My Journey with Pride

I’m just 1 person on a constantly evolving journey toward pride. I could fill a book with the search for myself, though by the time I finished the book, I likely would have discovered new things about myself I would want to include. My understanding of my gender and sexuality grows as more terms are defined and as I explore who I really am. It has taken me years to find myself on the asexuality and genderqueer spectrums and to be open and proud of those parts of me. I can’t fit it all into one article, so I thought I would discuss how my journey began. 

In high school, my best friends and I were joiners and doers, members of many school clubs including ones for academics and service. We also did a lot of volunteer work outside school including volunteering at the local donation center, candy striping at a nearby hospital, and participating in every charity fundraising walk we could find (cancer, hunger, diabetes, etc.). Sometimes we walked, other times we volunteered at the walks. 

In my junior year, we signed up to be volunteers for AIDS Walk Washington, which is now called the Walk to End HIV. We had participated as walkers the year before and were excited about being involved in the walk as volunteers, with our blue volunteer shirts and red hats reading OBEY ME that we ultimately did not get to keep. We were assigned to be route volunteers, our duties including cheering on the walkers, indicating the route they should follow, and radioing in for help if anyone seemed to be in any distress. The bus we ended up on was for fill-ins, supplementing each station along the route, which meant only one or two volunteers were needed at a time. My two best friends and I would be required to split up, and I volunteered to be the odd one out. 

Suddenly I found myself on a street corner in the middle of DC with three older strangers. They were college students who could easily have excluded the high school student who had just been assigned to work with them for the day. Instead, they all commended me for volunteering, understood I’d been separated from my friends, and made me feel welcome. 

I don’t want to brag, but I think our corner ended up being the best along the entire route. One of the guys had brought his boom box and instead of just clapping and cheering as participants walked by us, we danced. Many people heard the music as they approached our corner and were already dancing by the time they got to us, so they danced with us. A few people enjoyed the music so much that, even tired from all the walking, they stayed for more than one song. I had a fantastic time, and I have to believe many of the walkers did as well. 

Between groups of walkers, we chatted and got to know each other. And between the time the last walker passed us and the time a bus came by to pick us up to bring us to the closing ceremony, we had even more time to talk. One of them had a copy of the Washington Blade, which is our local free LGBTQ paper and also happens to be the oldest LGBTQ newspaper in the United States. When I said I’d never read it before, all three of them sat down with me and walked me through it. It ended up being a crash course of the queer scene in DC, from the best bars to which columnists to look for to what the abbreviations used in the personal ads meant. It was enlightening and educational to say the least.

As interesting and diverse as the newspaper was, I didn’t see anyone quite like me represented on the page. I’ve still never seen anyone exactly like me in a book, story, or essay. But I have found a few characters who come close, and I’m always reading more. 

Looking back, there were moments in my childhood when I questioned traditional gender roles and where I fit within them. There were many moments in my teenage years when I knew my sexuality was different from the sexualities of those around me, even if I wouldn’t have the words to describe it or the courage to understand it for another twenty-something years.  But when I think of the real beginning of my journey, I always come back to the moment when three college students who could easily have brushed me off instead took the time to introduce me to the local gay culture. They made me feel welcome and valued just as I was. We shared stories and experiences. We laughed at comics. We did some good for our community. And we danced proudly in the streets.  

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