When Do I Get To Be Proud?

bisexual pride flag

It’s June. I miss when that used to mean the end of schoolwork and the beginning of beach trips. Now, I feel the need to brace for impact: Pride is here. Or as I tend to think of it, the Month of Queer Gatekeeping.

I am bisexual and queer (I use them interchangeably). Ironically, I always feel perfectly proud of this until June rolls around. Then suddenly, the haters come out of the woodwork, raging at everyone who isn’t cisgender, allosexual, or monosexual, insisting we have no place at Pride.

I’m plunged back into the self-doubt that defined my teens and early twenties. Am I queer enough if I’ve only ever had committed relationships with men? If I can pass for straight when I wear makeup and dresses? Every time I think I’m past these fears, a troll appears. Right on time. 

Pride for Whom?

As someone who has the audacity to be both Black and bisexual, I always feel out of place at the largest, “mainstream” Pride events. In conversation, I hear myself bending over backwards to conceal the gender of my last romantic partner, a man. Around me, I watch the few other Black and brown folks begin to cluster within the sea of whiteness, as if for warmth. These spaces don’t fully affirm my identities, and is this not the purpose of Pride?

Then, there’s the police.

screenshot of a news clipping from AM New York about the NYPD's rainbow decals for their cars.
This report from AM New York made me want to puke.

I’ll never feel comfortable in the presence of cops, in any context. But when I see uniformed officers in attendance at the Pride parade, rainbow decals on their vehicles, ostensibly “keeping the peace,” I am indignant. I feel particularly aware of my Blackness and my queerness, and therefore, particularly unsafe.

Who’s gonna tell law enforcement that Pride only exists because trans women of color took a stand against their outrageous brutality? Or are they completely aware of this history, intending to smooth over the trauma with a lazy, pandering decal? It’s so transparent, and it makes me madder every year.

In June, sometimes I’m too angry and fearful to be proud.

Visibility

Me outside of Art Bar in the West Village.
Me outside of Art Bar in the West Village, Pride 2017.

I’ve only been openly bisexual for two years. I’ve known the truth for much longer, but suppressed it with all my might because I didn’t think I was “allowed” to identify this way. As a teen, I was told you were either straight or gay, and that bisexuality was illegitimate and performative. Never seeing bi or pan people in the media definitely didn’t help. I felt certain of my attraction to men, and so I slapped on the label of “straight” and pretended that it fit.  

I remember very clearly when I decided to rip off that label once and for all. It was shortly after June 12, 2016, in the aftermath of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando. When the smoke cleared, it became painfully obvious that this attack was engineered to terrorize queer and trans people of color everywhere. People like me. Its perpetrator felt we had no right to self-determination and joy, and had attempted to take it by force. I couldn’t let him succeed.

Ever so slowly, I began to let the world in on my truth. I educated myself about queer history in the United States. I became more vocal about political issues that impact our communities. I let myself be photographed kissing women. I became visible, and it was exhilarating.

To this day, I’m thrilled when I meet other queer people and they identify me as one of their own before I’ve stated so. Being part of this community, one that understands the true value of love and is willing to fight this hard for it… this is when I feel most proud. I won’t let anyone take that from me again.  

This year will be my first Pride in Atlanta. I’m hopeful that the demography of my new city means it will be easier to find spaces that celebrate every part of my identity. Maybe that means I skip the parade and the better-known gay bars. But that’s okay. I’m happiest in more intimate gatherings anyway.