The Gayest Land
Like many queers, I was initially a bit jaded about New York hosting WorldPride. I’ll spare my criticisms about rainbow capitalism, only because they’ve already been beautifully articulated by many other queer writers.
Something magical happened, though. I decided to engage.
I’ve never been much of a party person (being a closeted trans woman surrounded by club gays was a very dysphoric experience), but I was pleasantly surprised at how much the city was offering that was real, actual, community-oriented programming. I’ve been participating in all sorts of cool events, with groups as small as five people. I’ve met amazing queers at every single one.
I know that most of the cool strangers I meet will remain that—strangers—but if you meet enough people, a few are just bound to stick. And that has been happening. I’ve been making new queer connections and finding new networks for the first time in years. In short, I have discovered a depth I always knew my community had, but had yet to encounter personally.
It is thrilling, and I feel so empowered.
I grew up in Arkansas, identifying as a gay man. Every boyfriend I had before the age of 23 refused to hold my hand in public, for fear of being bashed.
I’ve always been a visibility queen, and while I understood my boyfriends’ motivations, I really can’t tell you what kind of pain that inflicts on your soul. When the person you love hates a part of your relationship that much, and only because society said to, it’s hard to even imagine a future where visibility isn’t a source of fear and panic.
There’s an energy in the air right now. The city is blanketed with rainbows. A lot of them are logos, but a lot of them are PSAs and random flags hanging from apartment windows. I’ve seen more pronoun visibility in the last month than I have in the rest of my life.
I developed agoraphobia for the first year of my transition, in large part because of the huge anxiety I had in workshopping my appearance while having to rely on the subway as my primary form of transit. It is now literally impossible for me to walk from my apartment to the train without encountering at least one message going out of its way to tell me that I am valid.
The World Pride opening ceremony was the first stadium/arena show I’ve been to in three years that I haven’t had to leave early because of a panic attack. For the first time in my life, I had no problem participating in the weird ‘hype up the crowd’ routines that those events rely on. At one point, I leaned over to my friend and said “is this why straight people love sports? Because they get to participate in something that includes and represents them?” It may be a simulacrum, but for the first time in my life I live in a world where at least half of the people around me are queer.
I’ve met people in town from Brazil, from Spain, the UK, all over the US. It is an actual, sincere, pilgrimage. I came of age while living in Rome and have two degrees in Italian Art History. I absolutely love baroque pilgrimages. And now I get my own. I live in my community’s Mecca, our Rome, our Ganges. Our hagiography is solidifying. Their faces flash on the info screens scattered throughout the city. Sylvia Rivera is our Maria, and Marsha P. Johnson our Christ. Our patron saints of the arts: Alvin Ailey, Leonard Bernstein, Wendy Carlos.
Everyone in the city is telegraphing queer positivity and it’s bowled me over because it’s the first time I’ve been in a queer space the size of a city. The size of my city. The city that I moved to seven years ago to find myself, and in doing so found a home.
It matters, y’all. It all matters so much.
Fifty years ago, a bunch of trans women, drag queens, street kids, and gays, many of them POC, said no to overt oppression in a way that finally took hold. In doing so, they have turned their city into the only place I have ever been where I have felt capable of just being me, without fear of repercussion.
I left my job a while ago, and I’ve been waffling about the idea of switching careers. I didn’t have any idea of what I wanted to do with my life, which made career planning absurdly abstract.
I know my purpose, now. It wasn’t a conscious decision, but a truth deep within me that this beautiful confluence of queerness has helped me to discover. I am here because of my community, and I rededicate my life to lifting up other queers with marginalized identities. They will change the world.
Happy Stonewall 50, everyone. I love you all.