The story of me actually getting myself to Oakland Pride this past weekend is both short and long. It was short because I decided to march with my workplace and that was pretty much my end of the bargain.
What this version omits, however, are the finer details of me (somewhat desperately) seeking friends to go with me, because even though I am a big fan of my coworkers, I didn’t want to go through this alone.
I know/knew the LGBTQ community is/would be welcoming and inclusive, but there’s still distance between going to a large festival by yourself versus going with chosen company. Regardless of how much love and acceptance there is in a group setting, it’s still different from attending a group event with friends who already love and cherish you for being you, because they know you more intimately than strangers do.
In the weeks leading up to Pride, I selectively asked around my friend group, seeing if anyone had any interest in joining me. Although Pride does welcome everyone across the LGBTQ community and its allies, I knew it wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea.
When the days began to dwindle, I became less selective and started lowering the bar of who to ask. Friends more distant, friends who I knew had attended large festivals or marches before — I asked them all. This continued up through the night before the event, which is when I sat heavily with the truth.
Barring my boyfriend (who had, bless his soul, very resolutely declared since day one that he’d change his original plans that day and go to support me), I couldn’t find anyone else to go with me. There were many reasons why the situation played out this way, and I do not blame any of my friends for their responses.
But in that moment, I could only focus on how acutely alone I felt.
To the best of my half-in-the-closet self’s knowledge, the queer Asian community is soft-spoken, particularly when compared to the volume of the queer black community or when located within the space of the queer community as a whole. I less often see Asians and Asian Americans allying themselves with their queer peers online than I do black or white people.
(If I’m just being naive and haven’t been looking for you folks in the right places, please call me out. I want nothing more than to be corrected on this.)
As a result — and a symptom — of my perception of the queer Asian community, I very seldom felt comfortable enough to speak out about my own identity.
My silence created a snowball effect. In choosing to remain quiet, I was also choosing to not to take advantage of the opportunities I had in college to attend LGBTQ+ events and make (more) friends in the queer community.
I sought company instead from the internet, from the more prominent, present individuals I could find like Jen Ruggirello and Ashly Perez. But one-sided digital relationships and admiration have their limits.
In a sense, I was now paying the consequences of my past choices and silence.
So, this weekend, I attended my first Pride Parade and Festival with my straight male partner looking very straight-passing among the many flags of the LGTBQ+ community, varying states of (un)dress, and couples around us. Save for the tiny pin I had affixed to my shirt that morning, nothing about myself nor us together betrayed anything about my identity.
And even then — on top of my past silence and fear, and my continuing uncertainty — I still felt like I was welcomed and I belonged.
My friends know that I hate large crowds: I’m selective about the concerts I attend, and I’ve never gone to a football game. I suppose it might have confused some of my friends when I invited them to an event with guaranteed large crowds.
The crowd at Pride, however, felt comfortable and happy and just nice. Everyone I interacted with was good-natured. There were hugs, smiles, and so much love and support to be shared all around. I felt happy there.
Just before leaving the Festival, my boyfriend and I watched The Singing Bois perform onstage. We were a little ways away from the rest of the audience because the speakers were too loud for either of us to bear, but we still looped our arms around each others’ waists and sang along to their last song, a cover of Jason Mraz’s “I’m Yours.”
Standing on that somewhat broken sidewalk, singing the line “It’s our Godforsaken right to be loved…” with my boyfriend and many others around us, is a memory I will always hold dear.
It has taken me a long time to get here, but I feel at peace. I’m proud to be a part of this loving, accepting, inclusive community, and I hope that everyone — allies included — takes the opportunity to witness this for themselves someday.
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