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Celebrating Canada's 2SLGBTQI+ Communities

My First Pride

One IN contributor shares her first Pride experience…

By Emily Norton

When I started coming out to my family, it was June. Amidst a summer of personal heartbreak and increasing self-awareness, I remember sitting in the living room of my family home and seeing TV updates on Toronto’s Pride festival, the Dyke March, all the waving rainbow flags. It was inspiring to see such a joyful celebration of identity, but simultaneously I felt like I was being taunted by a life I’d never be able to let myself live­: a life in which I not only felt wholeheartedly proud of who I am, but where I could be visible in the world as a queer person.

Frankly, it made me sad. Seeing people celebrate their pride should have been a complete joy for me. But it wasn’t. Instead, I felt devastatingly isolated. It was as if all the courage I’d been working up to come out to people, and all the mental energy spent dwelling on those I was afraid to tell, came crashing together in a heap of aching realizations: I was not proud of who I was, I was just aware that I couldn’t change myself.

The next few summers passed and, along with them, more Pride festivals. Each year I felt more secure and confident in my identity, but still I hesitated to truly celebrate it. I felt that without a partner or a group of queer friends, I didn’t belong at any Pride event. I struggled with believing I was “gay enough” simply because I’d been living my truth so quietly.

I have a pretty small group of people I consider myself close with. This, along with my introverted nature, meant that very few people really knew I was gay. And I always assumed people I didn’t know would walk past me on the street and assume I’m a straight girl. Everything about how I live my life made me feel undeserving of a space at Pride. I felt invisible. It wasn’t easy to get to a point where I not only felt, but believed, that I belonged within my community. But when I finally attended my first Pride, I knew I had found a home in my queerness.

My first Pride was unforgettable. While I didn’t attend a ton of events, the time that I did spend celebrating changed the way I view my queerness and its validity. There is something to be said for being surrounded by a sweaty heap of LGBTQ+ folks on a packed sidewalk on a weekend in June.

Watching the parade, seeing the excitement and smiles of everyone around me, and feeling like I was in a place where I was welcomed, regardless of any queer imposter syndrome that lingered in my brain, was life changing. It is something I still carry with me when I feel like I am not queer enough. Because if you’re queer, you’re queer enough. And being at Pride for the first time was the first time I had ever felt like that was true.

My first Pride was a triumphant moment, but it was also a moment of reflection. I remember hopping on the subway on the way home and listing off all my queer heroes who I wish had been alive to see these times. It made me recognize the privilege I have to live in a world where my existence is much more widely accepted than it was in the past. It also made me happy to know how far I had come in accepting myself and being truly proud to be a part of the queer community.

Pride is a celebration and a protest. And in a way, I’m glad I took the time to truly embrace myself and consider what I was hoping for out of Pride before I attended it for the first time. As long as I was insecure in being gay and feeling like there was no point in attending without some visible “proof” of my identity, like a partner or a change in my very femme looks, I truly wasn’t ready to embrace this celebration for all that it is.

And what is Pride? To me, Pride is a time to embrace yourself and others, to recognize the heroes who fought for us to get where we are today, and of course, to be proud of who you are and all the courage it takes to embrace queer existence.

My first Pride changed me. It was the last crack in opening my shell and allowing me to be who I am. And I’m proud of who that is.

EMILY NORTON is a writing student and poet from Toronto. Her work centres themes of identity, reclamation, honesty and, of course, lesbians. If she’s not writing, she’s probably watching TV or thinking about her dog. You can find her on Twitter at @_emnorton.

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