I walked throughout our local Target, searching high and low for this year’s Pride display. To my disappointment, I realized that I’d passed it on the way in. The bare, small display stood right by the little nook claimed by Starbucks. It had maybe four or five different shirts that I can only assume were unisex. I shouldn’t care much, considering that to countless companies Pride Month is just another political cash grab. However, it's my wife and stepchildren’s first Pride as a family and I wanted something special to mark the occasion.
Pride Month is a celebration in memory of the Stonewall Riots of 1969 and in recognition of the humanity of LGBTQ people. It wasn’t always like that, and for me, it still takes a conscious effort to think of it that way. In 2020, more than one in three LGBTQ Americans faced discrimination. On any given day, one of us might be killed, beaten, raped, or put in countless dangerous situations simply because of who we are. Things like jobs, housing, and healthcare are harder for us to gain access to.
I am a trans man. Once a week, I stab myself in the leg and inject prescribed testosterone into my thigh muscle to suppress feminine physical traits and support a more masculine appearance. I’ve been doing that for about two years now, but sometimes it seems like I just started. Some days I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror and still can’t believe I’m growing my own beard. I’ve spent my whole life looking at other men’s beards and drowning in envy. Growing a beard is the simplest affirmation of who I really am.
Due to blatant, disgusting anti-LGBTQ beliefs in American culture, many of us LGBTQ—and especially trans folks—are terrified to come out. Living an authentic life is a privilege some can only dream of. These are just a couple of reasons why it takes more work for me to remember that Pride is supposed to be a joyful occasion.
I don’t disregard all the progress we’ve made as far as LGBTQ rights go. When I was growing up, I didn’t even know what transgender was. I had no idea that it was even possible to get hormone replacement therapy and legally change my name. Today, we have more access to that type of information. Organizations, activists, and healthcare providers across the globe work tirelessly to help every LGBTQ person they can. So despite all of the blatant anti-LGBTQ garbage, it’s important to remember the good.
To me, Pride means defiance against those who would say we’re anything less than human. It means rebellion against the status quo. It shouldn’t have to, and one day I hope it doesn’t. One day, I hope all LGBTQ people will be seen as an ordinary variant.
Pride is a war cry. Pride is a reminder to keep going despite the hate. This year alone, over one hundred anti-trans bills have proposed as laws in state legislatures—making it a record-breaking year. States such as Alabama and Tennessee are war zones for trans folk right now. Trans athletes are being attacked by strangers in the streets. Basic rights such as access to public bathrooms and health information are at risk of being taken away. It’s hard to feel like celebrating anything after thinking about that.
“The rights of LGBTQ people—and especially transgender people—across the country are being systematically threatened and undermined by national anti-LGBTQ groups coordinating with anti-equality lawmakers to wage an unprecedented war on the LGBTQ community.”
—Alphonso David, Human Rights Campaign President
I moved more than a thousand miles away from my hometown in Alabama just for the chance to live as my authentic self. Arkansas, for example, is the first of several states to ban gender-affirming treatment of minors. With all the talk of anti-trans bills possibly taking effect, some trans people have scrambled to flee to safer states. In Michigan, it is so much easier to transition and live freely as opposed to the small town I grew up in. However, even Michigan isn’t immune to anti-trans politics and the desire to suppress the freedom of trans people. Suicide attempts have skyrocketed as our overall mental health has plummeted.
Black and brown LGBTQ members face a unique dilemma by having to fight multiple social battles simultaneously. Opening any social media app has become an unnerving experience. We never know what heartbreaking news story might pop up on our feeds. The pandemic rages on while ruthless racial and anti-LGBTQ bigotry follows in its footsteps. After scrolling on Twitter for a few minutes, I might see a story where an unarmed Black person was killed, a young trans person was denied a basic human right, or an account of another hate crime in which an LGBTQ person was viciously attacked.
To me, Pride is a bag of mixed emotions. It’s a vicious twister threatening to tear my insides to shreds, leaving me to sweep up the aftermath. At times, I feel like celebrating and want to pull on a vibrant outfit, grab my Pride flags, and enjoy a sunny community outing. At other times, I want everything to burn to the ground. Then another small part of me wants to sit in a dark corner and cry, scream, and mourn. I hold the occasion and my self-esteem in my heart, but my heart is heavy.
During my senior year of high school, I closely followed the transgender tags on Tumblr. I wasn’t out yet, and I lived vicariously through the trans men who were living their authentic lives publicly. One guy in particular broke my heart. He’d been crowned the Homecoming King and had loads of friends and people who both loved and admired him. He had a killer smile and his closest friend nicknamed him Skittlez. He took his own life and the transgender corner of Tumblr mourned deeply.
Alone, I mourned too.
Despite never talking to him, I identified with a piece of him just by reading everything he posted on social media. I stared at his picture from when he won Homecoming King at his school. I can still see it in my mind, plain as day. I see his smile, his warm brown eyes, and his growing scruffy beard.
Over five years later, a piece of me is still mourning over his death as if I’d lost a friend. I mourn every LGBTQ life taken too soon. Fear lives in my chest every time I see a new anti-LGBTQ bill threatening to be passed. I remember living in a small, southern town. I remember the fear in my grandmother’s eyes. I remember our hushed talks when she would apologize for feeling like she had to pretend I was a girl in public.
I am Brian. I don’t know how to be anyone else. Most people don’t know how to be anyone other than themselves, and it’s heartbreaking that some of us must spend our whole lives trying to be something other than who we are. It’s gut-wrenching to have to plan public bathroom breaks in advance, scout out safe places to just simply be, and brace ourselves for possible ridicule and discrimination at every turn.
Pride Month means a lot. In my mind, it’s like a jigsaw puzzle with both nurturing and harmful pieces, and some pieces that don’t fit at all. The good doesn’t come without the bad. I can’t smile without feeling a new crack forming in my heart. I laugh, but it stings. I love, and I love hard. I crumple up the shame others would have me claim and toss it into the trashcan, pretending it’s a basketball. I let Pride sit in my chest, and I let it stay a while before I face the next challenge in becoming who I truly am.
Brian Mack started this piece for Pride Month 2021 but was unable to finalize it due to a variety of health issues to which he ultimately succumbed last month. His death is a great loss to the LGBTQ community and to humanity in general. Brian, you are greatly missed.