While I identify as a lesbian, in college, my queerness never felt queer enough to identify with the LGBTIQ community. My outward expression in the way that I dressed typically led to incorrect assumptions about my sexuality which I knew inadvertently freed me from the stigma and discrimination I thought I was supposed to face.
Coming to understand my own identity was largely done in the context of my immediate surroundings - my other gay friends, my own experiences, and my gender studies classes. The media, I thought, represented a version of being queer that I couldn’t find myself in. I felt similarly about Pride events. The first NYC Pride parade I attended was in 2018. My makeup, straightened hair, and cut-off shorts were no match for the enormous amount of glitter and colorful wigs that decorated large floats. I knew I looked like an ally.
My senior year of college I wrote an op-ed in the school newspaper titled, “Why I’ll never be done coming out.” At the time, it was a challenge I thought many queer people dealt with - having to come out of the closet again and again. I didn’t understand this in terms of my femininity. I didn’t even know what a femme was. But I did know that I felt tired of explaining and proving my identity.
Senior year I enrolled in a class called Global LGBTIQ+ Politics and Culture. For our midterm project, I was in a group with the Vice President of Common Ground - the LGBTIQ group on campus - and a few other students who were active members. We decided to host a panel discussion of queer staff and students. When it came time to suggest panelists, the people I suggested - most of whom were my close friends - were all outvoted and replaced with students who were active members of Common Ground. I remember feeling small, and insecure about the queerness of the queer people I knew. I thought about my article, and the way they said they couldn’t relate to having to come out again and again. I began to wonder if the way I looked and who I associated with made me a smaller part of this community.
The Pride parade in Burlington, Vermont is small but mighty. It is an event that the St. Michael’s athletic department notoriously attends. And so senior year, my lacrosse team attended along with the rest of St. Michael’s athletics, Common Ground, and much of the student body. I remember feeling nervous, preparing to see my classmates and professor at the parking lot we were all meeting at before the event, while I showed up with my team. I also remember feeling jealous, that my classmates didn’t need to “prove” their queerness - it was obvious. This event was for them.
As we started walking my friend bumped my shoulder and said something along the lines of, “Isn’t it crazy how many of us have come out in the last four years? That’s pretty special.” I looked around at our friend group, a handful of whom had explored their identities over the last four years and would leave college identifying as a sexuality other than the one they started with, myself included. I relaxed a little and smiled. I was a part of a queer community. It wasn’t the group on campus that formed on the basis of being queer, but we existed. And we were proud of each other.
Queer writer and performer Ivan Coyote said in their poem, To All of the Kick-Ass, Beautiful, Fierce Femmes Out There, “I want to thank you for coming out of the closet, again and again, over and over, for the rest of your life… Sometimes, you are invisible. I have no idea what this must feel like, to pass right by your people and not be recognized, to not be seen.”
I realized at the Pride parade that there would be many more times that I would come out of the closet, or be confused for an ally. But those experiences wouldn’t take away from my queerness. The LGBTIQ community is made up of so many varying identities and lived experiences, none more or less legitimate than the next. To belittle my own queerness would only belittle the identity of the people standing next to me. From then on, I stopped looking to other people to validate my identity.
Published on June 29, 2020 | OutRight Action International an LGBT human rights organization