After this Monday’s Daily feature on the contemporary significance of Pride, I feel compelled to throw in my own two cents. The first time I was asked what pride meant, I was 15 and terrified. I mumbled something about pride being the opposite of shame.
To be honest, it was just the first thing that I came to mind because I didn’t know what to say. I was kind of terrified of being associated with the feather boas and assless chaps I’d seen on TV. Up until that point, I’d also only experienced the feeling of pride twice: the first time was when I’d come out to a group of 10 or so people while standing at the front of a classroom.
The second time was when I’d been questioned by the seventh grader I was tutoring and had told him that, yes, the rumours he’d heard were true. The pride I felt was associated with not running away, with not hiding; I was proud of myself for being strong. Pride manifested itself in a rush of pure adrenaline that made me want to laugh like a maniac. Both times it only lasted for seconds because I was then bulldozed by an equally intense rush of panic: Would school ever be the same again? Was I going to get beat up? If rumours were spreading so fast, how long could it be until they somehow reached my parents?
In retrospect, my somewhat haphazard answer made a lot of sense. For me, shame was a central theme of coming out. I was ashamed of being queer but even more ashamed of not daring to admit it. What I hoped to achieve in coming out was to shed all the shame I had built up over the past two or three years of angsty journal-writing and emo poetry.
Needless to say, coming out did not magically eradicate all the negativity I felt, nor was a year of snickers and mean jokes particularly helpful to my self-esteem. However, I clung to the basic principle that no matter what, I would never allow myself to indulge in shame again.
It wasn’t until the very end of high school, after months of dodging bullets at home and at school while lurking on queer message boards online, that I finally gained an idea of the sense of community and the bigger picture of queer pride. The summer after graduation I went to the pride parade with newfound excitement. Being hit on by a girl for the first time was not just gratifying because she was cute, it was exhilarating because I felt like I was in a space where I belonged. It was then that the word finally settled comfortably in my head.
At McGill, I launched myself into queer theory, activism, and community work. Pride became a word that pulled the weight of decades of history, decorated with peacock feathers and rainbow beads. It was no longer a feeling; it was a political movement.
After all this time in my little queer Montreal bubble, I find that it’s easy to forget about the time before pride was a concept I was comfortable with. And yet, it’s when I go back home and have to worry about looking too gay and pretending I’m perpetually single that I find renewed strength in the actual feeling of pride. I take strength in pride when no one around me knows what it means, and when I can’t take it for granted.
I realize that even having spent years on McGill campus acting as a a mouthpiece of the queer community doesn’t make me immune to moments of discomfort, of doubt, or of internalized homophobia. No matter how long you’ve been out, the closet is still tantalizing sometimes.
Coming out is not a one-shot, it’s an ongoing process that doesn’t actually get easier over time. For me, to this day, part of it is still about conquering shame, regret, and disgust. But beyond that, it’s also about owning the experiences that, once upon a time, sowed so much anger and sadness, and about owning the obstacles I still face in my daily life.
Floh Herra Vega’s column appears every other Thursday. Email her at to email@example.com.