It gets better.
That’s a slogan in the queer community, born out of a desire to keep non-straight folks from killing themselves. Sad but true. We live in a society where some people hate those who are different. (And for those of you wondering, “queer” is a term some of us use. It basically means “not straight.” Not everyone likes this term but I do.)
But we persevere. And things get better. And this year, as we move from Pride month to July, I just wanted to say thank you to all the allies out there. You made this year better than ever with all your support and your love and your insistence that we are human too and that love is love!
70% of the American public believes that non-straight Americans deserve rights, too. That means we still have 30% against us, but wow have we made progress since the first Pride march in 1970, when I was 5 years old! (If you want to read an awesome description about that march, check out this Instagram post.)
I Didn’t Come Out Until I Was 43
In case you’re wondering, it wasn’t that I didn’t know I was gay until I was 43. I knew earlier. I first felt those confusing feelings in high school but didn’t really decode what was happening until college.
And, to be honest, I was probably way closer to asexual in college. I had plans to be someone in this life. I didn’t want to get slowed down by love or anybody. I just wanted to read, write, work out, and have a beer now and then. I’m pretty much the same except now I openly date women.
But I wanted to join the USAF in 1988 and they didn’t take lesbians so I had to lie in order to serve my country – which really sucks but I knew the rule was wrong. And then I had to stay hidden, which didn’t seem like a huge deal to me at the time because I was in love with me and my career. Sure there were a few hot lieutenants and captains that made my motor hum but when the consequence of true love is a ruined career and military prison, you learn to walk away from temptation and back towards your paycheck and freedom.
And then one day a really nice guy showed up and I loved him and decided it was easier to marry Mr. Nice Guy and put my gay feelings on the shelf forever. Being gay, I thought, was just too fucking hard in our society.
But life (and being gay) doesn’t work that way. What you resist, persists.
And that’s how at the age of 43, with two kids and in the middle of a divorce, I came out. There was no parade. No long talks with my family. No arguments or disowning. Just me and several of my friends saying, “Um, Lis, we always thought you were gay. You confused us with that man marriage thing.”
It’s Like Chicken and Steak
Ever since I came out, people have asked me all sorts of questions about my sexuality: the curious are (mostly) straight people but also include women who wonder if they’re gay. Often I’ve never met these people but I answer their emails and messages because no one gets smarter if we don’t talk to each other. Also, I know how lonely it is when you think you’re gay but you’re afraid to tell anyone.
I used to speak for the Santa Cruz Diversity Center. At high schools, students would often ask, “You were married to a man but you date women now. What’s that like? How did you know you were gay?”
I always told them it’s like if you grew up in a town where everyone was constantly raving about chicken and every meal had chicken in it. There were movies and books and cards about how fantastic chicken was. You thought chicken was okay but you really didn’t understand why everyone was so crazy about it. And then you heard about this thing called … steak. But when you asked about steak, all the good chicken-loving people of the town said, “Oh no! Don’t eat steak! That’s horrible for you. And it’s weird. And you can only get steak in dark alleys on the edge of town. Please don’t eat steak! Eat the chicken instead. The Catholic Church forbids you to eat steak! STEAK IS EVIL!”
But you had to know. So one day you tried steak … and you liked it so much better than chicken. Steak was just your thing, not chicken. So you learned to hang out with the steak folks. It was a more difficult life but it was the only choice you had. It felt good to finally be honest about your love of steak. You could never go back to chicken.
Beyond Steak to Why Pride Is Still Important
But enough food metaphors. If things have changed so much, why do we still have Pride? And why do queer people still “come out?”
It’s really simple: because we’re just not there yet as a society. Queer folks are still marginalized, humiliated, and picked on. Kids still kill themselves for being gay or trans. Parents still ostracize their children for being gay or trans. And while representation is better in many ways than it was, we still don’t have enough queer role models. And we need laws and protection because some folks still want to hurt us or not house us or not hire us or promote us.
So, one month each year, our community stands up and says, “Hey world! We’re still here and we’re still queer!” and then we show all the love we can. And by showing ourselves, we give permission to everyone else to stand in the light, too. It’s the ultimate “Olly olly oxen free” to everyone who feels scared and alone, just like we once did. It’s the least we can do … and the best we can do.
Pride was a great month this year. Thanks so much for celebrating with us. We need your support and we love you. See you next June!