Every pride month, I reflect on what it was like when I was coming out compared to today. It’s a bit of a gut check for me and a reflection point. I was 16 and after two lady crushes, I felt… hell, I don’t know how to put it into words. It’s a bit like a ticking time bomb, this particular secret. One that sits with you at the tip of your tongue but is held back by one of the most powerful human emotions: shame.
The first person I told was my mother, late one night. I was sitting at my desk songwriting. I remember starting to sob these deep heavy breaths that feel like your lungs are dipped in concrete. She was confused – it was written all over her face. “I just don’t want you to hate me,” I began, still choking down tears. “I’m gay,” I said then – expecting something terrible to happen. She said “I know” and then we never talked about it again.
Being gay just wasn’t something you talked about. Liking boys, sure. Going to prom, all right. Liking people of the same sex? Not so much. And as an army brat, I learned how to be likeable. I wanted people to like me and I had made an art of it; 15 moves will do that. I’m sure that was part of the shame. I knew this wasn’t going to make me liked. It wasn’t going to help me be more successful and it would stop me from accomplishing what I wanted in life. It was a scarlet letter. My surroundings and the news reinforced that for years in the ways they talked about the AIDS crisis, in how they portrayed gay people in movies and sitcoms and how I heard people talk about gays in school and on military bases.
Proof: I spent the next 5 years after I came out to my Mom pretending I was still straight, flirting with boys in bars. There’s something powerful about hiding yourself in plain sight because you feel community imposed shame. Family imposed shame. And most powerful of all, self imposed shame.
Pride is pretty much the opposite of shame and I’m guessing there was some nuance to that when they named this month celebrating the LGBTQ community. But, the thing is, most people today go to Pride and forget the shame of our history. They think we gays have it all figured out. That, because we can get married now instead of being forced to adopt our partners to assure their benefits, we’re equal.
But we’re not. Not even close. I just moved to Colorado from Tennessee because the pending legislation regarding my adoption rights and the bathroom rights of my trans friends was appalling and scary. I couldn’t stay there and let someone limit the dreams my fiance and I have for our life, which includes adopting children. And no, we don’t want babies. We want kids who are 6+ because we know there’s only a 40% chance they’ll ever leave the system. Because we want to give kids an opportunity – one the government in Tennessee wanted to take away.
“Sure, it won’t stick. It will go to the Supreme Court and they’ll do the right thing.” At least this is what straight, white couples tell me to make themselves feel less helpless. The thing is, there’s no story that will make me feel less helpless about the law fighting against gay people’s rights. There’s no foreshadowing, premonitions or anything else that will make me smile and nod this off. Part of me feels bad for walking away from that state when I could have stayed and fought but the other part of me knows the fight for Pride is everywhere, even cities where the pride is bigger than the shame. I won’t let anyone live in shame and I’ll fight from anywhere.
That’s where I do feel some pride. That so many more kids than ever before come out to a welcoming party, with parents who are proud – not ashamed. That gay kids can be the most fabulous and popular because of who they are. That these kids get to live their life whole. We’ve come a long way but this year – we still need to fight. We need to celebrate and remember, too. That’s what this month is all about after all.
A special shout out to Sarah Goldberg who inspired me to take this post from a quick note in my phone to my blog. Thank you for making me think.
Katrina Kibben is the Founder and Principal Consultant of Three Ears Media. For most of Katrina’s career, she has been a marketer living in a recruiter’s world – listening to both sides of the talent equation to understand the real issues and find solutions for engaging and hiring better people. Today, she uses her technical marketing know-how and way with words to help both established and emerging brands develop and deliver content that fuels smart recruitment marketing that makes the right people apply.
Katrina has written for Monster.com, HR.com, RecruitingDaily and many other digital publications. She is a recognized leader in recruiting and employer branding who speaks regularly at conferences around the world.