My first pride I was still in the closet. I told my mother I was sleeping over Heather’s house (shout out to people not even knowing they were complicit in my convoluted plan), said I was being picked up while my mother was out, and snuck out of my own house (which was empty at the time) to a classmates house whose parents were the absentee type of parents. We told her parents we had an art project that we needed to go to a museum for and they, due to being too busy, put us on the train and we split up with plans to meet back up at the MFA so her parents could retrieve us.
I was 11, I was unsupervised, and I was at pride. Pride was the first time that I believed the “it gets better” line because there was physical proof. There were girls holding hands and people whose gender I wasn’t sure of and no one was shouting abuse, no one was in survival mode, no one was scared. For the first time in my life I didn’t feel like I was lying and I was so overwhelmed.
My first pride I didn’t approach anyone, I clung to my mapquested directions to and from the MFA stop where I had to meet up with my classmate and I stared. It wasn’t some suddenly inclusive experience, I was a shy kid and I was terrified of the wider queer culture. I watched the parade I stuttered through an interaction with a very sweet drag queen who thought I had lost my parents and then I went to the mfa and sat on the steps until my classmate showed up and we called her parents to come get us.
All in all I was probably at pride for two hours and it wasn’t some huge life changing experience at the time; it was overwhelming and I was out of my element, I still owned dolls. But at the age of 11 I got to see what my future could be, I got to see a world where I wasn’t terrified and I could fit in my own skin.
Pride matters, and pride for kids matters even more. If you are 25 and living in a crappy apartment you already made it out. You survived living with your parents and high school and discovering that you were different. You are finally the example. You can go to pride and wear what you’re comfortable in without smuggling clothes out of the house in your backpack and changing in the bathroom at south station (we’ve all done it once). You are officially living proof that small town high school and small minded people don’t have to be a death sentence. That is so wonderful and so necessary.
Pride is for the closeted. It is for the kids too afraid to say who they are out loud for fear that someone will hear them. Pride is for the homophobes, to remind them they didn’t win. It’s for that little boy uncomfortably tugging on a dress because he can’t tell his parents how wrong it feels to wear it. Pride, is for the people who can’t be proud yet it’s a promise that if they make the leap we will catch them.
Be out at pride, be loud and excited that you are alive. March in the parade, participate in activism, paint yourself with rainbows, and dance the night away. Make every moment at pride a big middle finger at the mean girls who stopped inviting you to pool parties because girls made you blush. Stand in defiance at the boys who whispered behind your back in the locker room when they were staring just as much. Be the proof that it gets better because you never know when some scared kid at their first pride is watching.