To say my first Pride disappointed me would be an overstatement. In fact, it exceeded all my expectations, which as it turned out was actually the worst thing that could have happened. It was the summer of 2009 and I was on vacation in the US. We were on a tour of several different cities, and seeing as I was born in San Francisco, it was somewhere I wanted to visit again. I don’t know if it was luck, karma or some other force of the universe that coincided our stay at San Francisco with that year’s Pride, to my initial excitement.
It was my idea to go and see the parade in the first place. It was the first one I had ever been close enough to actually go to, and I was out to both my mum and sister who were with me, so I didn’t even have to make up an excuse to accidentally end up going like we did the next year with a friend going to Helsinki Pride while trying to still convince her mother she was straight. In all honesty I’m not quite sure what I expected really, and if I had thought it through a bit more it would probably have dawned on me that it wasn’t a great idea for my first pride to be the world’s biggest one, me aged 17 there with my mother. If anything it’s a testament to how great my mother is for going with me and making it seem like such a normal thing, when for so many to have their parents accept them fully is only a dream.
The parade was huge and seemed to last for hours. There were men and women alike without shirts. Everything seemed so energetic, bright and… well, scary. For a brief moment I made eye contact with a woman walking in the parade and she smiled at me. For that moment we both recognised each other for who we were and I felt like, maybe for the first time in my life, someone could truly see me. See who I was, and instead of trying to frantically demonstrate their approval or make their disapproval clear, she just smiled. And for a moment I thought, I can do this, I can be gay and be fine. But as quick as that moment came it was over and I found myself lost in a sea of people who I didn’t recognize. In a place where I was supposed to feel more like myself than anywhere else I ended up feeling the least at home.
I was scared and ashamed to admit that I had left my first Pride feeling strange. I didn’t feel proud and excited. I felt put on display and vulnerable. Where Pride was supposed to be about fun and celebration, I think my first time I took it too seriously and wasn’t nearly comfortable enough with myself to just be. I’m not sure if my discomfort came out of not being a flashy person myself or not being exposed to people who weren’t afraid to celebrate themselves. The signals I was getting from society were to keep things to myself and not flaunt anything, making me feel that even at Pride you had to be toned down.
Having met less than 5 gay people in my life before I went to Pride meant my exposure to gay people came from TV shows and stereotypes, and I think the problem with Pride was that it only reinforced the stereotypes I had of what I should be like as a gay person. That being stereotypically gay was perhaps the only way to be gay, but more importantly that being loud and flashy was the only way to get people to notice you and to pay attention to your rights. It wasn’t enough to be a normal person to deserve rights, you had to be special. And I wasn’t.
My mistake was to go to Pride thinking that’s where I would find myself and gain some feeling of self worth and confidence. Instead I realised I didn’t have to be a stereotype to be valued and recognised and I didn’t have to let my sexuality define my personality. I am no longer ashamed about how I felt after that first Pride. Feeling uncomfortable was good because instead of learning who I was, I learned who I wasn’t. I wasn’t who I was because I was gay; I was gay because I was me.