The emotional labor of Pride
What it means to tell our stories.
I close the tabs open on my browser: “Terrible time for trans youth: new survey spotlights suicide attempts.” The interview transcript where a friend describes plotting his own death. “Uganda enacts harsh anti-LGBTQ law including death penalty.” Accounts of midcentury teenagers tortured with “conversion therapy” that tried to turn them straight. A study on how gender-expansive people are excluded from clinical trials for psychedelic and MDMA therapy, desperately needed to help heal identity-related trauma.
This is what has filled my head and consumed my working hours for the past six weeks, because it’s Pride Month, and I’ve just filed my final story. While I’m very grateful for the chance to share these with the world, having four commissioned at once has been a lot to hold. If only publications had been interested the other 11 months of the year. The process was more painful than I thought it would be: the great responsibility I feel in honoring my chosen family’s most personal stories; trying to convey to audiences who have never experienced othering what it feels like, trying to disappear while being desperate to be seen.
There is hope in our stories, surely, but it is forged out of struggle. Sometimes our communities forget how much we’ve been through just to get to a place where there’s still so far to go. The fight for LGBTQIA+ rights isn’t history, it’s contemporary: Homosexual acts were illegal in the U.S. until 2003—and same-gender marriage was only legalized nationwide in 2015, less than a decade ago. Meanwhile, the only federal protection for trans* and gender-diverse people is a Supreme Court ruling prohibiting discrimination in employment, not passed until 2020.
Homosexuality was still considered a mental illness in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) until 1973, as was gender-diversity—until 2012. While some of us, in some places, enjoy increasing social acceptance, anti-queer and -trans legislation has also risen steadily every year since Trump left office. While transatlantic urban oases like California, New York, Berlin, and London may proffer progressive cultures, I don’t think our communities realize the impact of this background noise; these attitudes and actions seep into the collective consciousness and leach into our nervous systems.
It’s interesting observing the differences on either side of the ocean. In the U.K., there are legal protections for queer, trans, and gender-diverse people—and, importantly, kids—that U.S. citizens can only dream of; homosexuality was legalized in 1967. Yet a culture characterized by social deference, gendered greetings and bathrooms reign. Germany, despite being home to Berlin—perhaps the most queer-friendly place outside the Castro that I’ve ever been—was surprisingly late to the party, not legalizing homosexual acts until 1994. Only France was far ahead of the curve with its 1791 legislation, more than two centuries before the rest of the Global Northern world.
And just about all of its countries recognize a Pride month: 30 days a year that mainstream business, industry, media, and government make an active effort to represent our communities. While it’s better than being actively targeted, like all “heritage” months, these efforts often feel tokenizing. I don’t think editors and business leaders realize the burden it places on writers and workers. I now understand the meaning of the term “emotional labor”—the process of managing others’ feelings and expectations to fulfill a social or professional role. Acting as a spokesperson for communities in our family that I’m not part of; even within my own, discovering terms and norms I didn’t know. Defending passages and parts of people’s stories in the editing process; explaining why certain aspects are important to people with no awareness of our world; defining every acronym and painting pictures that balance suffering with celebration, so people understand the hard parts without being alienated by hopelessness or slipping into a victim role.
I realize that it happens a lot in daily life, too, when well-meaning friends, acquaintances, and colleagues ask questions about my journey that require a lecture series on gender diversity and queer theory to properly explain. I appreciate curiosity and people wanting to understand an unfamiliar journey; it’s why I do what I do, because people are interesting, and often I’m happy to share. But other times, I simply don’t have the emotional bandwidth to explain arcs of human culture and history that could be read on ResearchGate or watched on YouTube; to convey what it’s like to always be trying to convey what it’s like.
I’m glad there’s a month for celebration; it’s kind of my whole thing. I’m here for any excuse to have a party that acknowledges our community, uplifts our resilience, and centers our joy, because that, not our struggle, is what truly defines us. But it’s different when these spaces and celebrations are created by us, for us, rather than to fulfill some “DEI+” obligation, appear progressive, or sell novelty and spectacle to cis-het customers. I’m not sure whether performative Pride gestures are better than nothing at all; I almost feel like I’d rather know where people stand. Anyone can fly a rainbow flag, but what matters most is the intention.
This year, I was honored to be involved in creating the first-ever commercially available Queer Poly Pride beer: Polyambrewous, brought to life by London brewer Jacob Hobbs at Hackney Church Brew Co., a sincere effort that I wrote about for LGBTQ Nation; to share stories of psychedelic healing for Double Blind, Psychedelics Today, and San Diego Magazine. And I’m soaking up queer community, love, and joy like a sponge all across the pond. For this, I am grateful.
But I’m also very tired, so I’m going back to bed until July.
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