Last night, at the recommendation of several people we really trust, Jill and I watched Hannah Gadsby’s Netflix Special “Nanette.” If you know us, you know that we don’t really watch TV—we only got a Netflix subscription a few months ago and rarely use it—but I’m so glad we made an exception for this. Gadsby’s work is like that of no other stand-up comic I know, and I can’t remember the last time I watched an artist be quite so brave on stage.
At one point, Gadsby speaks about her own shame in the present tense, a shame that isn’t intellectual, but an emotional remnant, a default piece of programming that cannot be so easily undone as the mind might like. As I listened to her, I realized that, despite every indication otherwise, I do still carry shame about my queerness. I tell a lot of lies of omission, particularly in conversations with strangers—“we” instead of “my wife and I,” that kind of thing, and though I had previously convinced myself this was about convenience, I’m not sure that it isn’t also about embarrassment.
Pride month just ended, and I’ve been thinking a lot about what it does or doesn’t mean. I still get an internal thrill to see the rainbow banners hanging in downtown Houston, but while the experience of Pride can be cathartic and important, it’s easy to sometimes feel like we get our month, and that’s it. Enough talking about that! You had your month, shouldn’t you be grateful? There also plenty of important critiques about the commercialization of Pride, reminders that Stonewall was a riot and that being mainstreamed isn’t necessarily a good thing.
Three years ago, Jill and I went pretty mainstream—we got married, six days after it became legal to do so. It was a joyful occasion, every bit of it, but even then I knew that our new access was no panacea. I worried, and it seems rightly so, that others would decide that it was. Game over! All done! LGBTQ achievement unlocked! But it doesn’t take much more than a glance at the news to realize that we’re not even close.
Even though my family has the paperwork and the legality to back it up, we still encounter all kind of reminders that, despite the clever #loveislove hashtag, our love, our relationship, our commitment, our being, is seen as secondary or derivative or in some way “other.” I can’t tell you the number of people who have asked, upon learning that I have taken a new job in Phoenix, if Jill would be moving to Arizona, too. My mom’s neighbor cautioned her not to combine households with us, because, “How do you know they’ll stay together?” As if we have not been committed and partnered for sixteen FREAKING years and have been raising a child together for almost six. But you know, just the other day, a colleague referred to my family as a “lifestyle,” so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.
These examples may seem small, minor in comparison to the legal status we have now attained and the rights we enjoy. Believe me, I am grateful for the latter—but I’m also mindful that I should have had them all along. As a nation, we should have learned by now that the changing of our laws does not equal the changing of personal sentiment, habit, or bias. As a culture, we are still very, very attached to categories of gender; we are still deeply entrenched in our expectations of what is considered a “norm,” and still very much convinced that normal = good.
Which is what I really believe makes Pride so important. We still have it, not because we’re “done” and not so straight girls can dress provocatively while ALSO getting “I’m so woke” bonus points, but because Pride is a difficult thing for those of us who are queer to feel, let alone broadcast. For some of us, or in certain situations, it is physically dangerous; it can threaten our livelihoods and compromise our health; it can tear apart our families and wreck our support systems. And for all of us, to some degree, shame is a factor. Which is what makes being proud such a radical act.