When I decided to write something about Pride month again this year, I struggled to decide how I wanted to approach the topic; I have written quite a bit about Queer topics, ranging from coming out and celebration to solemn remembrance, to the importance of chosen family, community elders, and (a snippet of) our history. In the hellscape that was 2020, I wrote about reigniting “true spirit of Stonewall and reclaim Pride as a rebellion against the oppression of ALL of our intersecting communities, rather a corporate-sponsored party.” Each time I’ve written on these topics, I’ve outed myself—explicitly or implicitly—to the Sweatpants & Coffee community and I’ve often disclosed aspects of my personal experiences as a Queer person; in fact, this community has witnessed me evolve as I have realized and began to embody my genderqueer identity.
What I haven’t done yet: express my fear. That fear has grown over the last year and I need to acknowledge it.
Not long ago, I was browsing Facebook—like you do—and I came upon an ad for a trans-owned clothing company. I clicked through and began browsing that website and a shirt caught my eye: a black muscle tee—absolutely my aesthetic—emblazoned with the words “visibility is vulnerability.” Maybe I hadn’t been able to find those words because of the extent to which I overthink things but, upon reading that shirt, it clicked: that is the most accurate and succinct way to articulate my growing unease. I have made myself very visible online and in meatspace and, as the political and cultural landscape has become increasingly hostile to marginalized communities and identities of all kinds, that means I’ve made myself quite vulnerable too. And, as is the case with all kinds of vulnerability, it’s scary.
Photo by cottonbro: a blue tinted photograph of a shirtless, tattooed man sitting on a bed, leaning against a wall, in a position that suggests loneliness. A rainbow from a prism stretches over part of his head and arm.
In addition to being Queer, I am also chronically ill, which means I interact with medical institutions A LOT. Most of those interactions are with a major university medical system. I’ve recently had the pleasure of contacting that medical system’s chief audit and compliance officer to lodge a formal complaint against one of the clinics I attend regularly because they continually, even after repeated correction, misgendered me and used my birth name—mind you, they have ways of noting both in my record and this is a medical system that, supposedly, offers gender affirming care. As I put it in my letter: “I am, during visits to the office, routinely addressed by my birth name and referred to as “Miss” and “ma’am”—most embarrassingly (and, in an increasingly hostile social climate, potentially dangerous) for me, in the waiting room in front of other patients.” Living in the home of the infamous HB2 “bathroom bill” and a shiny, brand new “don’t say gay” bill, the potential threat to my safety is real—though it is mitigated by my whiteness, which is important to acknowledge because visibly Queer and gender expansive BIPOC are much more at risk of discrimination and violence than I am.
Photo by Disabled and Here : Three Black and disabled folx (a non-binary person holding a cane, a non-binary person sitting in a power wheelchair, and a femme sitting in a chair) look seriously at the camera while a rainbow pride flag drapes on the wall behind them.
I was contacted by both Patient Services and the clinic about my complaint. Patient Services apologized and said they were taking my complaint seriously. So seriously, in fact, that they shared my letter directly with the clinic which is great because now they are aware of what exactly the problematic behavior is. It scared the ever-loving crap out of me, though, because they know who made the complaint and, while they may have easily deduced that it was me just because of the nature of the complaint, I am visible. For what it’s worth, someone from the clinic called me to apologize and I was told they were taking corrective action. I suppose I’ll find out if that is actually the case when I go to my next appointment at the end of next month.
The first Pride was not a riot but riots are absolutely part of our history. Photo: a meme featuring bricks painted to echo various pride flags overlaid with text that reads at the top: “Hey buddy…whatcha got there?” and at the bottom: “Bricks…for my family.”
Since the death of our mom last year, I’ve tried to be very diligent about visiting my sister quarterly(-ish). That means that I regularly make a ten-hour drive through The South. It’s a beautiful drive, if you don’t count the two enormous Confederate battle flags I have to drive past—seriously, they’re two of the largest I have ever seen. I pass through the Great Smoky Mountains and gorgeous, rolling countryside. This last trip, the weather was perfect and I drove the whole way with my windows down and my music up and it was just pure joy… until I had to make a stop somewhere. I make sure that I only stop in populated areas or at large gas stations and truck stops with camera surveillance and more staff than just one person at a register. I do this because I know how I look, I know that I don’t pass as cishet anymore—I am visible and, therefore, vulnerable—and I live with the threats of “corrective r*pe” made against me since high school hanging over my head.
Photo – Tweet by Faith
Visibility is desperately important for all marginalized groups. Visibility is necessary to fight against the willful ignorance of the white supremacist, Christian dominionist, ableist, cishet patriarchy. Oppressive cultures are not going to acquiesce to the righteous demands of marginalized groups for our safety, civil rights, and the respect due us as human beings if they’re not regularly confronted with our existence. And though visibility is vulnerability, it is safer for some of us to be visible than it is for others—as I mentioned before, my whiteness insulates me to a degree, so does my being child-free. It is important to me that, despite how scary being truly visible can be, I use the relative safety that my privilege affords me to be seen, to protest, to demand, to fight because there are so many in my community who can’t without much greater risk to their personal safety.
So, here I am before you, this Pride month. Visible. Vulnerable. Scared. Righteous.
Photo by FransA : a femme person yelling. They are wearing round sunglasses and they have curly hair wig dyed like the rainbow Pride flag.
And demanding that you look past the glitter and rainbows and chants that “love is love” and “love wins” to see that Queer and trans folks are in danger. As I write this, we’re only half way through Pride month and, already, there have been numerous threats of violence against, dangerous disruptions of, and narrowly-avoided attacks at Pride events across the country—all of which have been organized—not just random mob violence. This is not something y’all can write off as “lone wolf” situations. I need y’all who “identify as” allies to stop calling yourselves allies and actually be allies: be aware of the political climate; participate in state and local politics, which is where so many of the dangerous, anti-Queer and trans policies are being made, AND object to those policies before they become law; call out the stochastic terrorism of churches, politicians, and influential community members and organizations that all but guarantees violence against trans and Queer folks.
Photo – Tweet by Claire Willett
It is Pride month. And I am frightened.