteban Muñoz argues that queerness is something “not yet here”. Perhaps then a queer way of being in the world is always tied to imagining a more loving future. Pride season is a reminder of this yearning, a desire to dream of something better than what we have now and from which we came. Every day is an opportunity, and at 22 years old, I have never been more proud to be my authentic queer self.

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