Queer Life and Culture

My Pride Experience – Baby Girl’s First Pride

Welcome to My Pride Experience!

My Pride Experience is a series where contributors share their experiences with Pride celebrations. These can be good, bad, or in between. Join us on our journey to discover how Pride is celebrated and experienced by members of our own community.

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Baby Girl’s First Pride

by Makeda

I was always told that home is where your heart is.

Growing up in Cleveland, OH, I can’t say that I was surrounded by the most open minded of people. I recall conversations with my aunt where she told me, “you have to be careful who you hang out with. People can get you into all kinds of things, even gay things.” …Gay things? Clearly her point was that I could be peer-pressured into homosexuality, but that didn’t make sense to me. Even at the tender age of 12, I knew “gay things” wasn’t something you could pick up through coercion. At this time, I knew that just maybe I could maybe be gay? I wasn’t sure. My best friend at the time was a little boy crazy and I found myself unable to relate. What made guys so attractive? Whereas I could easily point to someone female bodied and be able to see what made that person pretty or what I liked. For a moment, I had even wondered I was asexual, because I couldn’t understand the obsession with kissing people. I barely understood what sexual attraction was. What I did understand was that whatever it turned out I was or was into, I could tell no one. I would shut myself firmly into the closet and not budge until I was sure it was safe.

I came out to my friends as bisexual in 8th grade.

By that point, I knew I had to tell someone. But who? Certainly not my parents, because what if they thought the same way as my aunt? Not my grandmothers, whose worldviews were steeped in Baptist rhetoric and culturally engrained homophobia. So, that day, I woke up and made a decision: the people I would open up to would be my chosen family. I chose my friends. To my surprise and relief, my new family didn’t care.

I moved to Oak Park in 2006.

It wasn’t an easy adjustment, but I did have one thought: this city is big enough (and possibly progressive enough) that there might be a pride parade. Just the idea of going helped me make it through my first winter. I made one gay friend, the first gay person I’d ever even met, and as weird as that relationship was, I at least felt a sense of kinship. My sense of community has always been a bit skewed. As an only child, with just two parents and enough extended family to count on both hands and maybe one foot, I couldn’t comprehend how having a (supposed) support system that large could affect your sense of being. My circle was small in Cleveland – nine of us against the bullies, against our depression, a tight-knit force. Without that force, the force I was in contact with on a daily basis, I was lost. I’ve never had a hard time making friends. Maintaining those relationships has always been my struggle, due to how uneasily I gave my trust. I spent my first 11 months in Chicago in a dark, lonely place. Until the parade.

Convincing my parents to take me [to Pride], as a barely teenager in a brand new city, a terrifying thought to my mom, was easy.

Even though I’d done my research as far as the parade route, what to wear, and how to get there, my attire was a point of contention between my mom and I. With it being 93 degrees that day, I was prepared with simply shorts and a t-shirt. However, mom had taken the role of Knowledgeable Ally and insisted that the men we would run into at the parade would judge me for not being fabulous enough. Again, I was in a situation where an adult was legitimately trying to help me, but it didn’t make sense to me. Were gay men that mean? My new friend was, but he was one single teenager, certainly not enough for an accurate data pool. But to keep the peace, I changed my clothes to something more festive. “Festive” at the time meant my largest black sweater and a skirt.

I felt like I was putting on a disguise.

We found an excellent spot along the parade route with a section of wall that I could climb and sit upon, with a clear view above the crowd. I sat, perched upon this wall, tight as a bowstring. I had no idea what to expect, but I was ready for anything.

Let me tell you, I was so not ready.

The parade itself was like nothing I’d ever seen. So many colors! So many sounds! So many…half naked men? I was surrounded in a cacophony of music and yelling, the noise blending together into something I’d never experienced before. Was being prideful always this loud? Is it really possible to be this out?

After a while, I wanted to explore. After all, we hadn’t taken the trip into the city to just sit and stare, right? I don’t remember much, just music thumping through open bar windows. I remember the large, sweaty men and the beautiful drag queens giving out beads. Condoms covered the ground, glitter covered the condoms, and everything was just a chaotic mash of joy and drunken debauchery that I longed to join. I wanted to belong.

After a long day weeding through the revelry, dad and I were the only ones who remembered where the car was. Mom was lagging behind, so I led the way. From behind me, I heard her say, “look at her. I thought she was going to stick out, but look at her. It’s like she belongs here.”

Maybe I could, I thought to myself. Maybe one day, I could belong here.

Thirteen years have passed since then. I have been able to develop a sense of self that I might not have been able to back in Cleveland. I can comfortably say that Chicago now has my heart. My chosen family, they have my heart.

I am home.

I finally belong.

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