A few days ago, I received an email from a family member requesting I sign a petition and donate to anti-gay lobbyists. I read the lengthy email, which detailed in terrifyingly vitriolic rhetoric, that the "homosexual agenda" was destroying families, hospitals, churches, schools, and the American foundation. This is only one of many emails this particular individual forwards on, and was only one of three received that same week. This is not considering the occasional anti-gay reposts he shares over Facebook, or the homophobic slurs that flow easily off his tongue. Despite our seemingly close familial bond, this person does not know I am gay ... because if he did, our relationship would come to a very conclusive, very abrupt end.
But this isn't just my reality; rather, this is a reality for many queer people of color I know. Our families, many of whom are religiously conservative with roots in countries we've never seen, believe that our sexuality is a symptom of something insidious and Western. We are isolated in our own homes and own ethnic communities because we have fallen outside of an accepted mold. We are silent. I am silent. I am silent due to issues of safety, and because despite it all, I know that my family is good (if not misguided) — to lose them would mean losing a large part of who I am. I want to make my family proud, and I want to live a life in which they will not feel like I must be hidden. But to be who I am and to be queer means going against the Christian values they define themselves by. I want to make them happy, but I also want to be happy.
I cannot look my parents, or my siblings, or my grandmother in the eye and say, "I'm gay." To do so, I know without a doubt, would mean the end of my relationship with them. My family has never hidden their homophobia, nor are they ashamed of it; they believe that queerness is a perversion, the result of bad parenting or mental illness — the shock when they eventually learn of my own identity is sure to cause a series of earthquakes.
It is important to understand the experience of a life which forces you into the closet and to understand the sort of shame and fear that persists for many LGBTQ people, because there seems to be a misconception that queerness is somehow mainstream.
Last week, LA Weekly published a pretty scathing review of the city's Pride Festival, which started on Friday and wrapped Sunday evening. The columnist, award-winning reporter Patrick Range McDonald, had many valid points, none of which I disagree with: yes, I too believe Pride is a cash-cow in many ways, far from its roots as a celebration of people on the fringe. Yes, I would love to see the LGBTQ community come out and catalyze politically around justice and social issues, and not just around Jello-shots and twerking. Yes, I want to see more people of color out, because Pride in a lot of ways has been overwhelming about the white, middle-class gay male experience.
I understand that Pride has been usurped by corporate interests. That the very values that once made up Pride seem lost in a haze of beer advertisements and pop performances. I recognize that Pride has become so very different from what it was, and so very far from what it could be — but for people like me who are forced to live a partially-closeted life, it is a space in which I am able to be out and be fearless. For all its problems, Pride still has its place. It's an opportunity for someone like me, someone who is being slowly pushed away from the community she has known, to connect to people who really don't give a damn what she does with her partner when the door is closed.
Because of the homophobic attitudes that persist in my community, I have at times wished I were straight and tried to convince myself of it. On more than one occasion, my long-term partner has had to stay up with me late at night, listening to my half-hearted attempts to leave her because I fear losing my family. She stays because, despite it all, we love each other immensely. I am lucky she is so tough, so stubborn, so very incredibly, stereotypically Irish in her ways. But I shouldn't be stuck here, deciding between my family and the woman I am trying to build a relationship with. The acceptance we see in Los Angeles at now very popular gay festivals is not a reality for many of us. It is a reality for a privileged class of oftentimes white, liberal Americans.
When I was laughing and dancing and meeting wonderful people in the mess that is Pride, I alltogether forgot about how outside of West Hollywood, outside of those gates, I would be once again closeted, once again caught in a nasty tornado of shame and frustration. Go ahead and criticize Pride, and certainly call it out on where it's failing the gay community, but don't try to box it away as a fragment of what was. For those of us who are still living in communities that refuse to even recognize queerness, it is a vital step in coming out. Many people seem to forget just how very unsafe the world can be for LGBTQ people, but for those of us only a few miles away, being queer and being out is still a risk.