Pride Month – June – has just passed, a time to celebrate authenticity, respect and acceptance with the rainbow of genders, sexual (and asexual) orientations and identities that exist. It is an honour to be able to share it with you, and to celebrate its meaning.
Many hetero-normative people, couples and families, can get confused about why it is we acknowledge and celebrate pride. I will attempt to shed some light on this using my own experiences as a person who grew up in a culture that explicitly supported heterosexual partnerships and cis genders, and merely tolerated (sometimes) same-sex, non-binary, trans, two-spirited and other forms of gender.
In the later 1990s and 2000s, as I was growing up in the mainstream “Canadian” public school system, I saw what would happen to the kids who were overtly different, who would not conform. And I noticed a difference between those who would not conform and who embraced their uniqueness coming from consistently supportive families, and those who would not conform and embraced their uniqueness that had unsupportive families. The kind of support I am referring to is practical as well as theoretically encouraging families. It is the difference between a family who talks the talk and walks the walk, or simply talks the talk to appear less hostile in public than they really are.
The kids who had families that walked the talk and acted on their values by supporting and celebrating their authenticity, bounced back from all the targeted hatred and psychological abuse that bullying is. No matter who they got it from. And they didn’t give a heck what anybody thought if they were gay, transgendered, or non-binary; they simply lived their lives.
I observed that kids and youth that came from unsupportive families (i.e., the kind who say they love gay people and wouldn’t care if you were gay only to mock same-sex couples and throw you under the bus for embarrassing them at a family gathering) were shunned. At best, they were (or “that side” of them was) ignored by their family and peers; at worse, they were attacked verbally, physically and emotionally.
They were undermined, considered a phase, not real, etc. If students found out, the children or youth were often hazed, excluded or in lonely cases where they we being bullied at home while being bullied at school, sometimes died early deaths.
Either these deaths were from attacks, from idiots thinking they had a right to kill somebody because they weren’t heteronormative (RIP Reena Virk, RIP Matthew Shepard), or from suicide.
I can tell you from my work as a counsellor with LGBTQ2S children and youth, that suicide comes up not always because of an internalized homophobia (that is introduced later).
No, the self-loathing and self-destruction often stems from the child’s response to their parents’ or community’s rejection. Children and youth are smart and if they want to die, it’s because they cannot live with the fact that their own flesh and blood threw them under the bus so badly. That central and core betrayal of their human spirit (by their own creators!) is so primal, central and visceral, it simply becomes too painful to keep on going.
A pivotal moment for me came last year while I spoke with a youth in a small Nunavut community. This youth came to me with a very difficult dilemma. They knew in their heart that they were trans, which meant to them that they did not know if they would always identify as the sex they were assigned at birth.
They were terrified at the prospect of coming out to anyone, as they felt deep feelings of love toward a friend. They didn’t know what would happen to them if anyone found out, if they would be attacked verbally, or if they would be physically assaulted. Their story had a happy ending where they found family support with a member who walked the talk.
I felt afterward that I couldn’t keep doing the right thing by telling youth that there is nothing wrong with having attraction toward same-sex peers, or to identify as a different gender than you were born with, while not being honest with myself.
Public representation is important – there is no gay agenda – there is only the wish to inspire acceptance for youth who are being bullied and ostracized, to know that they are normal, there is hope and that they too can be successful. As they are. Before this point, I knew that I wasn’t prepared to take the risk in reality and break through this glass ceiling of the safe, privileged, heteronormative pretty girl. Just so that more people would like me, so I could have more social clout and influence. The price of the truth is our bravery to shed attachments with those people and forces who do not recognize our humanity, and our basic human rights. And it is worth paying.
So, to that youth, to myself at their age, to anyone who has ever fallen in love with someone’s soul instead of their prescribed role in your life under heteronormative reign, pride is for you. But, celebrating pride is for all of us. Sticking a rainbow flag out on your porch or in your window is a form of suicide prevention and creates safe spaces where we can all feel free to be ourselves.