This year was going to be my first time going to a pride parade. I was going to be living away from home in a city, able to get lost inside a crowd and wear an excessive number of rainbows. It was going to be an affirming experience, a chance to be open and celebrate my identity. But COVID put an end to Pride parades and this chance was taken from me.
Yet, sat at home, I realised that this supposed act of openness and self-acceptance would have been far from that; the reason I would feel happy to attend was the distance from my home and family, the size of the crowds that I could hide in, and my ability to perform an image of queerness that didn’t require of me any genuine self expression. What’s more, being at home and separate from these celebrations, avoiding conversation topics that could be contentious and dressing in an impressively boring way, made me realise that I’m not really all that proud of who I am. It also made me realise I needed to do something to change that.
So, June has been a month where I’ve educated myself on my history, finding historical figures who spoke out and played their part in changing the world back in the “different times” when we’re so often told everyone just thought about these things differently. I’ve spent the month celebrating and enjoying the work of queer creators, finding new music, youtubers and podcasts that have become the soundtrack to my quarantine walks and activities.
I’ve grown to further understand the political role we must all so often play. Pride as a party may have been rendered an impossibility by COVID but pride as a protest has been going strong. Pride this year has involved threats to trans rights from the usual suspects and twitter trolls, but also in a worryingly undisguised way by those in power. Our community has mobilised to stand up against the dog whistle rhetoric and to call out the attempts to use the pandemic to disguise the backwards steps being taken. The international community at Oxford has reminded many of us to look beyond our borders and act for the rights of our siblings elsewhere. The light that has been shone on the systemic racism and violence still affecting black people and the subsequent protests have reminded us of the importance of not seeing our battles as separate. We’ve been reminded of the origins of the gay rights movement, with Stonewall’s riots a mirror of today’s attempts to force people to acknowledge and face up to the truths they refuse to admit.
Finally it’s been a month where I’ve realised the value of having friends who understand this part of my life, the friends who can understand the awkwardness of family conversations, who are there to support you through the difficult journey out of an overly comfortable closet or to understand the reasons why you can’t quite make that step. Over video calls I joined them taking part in the fundraising quizzes, exposing their scary level of knowledge of some spectacularly trashy pop culture, and watched the incredible live music that showed the talents of the people I had before only encountered dancing badly in Plush or when arguing with them about Drag Race back in Michaelmas. So if this pride month has taught me anything, it’s why LGBTQ+ is so often followed with “community”. This group of people have shaped my uni experience this year and have definitely allowed the celebratory and fun part of Pride to stay alive for me in this month.
Whilst I still have far to go to work on my own conflicting feelings of pride and shame, pride this year has revealed to me just what there is to be proud of in this network of incredible people and mutual support, with an incredible history and a wealth of creations to explore. I hope that this strange and distanced version of pride has prepared me to more authentically enjoy pride in person once lockdown has been lifted.