By: Benji Marton
Pride comes from the recognition and honoring of the Stonewall Riots. Riots that were a direct response to the brutalization of police on queer folks in New York City.
What happens when you read this? Does your body tense up? Do you want to dismiss that and close the tab? Do you want to hold onto beliefs that riots are bad? Notice, because that is the first step in understanding why we cannot parse out liberation from pride.
I’m relatively young and fresh in the struggle for queer liberation. I came of age after our country’s last deadly pandemic, HIV/AIDS; I don’t know the pride parade outside of its corporate, capitalist take over highlighting capital “acceptance” over human need. I came to understand queer liberation as the movement towards the right for same-sex couples to marry. To be just like everybody else.
I’m not one to discount that struggle. Thousands fought tirelessly to bring marriage into existence, and I hold gratitude for that. But there’s an and there; I am grateful for that work, and I have come to a place of reckoning with queer liberation. On a personal level, that reckoning comes from realizing living my truths has nothing to do with assimilating into the cultural norms of white picket fences and 2 ½ children. Gay marriage, often hailed as the ultimate show of acceptance from the American collective psyche, does not teach us to be true to ourselves. The discomfort I sit with around marriage equality is its implication, often held by queer folks like me (in particular, cisgender and white), that the struggle is over.
Local legislation is being passed across the country targeting LGBTQIA+ rights. From prohibiting health care and access to sports for transgender youth, to legalized discrimination under the guise of religious freedom (targeting healthcare, adoption, etc.), the state is exploring its own means of violence. For a more exhaustive list of legislation, see https://www.aclu.org/legislation-affecting-lgbt-rights-across-country.
It’s not just legislation. Trans folks continue to be targets of violence, both through culturally-sanctioned means of hate crimes and bullying, but also through state-sanctioned police brutality (see https://www.lambdalegal.org/know-your-rights/article/trans-violence-faq).
If you’re still reading this, you may be wondering-why is a therapist writing about laws? Why is a therapist using pride as a means to discuss systemic violence? Aren’t we supposed to care about mental health? Shouldn’t I stay in my lane? If you find yourself thinking any of this, I invite you to again check in with your body. See if you can understand where this is coming from. If you are having feelings of tension in your body, see if you can understand what kind of reaction you’re having; is it fight, flight or freeze? If you can notice and understand your reaction more deeply, from a place of curiosity, you can come to terms with how your body reacts to the violence that continues to be perpetrated onto the queer community.
I’m not going to provide statistics on the ways queer folks experience mental health. Those statistics are easily Googled. What this violence tells us, both in legislation and in brutality, is that it is still not safe to be queer in America. And the dangers of mental health providers discussing the mental health needs of queer folks is the potential implication that queerness is pathological. When I think about the ways I’ve wanted to be in the world, it’s impossible to separate that out from the ways I was told to be in the world. Later in my life, the messages changed as the culture changed. It went from queerness is not okay to you can get married, but you’re still a man so act like it. I continue to hear old messages that you are too much; don’t stand that way; why are you walking/running like that, that’s not a toy for boys, boys don’t cry. My own struggle with anxiety and depression doesn’t come from the ways I want to be in the world. Quite the opposite. My struggle comes from the expectations of how I should be in the world.
Pride, for me, is not about how the corporate world can make money off of me. Pride is about the joy I experience holding every part of me. I have a poem hanging in my office, drawn in front of rainbow stripes. The author is not listed, so I am unable to grant credit (if you know who wrote it, please reach out!). It goes like this:
I see me,
Not part of me.
All of me.
For the first time
In front of the world.
No more parts of other colors.
No half is right or wrong.
A star exactly where I belong.
If you don’t identify as queer, in whatever way that means to you, I invite you to explore the ways in which this applies to you. What is really beautiful about the ways in which queerness has and continues to impact the culture is the ways it opens up authenticity for all of us. We all relate to repression and denial of parts of ourselves. What might our lives be like if we radically accept ourselves and the ways we want to be in the world?
When I imagine a world in which we can all hold space for all parts that come with being human, I imagine a world that values connection over profits; truth over invalidation; love over bitterness.