I am what you might call a late bloomer.
I didn’t have childhood crushes. I didn’t date in high school. I didn’t even think of myself as queer until my early 20s. And even then, I didn’t see myself as part of the queer community.
Queerness seemed to me a mantle I had not yet earned. Insofar as heterosexuality is regarded as default, I passed. Sure, I looked more butch than most women, but that was a vestige of my “tomboy” childhood—something I’d just been too slow to grow out of.
I didn’t have a coming-out story. Nor did I feel I was “in the closet”. I lacked experience, so my sexuality was merely theoretical. It didn’t really count.
I’d never been harmed for being queer—how could I, if only I saw myself that way?
So, I concluded—though, not quite consciously—it was out of order to be proud. Who was I to appropriate the symbols and celebrations of a community to which I did not belong? Queer pride was not for people like me.
What I didn’t realise at the time was that there is a distinctive kind of harm that results from invisibility. The things I told myself left me alienated, both from myself and from the community I could have shared. And those internalised narratives went unchallenged, at least in part, because I didn’t see anyone else like me. I’d never met anyone else that was out and bi; and I’d certainly never met any other queer people of colour.
Now, it must be said that I’ve also been incredibly lucky. I grew up in a place where I experienced nothing worse than snickers and childish name-calling for looking like a boy or liking boyish things. I grew up in a loving family where queerness, while not discussed, was also not reviled. In this way, for me, invisibility had a silver lining.
The first time I did anything for Pride, I went to London Pride in 2018 with my girlfriend at the time. And what a celebration it was! There were a lot of firsts that day. I saw my first Pride parade. Went to my first gay bar. Saw my first drag king act. But most importantly, for the first time, I felt a delightful combination of visible and invisible.
I shared smiles and conversations with other attendees. I shared a dance with someone—me on a balcony, he in the crowded Soho street below, as we clocked one another belting out the same tune. I felt seen as queer. I felt accepted as queer.
And yet, at the same time, I felt wonderfully unseen. A different kind of unseen. I kissed my girlfriend in public without the sound of hooting, leering men. I walked the streets of London with her, hand in hand, without turning anyone’s head. There, in the prismatic fray, I wasn’t a spectacle or curiosity. I was normal.
I’ve come to think this paradox is the very heart of identity. In embracing an identity, we find validation in the visibility, and acceptance in the invisibility. That is what Pride is to me. A chance to be seen, and not seen. To exclaim my difference and be embraced as ordinary. So, until the next time we can celebrate together, here’s to paradox! Happy Pride, LTU!
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