I officially came out for the first time in 1994 Asheville, North Carolina, at the ripe old age of 17. That’s 27 years of being out to myself (and to select people who were close to me). By 18, I had fully kicked down the closet door, never to replace it. I lezzed it up everywhere I went from that point on–college, work, graduate school, work, professional conferences, work. Every place I’ve lived, I’ve lived gaily–Ohio, Scotland, London, Toronto, Buffalo, New York City, and now, Tarrytown.
I’m openly queer in every place and to everyone because that’s who I am. It’s my default to strike preemptively and disarm with humor. But I also make a deliberate choice every time I come out, every time I use the word “lesbian” or “queer” or “gay” in my very corporate work environment, every time I say “I’m Kim’s wife” in Kim’s home village of Florida, NY (yes, it’s a place, population ~2,900, home to Jimmy Sturr the polka king).
I believe strongly in the power of representation. I’m acutely aware of my privilege as a white woman who presents as straight until I open my preemptive mouth. I feel a keen responsibility to use my voice and my privilege to promote queer visibility and normalize queer identities, to create space for other queer people who haven’t found their voices yet, who haven’t found their opening.
This month marked a somber anniversary: five years since the Pulse nightclub shooting. Bars and clubs are sacred spaces for us alphabet mafia folks. For many of us, they’re where we gather for the first time ever with other people like us, where we first find our community. They’re where we go to escape a world that can make us feel not just like we don’t belong but like we don’t deserve to be in it. They’re the root of the root of our liberation, thanks to our transgender and gender-nonconforming siblings of color and especially our Black transgender sisters.
So, that early-morning massacre in Orlando of LGBTQ+ people and allies, mostly LGBTQ+ people of color, in that hallowed place that is the source and origin of our community, continues to be a powerful reminder of how dangerous but essential our visibility is, why I’m so outspoken (pun accepted), and why Pride matters.
I was asked as a queer leader where I work to share five things I’m proud of, which I pivoted to five examples of when I feel Pride. Here they are.
I feel Pride when…
- I think about the life my wife and I have built together in a world that doesn’t always make that easy
- I remember coming out as gay for the first time at age 17 in 1994 North Carolina—I was so fearless!
- I come out to someone new or—even better—someone new comes out to me
- I bring my whole queer self to work, even when it’s uncomfortable, maybe especially when it’s uncomfortable
- I use my voice and privilege to normalize queer experiences because visibility matters
Pride is not a party, or anyway it’s not just a party. Pride is not a parade, or anyway it’s not just a parade. Pride is a revolution, and it’s ongoing.
May those we’ve lost rest in power. For their sake and for my own, I’m here to keep doing the work.
Yours in Pride,
Jessica the Westchesbian
Jessica lives with her shiksa wife and geriatric cat in picturesque Tarrytown on the Hudson. Although a proud Westchesbian these days, Jessica grew up in Asheville, North Carolina, back when the opening of the Olive Garden and the 24-hour Walmart were big news. During business hours, Jessica’s a communications professional who translates highly technical concepts into clear, concise, colloquial language that media buyers and sellers can understand. Outside of business hours, she’s a poet, cat mom, wife, avid reader, and lover of questionable crime, sci-fi, and supernatural TV shows (preferably all in one), not necessarily in that order. Her poetry has appeared in Tin House, The Paris Review, LIT, and The Huffington Post, among others.