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What Pride Month Means To Me

This is probably the most emotionally vulnerable article I’ve written, but it’s an important one for me to get out in the world.

First and foremost, I’d like to preface this with a disclaimer of my own. This is my personal experiences, my personal journey, and my personal opinions. Every LGBTQ person has their own story and their own beliefs, and I by no means am trying to speak for a community of hundreds of thousands of people.

Pride month is a month of celebration of existence for the LGBTQ community, a month of remembrance and homage. The reason Pride month is during June is to commemorate the Stonewall Riots of 1969, where police raided Stonewall Inn of New York City and subsequent riots ensued. This is where the sayings “Stonewall was a riot” or “Pride was a riot” come from, and they are deeply personal to me and many other LGBTQ people.

Today Pride month has turned from a month of riots and protest to a month of celebration and, unfortunately, corporate marketing. In one day alone, I saw over eight borderline-garish rainbow displays in stores like DSW, Michaels, Old Navy, and Target. Hundreds of corporations are slapping rainbows on their products in a cash-grab attempt to use the LGBTQ community for profits. More often than not, the proceeds for these so-called “Pride” items don’t even benefit the queer or trans people they are marketed to. Old Navy gets to reap the financial benefits of putting a rainbow on their two-dollar t-shirts without actually helping the community.

Even Pride Parades themselves have been overrun with corporations on floats and celebrity appearances that turn the events from a close-knit celebration of existence to a trivialized show. Pride is not a place for marketing, or for performances. This is a celebration born out of an instance of systemic violence against LGBTQ people, and to have the month overrun with corporate cash-grabs and unnecessary product plugs is blatantly disrespectful to the thousands of queer people that have been killed because of their identity or who have given their lives in the name of advancements of LGBTQ rights.

So yes, in this era of commercialized Pride, I think it’s important to know that the largest tipping point for LGBTQ rights was spearheaded largely by trans women of color, with names like Marsha P Johnson and Sylvia Rivera going down in the queer history books. In a time where being gay is sometimes even seen as a ‘trend’ or fetishized, I want to remember those that spearheaded this revolution, those that did not fit a conventional social binary. Those of intersectional identities that media today tries so hard to wipe out.

And here lies the reason why Pride is still so important for the whole community, and for individuals like me.

LGBTQ people have been recently tokenized and stereotyped to the point of blatant homophobia or transphobia in the media, and it’s becoming more and more normal. Before any opening queer or trans characters were allowed on television or film, villains were coded as being gay to represent the supposed ‘evil’ and ‘predatory’ nature of LGBTQ people. And now that LGBTQ people are being allowed more and more of a voice in media, we’re still being stereotyped and placed into boxes.

Many of the self-identified lesbian’s I have seen on screen have been killed off in their respective media pieces, but not before being fetishized to appeal to a male audience. This sends the message over and over that gay women are disposable or replaceable, and their only place in this world is for male sex appeal. Lesbians portrayed in the media are used not as real people or characters in a relationship, but as an objectified unit. I can’t remember the last time I found a lesbian character who I related to on screen that didn’t end up dead or used as thinly-veiled porn or both. These problems increase tenfold if you are a queer or trans person of color like I am.

It’s hard enough to see people of color on TV, hard enough to see queer or trans people, but if you’re someone like me and claim multiple marginalized identities, it gets even harder. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen an Asian lesbian character in any of the hundreds of hours of film and television I’ve consumed. Even within queer representation, the ‘default’ of cis or white or able-bodied don’t get left behind. In spaces that are supposed to represent our identities, the idea of a ‘normal’ or a baseline that should be followed is still strictly adhered to. It’s like there isn’t ever representational intersectionality. The message seems to be that you can either be a person of color or trans or queer. The representational overlap is nonexistent within the already minuscule amount of media representation that is not straight, cisgender, or white.

This is why it’s important to remember the LGBTQ community owes much of it’s accomplishments to trans women of color of the 1970s. This is why Pride is important to me, and to so many other intersectionality marginalized people. On a daily basis, we have to fight on multiple fronts to be recognized as who we are. And this is a time for us to unite, and to be able to accept ourselves as a community. It’s a time to be open and honest with who we are, a time that not many of us get throughout the rest of the year, especially if we’re still dealing with unaccepting families or internalized homophobia or compulsive heterosexuality.

The baseline for acceptance for LGBTQ people in their families has for so long been simply not getting kicked out of your house or not being physically assaulted for your gender/sexuality. However, Pride also reminds us that this lowest of human dignities should not be what “acceptance” means. Personally, I am lucky that I still have a house I can call home and a group of friends I can talk to about being queer. I’m lucky. I’m accepted. Right?

I have a roof over my head. I have food to eat. I have a bed to sleep in. I have ‘luxuries’ that haven’t been taken away from me because of who I love and how I express myself. Except that’s not all that acceptance is. My mom accepts me, but she still says “dyke” all the time. My mom accepts me, but she wants to know ‘why I want to be a boy’. My dad accepts me, but he didn’t speak to me when I came out. Even people I’m not out to would ‘accept’ me, but never without the air-quotes. My grandma who taught me how to bake called me “faggot”.  My cousins at Thanksgiving call losing at dominos “gay”. They mention offhandedly that if anyone in their family was gay or an atheist, they would never be loved again.

Pride is remembering. Pride is remembering our community’s history. Pride is remembering the black women of color that gave us a voice. Pride is remembering LGBTQ people that do not fit the default of white or straight or cisgender or able-bodied. Pride is remembering that basic human dignity and respect is not acceptance. Pride is being inclusive and being kind, and above all remembering that we are here as a community. That no matter who we are or what we believe, this is a time to unite. This is a time to exist.

For me, Pride is a time where I get to be unapologetically authentic as myself. Even though I’m still trying to figure out who exactly I am, even though I’m still dealing with a somewhat unaccepting family and compulsive heterosexuality of my own, it’s a time where I feel more allowed to exist. It’s a time where I and hundreds of thousands of other LGBTQ people can declare ourselves without baggage and, maybe for the first time ever, with Pride.

This is me. My name is Izzy Rettke, I am Chinese-American, I am a lesbian, I am gender non-conforming, and for the first time in a long time, I am proud to be who I am.

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