This year, I was looking forward to going to my first Pride celebration in San Francisco.
Sure, I was busy with Session A summer classes, but Sunday morning I found myself getting dressed and ready to go out, marching down Piedmont Avenue in my purple Converse and sparkly gold shirt, my pink, purple and blue heart enamel pin gleaming on my jean jacket as I passed Caffe Strada.
I made it as far as the Berkeley Anthropology Museum.
Sitting down in front of it, I had a mini panic attack — a small, anxious spiral during which I sat on a cinder block, caught somewhere between FOMO and the fear of disappointing some of those closest to me, especially my parents.
“Well, you know how I feel about it,” my mom had said when I told her about attending Pride, and I swallowed, because, yeah, I do.
There are many queer kids out there who are not in good places with their families. I don’t mean at all to imply that it makes it easier for them to “disobey” their parents by going to LGBTQ+ events, but sometimes I wish it were easier for me.
Nothing’s stopping me, but my parents are my best friends. Their opinion matters, drastically, to me.
Even though I know they will continue to love me, that my church family will continue to love me, it hurts my heart to know that they might be disappointed in me.
I grew up with two missionary parents who raised me to follow God and let the Holy Spirit be my conscience. I haven’t always walked that line very well.
But as somebody with a spiritual sensitivity and a good dose of anxiety, I grew up journaling, praying and accepting Jesus as my Lord and Savior more times than most people would think you’d need.
I was homeschooled and grew up in a small conservative circle, so my first introduction to anything that wasn’t heteronormative was in my teenage years, and like my peers, I vocally condemned it … despite my own mixed feelings about certain girls I knew growing up.
When I went to the winter formal, and then another dance or two with a girl (a friend of mine), I remember feeling a sort of rebellious thrill at attending such conservative events with another girl, even if on her end of things it was entirely platonic.
I remember being obsessed with “Glee”— the music, the color, the drama. … I remember watching it in my living room and shooting nervous looks over my shoulder whenever there was a same-sex kiss or flirtation.
I remember looking up same-sex kisses on YouTube on my laptop late at night and watching them under the covers, jolting whenever any sound was made outside my bedroom.
It wasn’t until community college that I met anyone who could talk about the LGBTQ+ community without speaking in hushed, furtive tones.
I didn’t count myself one of them, but I looked, listened and saw it from the outside.
There’s no wonder that I had anxiety, though I’m not going to pretend that I can put this all on my own identity crisis. I was depressed, too, apathetic about school and most things.
Eventually, I had to take a break.
There was a Christian ministry school in Pennsylvania with a joyful, charismatic leader who I found myself drawn to, and so I carved out a year of time to go get my life on track.
As I filled out the application, it asked me questions about if I’ve ever struggled with alcohol or drugs. I checked no.
Then it asked if I’ve ever struggled with same-sex attraction.
I stared, I struggled, I pined.
I checked no.
I knew that if I had checked yes, I wouldn’t have been admitted, or that if I were admitted, I would have been observed, cautiously, in the same way kids who were addicted to drugs would have been observed, just in case.
While I was living in PA, working at a daycare and attending ministry school twice a week, I constantly wondered about my attraction to women. How was it that it could be so wrong?
I met a girl I’d been talking to online at the O’Hare International Airport on a layover, and we spent the afternoon together.
I remember telling her that I liked her, but in all of my intensity and future-oriented thinking, I could never see myself marrying her.
Maybe in another world, something would’ve happened. Instead, I went back to PA to finish my year out.
There’s this thing in The Church where people argue about the sanctity of marriage. It is a lifelong commitment — a covenant, even — between a man and a woman and God.
During that year in ministry school, I knew at least two (if not three) heterosexual couples who got married after knowing each other for a number of months, including an 18-year-old girl who married someone 10 years her senior.
When I left, my best friend there married a girl after a similarly short amount of time, and they separated not long after.
There’s a big push in The Church to get married, not to waste time dating around, but to date with purpose and seriousness. Some of that isn’t bad, of course, my parents had a similar courtship, and they’ve been together for 30 years.
This isn’t something I take lightly.
I’ve researched, scrolled through the forums, journaled, listened to podcasts, the stories of YouTubers, prayed.
I went through a period of being mad at God. Why is it sinful? I don’t understand.
Is it sinful in the way that women disobeying their husbands is sinful? Is it something that can be culturally and historically contextualized?
Just saying that it is wrong, with the assurance that this is as self-evident a sin as lust or wrath or greed, has been something I’ve struggled with for years.
As I’ve written this, I’ve considered the meaning behind the word “pride.”
There’s so much shame that comes with being queer. My family and friends would never put that on me intentionally, but it’s something I struggle with all the same.
They want what’s best for me. They don’t want me to struggle. They don’t want my life to be harder than it has to be — than it already has been.
A lot of people think that the gay agenda is being shoved down their throats, especially during the month of June, but I don’t think that Gay Pride is the same as that cocky, self-assured sin that we are all warned about. (I’d argue even less so than school pride, anyway.) It’s about overcoming obstacles and unifying to celebrate that victory.
I don’t mean to sound like I’ve got it all figured out. In fact, you may feel the opposite.
This is an ongoing battle for me, the war between my mind, heart and spirit — it’s a lot to deal with, especially when you’re in the middle of finals and trying to figure out what you’re going to do with your life when you graduate.
At the end of the day, I can only speak my truth — I can only speak for me. The truth is, I didn’t go to Pride this year. I don’t know if I’ll go next year, but in the meantime, I’ll be listening, reading, watching and praying.
Lauren West is the assistant blog editor. Contact Lauren West at [email protected].