Illustrations by Sarah Mazzetti.
The first time I ever went to a Pride celebration, I thought I was straight. I was 20 years old and working as an intern at a summer program in San Francisco. The internship gave me an excuse to finally live in the city I had dreamed about visiting since I was a kid.
That summer, San Francisco was the site of many innocent firsts: my first time riding a cable car, eating dim sum, entering an anarchist collective bookstore.
But celebrating Pride created firsts I’d later realize were more significant. At Pride, for the first time in my life, I saw an openly queer Latinx person, proudly waving a Mexican flag, the red and green outer columns replaced with rainbow stripes. In fact, I saw a whole stage dedicated to queer Latinx folks, who were dancing salsa and bachata, making queer jokes in Spanglish. For the first time, I saw queer Christians, dancing on floats decorated with sparkled crosses and signs that said “Christian + Gay = OK!”
It was 2008. Barack Obama had just been declared the Democratic nominee for president, and California had just become the second state to legalize gay marriage, so I imagine many queer people at that Pride celebration felt they were entering a new era of possibility.
It would take another decade for me to consider what the liberation and safety I felt in that space might have meant.
Growing up in Florida, I knew many people who showed disdain for Pride month. “Why do they have to shove it in our faces?” many friends in my neighborhood loved to say, as they watched the ostentatious floats on TV. That sort of messaging made it confusing for me to come to terms with my own queer identity.
But ever since my first parade, Pride has been a place of possibility, a space to see myself reflected back. This year would have finally been my first Pride as an openly queer woman. With the covid-19 crisis putting an end to mass gatherings, I’m mourning the loss.
In a recent essay for Guernica, writer Joseph Osmundson quotes queer theorist José Esteban Muñoz: “Queerness should and could be about a desire for another way of being in both the world and in time, a desire that resists mandates to accept that which is not enough.” Osmundson adds that queerness, then, is a “perpetual striving toward something that doesn’t yet exist in the world, but that we can feel, in our guts and bodies, is necessary.”
At Pride, I felt I was participating actively in that perpetual striving. At my first parade, and later Pride events, I had a small but significant glimpse of what a nonheteronormative world could look like, a world that welcomed Drag Queen Story Hour and the Queer Women of Color Film Festival. At Pride events, I saw tall, burly men proudly flaunting shirts that said “Girls Rule” in rainbow font, and I saw Mexican men in cowboy hats and leather boots, dancing banda together on the street, wrapped in each other’s arms. With the all-consuming homophobia of daily life, Pride has become a space that argues, it doesn’t have to be like this. For the month of June, I can dwell in possibility for another way the world can be.
Of course, that possibility is not distributed equally; though it’s possible now to find pockets of people of color, Pride events still center whiteness. Trans folks, disabled folks and other marginalized queer people still have to fight for their place. As a friend and fellow queer Latinx writer told me, “Pride asks us to be collectively visible, but what does that mean when the collective looks like this?”
And yet, for a queer kid from Florida, I still appreciate that when returning to the Bay Area again in 2017, Pride was one of the only ways I could access queer community. Nine years after attending my first Pride, I was around six months into exploring my queerness when I attended Pride again. As a new resident and baby queer, I had no idea which clubs hosted the trendy day parties. I had no queer friends to picnic with at Dolores Park during the Dyke March, or to go to drag brunch with before the parade. What I did know: If I walked toward the Latinx stage at Civic Center, I could dance with queer people of color who looked like me.
For the past few years, I have been thinking of a story a queer woman once told me about kissing another woman at a queer party. My friend remembers the other woman’s awe, after they kissed, as she looked around the room wide-eyed and said, “I didn’t know this existed.” The woman then confessed she was set to marry a man in two weeks.
Maybe I keep thinking about that story of the almost-married woman because I too easily can see myself having become her. I am haunted by her awe, and her words.
As someone who came out in her 30s, I don’t want it to take me another 30 years to discover something else I never knew existed, to find another way of being in the world that I later feel in my guts and my body is necessary, to come to the realization that for years, I have been accepting what is not enough.
Last year, during San Francisco’s Pride parade, I marched with the organization Somos Familia (which later won the parade’s yearly award). This time, I saw dozens waving that same Mexican Pride flag I saw at my first march, and I was brought to tears seeing a group of Latinx mothers carrying posters that said, “Latina Orgulloso De Mi Hijo Queer” — “Latina proud of my queer son.”
Of course, our float was scrunched between Wix and Visa, and our tiny speaker completely — and I guess, metaphorically — silenced by the larger and louder DJ sound systems in the corporate floats nearby. By then, I was out to most of my close friends around the Bay Area, and I marched carrying a poster that said “Latinx, Bisexual, Queer, And Proud!” But back at home, I was still not out to my family. I still spent Pride reminding friends taking photos not to tag me and carefully curating whatever made it to my own social media. But in many ways, marching at that Pride was what I needed to imagine what an openly queer life could look like. In many ways, it was the last impetus that made clear what I ultimately wanted: to declare, in all its nuance, everything about who I am. I came out to my family two months later.
In her book, “The Politics of Trauma,” author Staci K. Haines argues that imagination and yearning are “muscles that need to be built.” Those with the least systemic privilege often “need to be reminded, encouraged, and empowered, through healing and political education, to declare and declare boldly.”
Amid its failings, perhaps I still hold on to Pride because it invites me to declare boldly. It helps me practice imagination. It helps me build the muscle of allowing myself to desire what I’ve been told all my life to feel ashamed for wanting.
I love Hannah Gadsby’s joke calling the Pride flag too “shouty.” But at least right now, I need the shoutiness of Pride. I need it to unapologetically take up space. I remember that old and popular Spanish aphorism — “mas calladita, mas bonita,” or “the quieter a woman is, the more beautiful” — and I remember the reactions to Pride I heard in Florida growing up, and I feel so grateful Pride goes against everything society teaches women about being modest and private and restrained. I like that Pride shoves queerness in everyone’s faces. I like that it’s loud and extravagant and “too much,” because every other day of the year, there is still not enough.
Even before covid-19, I don’t know what I necessarily expected to be different about Pride month this year, my first since coming out to my family, but I expected it to just feel different. I imagined spending it dancing at parties and marching in the parade — everything feeling more carefree, or at least more self-assured. I felt exhilarated by the idea of spending the whole month not hiding anything. Instead, I am spending this Pride inside, concerned about the survival of our community and our queer spaces, as well as the many other ways covid-19 intensifies the vulnerability of queer people around the world. This year, Pride won’t take up the same space it has for decades. In many ways, the LGBTQ community will have to grapple with what Pride can mean and look like when we can’t have the extravagant parties and the shouty flags and the loud music.
At the same time, I am reminding myself that if queerness is a perpetual striving toward what doesn’t yet exist, then this year is the year to imagine bigger, declare louder, dwell more completely in the possibility of another way to be.