It’s more than just a word. It’s more than just a catchy title used for movements and festivals. It’s a matter of recognizing one’s own identity, one’s true self, and deciding that there’s nothing to be ashamed of – and everything to celebrate.
On Saturday, I attended Out In The Park, the main event of the Tacoma Pride Festival. Having been heavily depressed all week, and struggling with an increasing inability to deal with social interaction, I almost didn’t go. I’m glad I changed my mind.
One of the issues I’ve been struggling with of late is a feeling that I don’t belong anywhere. Having no one to go to Pride with, I worried that I’d just feel out of place and disconnected. In a place like Tacoma, at an event like Out In The Park, I shouldn’t have worried.
The moment I arrived, I was greeted by a familiar face: a member of Occupy Tacoma who I hadn’t seen in a while and I’d sorely missed. From that point on, my afternoon became a blur of amazing performances, beautiful moments, dear friends and friendly strangers.
There were plenty of moments where I still felt awkward and detached, but those soon gave way to the overwhelming sensation present throughout the crowd: pride.
The amount of pride washing through the multitude of diverse people present was absolutely infectious. It was hard to stay depressed when surrounded by laughing, smiling people basking and celebrating under a warm, bright sun. The energy of the performers and Pride-goers alike kept a smile returning to my face, and some moments brought my own pride – in myself, in others and in my community as a whole – to such high levels I nearly cried.
One such moment was seeing a host of local politicians stand up, on stage, in support of marriage equality (you can view the complete, unedited video of this at the end of the blog). The show of support, of solidarity, combined with the amazing, powerful speeches – given by the likes of gubernatorial candidate Jay Inslee, State Senator and candidate for U.S. Senate Derek Kilmer, and others – left me floored in the best possible way.
Sure, it’s an election year, and yes, it can be seen as just another political stunt; just another part of the game. But it didn’t feel like just a stunt. Whether they were standing there, in solidarity, or speaking inspirational words from the heart, I believed they meant it. I believed that each of them was there because it was the right thing to do.
Another moment that left my mood high was being identified by the shirt I was wearing: a simple green shirt with the letters “DFTBA” on the chest. A Nerdfighter saying, it means “Don’t Forget To Be Awesome.”
I’ve been a Nerdfighter (a nerd who fights to decrease worldsuck) since 2007. This was the first time I can recall running into a Nerdfighter I’d never met before outside of the expected places. I’ve met plenty of other Nerdfighters at events orienting around the community – YouTube gatherings, wizard rock concerts and tours by the Vlogbrothers, the fathers of Nerdfighteria – but never before had someone pointed at my DFTBA shirt and shouted, “I know what that means! Don’t Forget To Be Awesome!”
In the ensuing conversation (made all too brief by the fact that her friends were in a hurry to get somewhere), I realize now that I spoke more openly and more directly about my own sexuality and lifelong struggle with gender identity than I have to most of my friends and family.
One final image burned itself into my mind before I left the festival, and it took place after Out In The Park was officially over.
The performances were over, the booths were being torn down, and most people had moved on to one of the block parties nearby. But as I looked around at the half-deconstructed festival, I saw a great many people lingering.
These weren’t the lost, misplaced souls often found wandering the grounds of a finished event, not knowing where else to go (I should know; I’m often one of these people). They were laughing, chatting, taking photographs and even playing with hula hoops. For them, and for me, the festival wasn’t over.
While we would all end up dispersing, in time, I couldn’t help but appreciate the moment while it lasted. Surrounded by people – mostly strangers – who continued to celebrate without the urging of scheduled festivities, I felt something I’d been lacking: I belonged.
In that moment, in the dying embers of a brilliant flame that refused to simply go out, I belonged.
And as I looked around, I couldn’t help but feel it, swelling inside me: a sense of community, of hope, of absolute revelry in myself and the wonderful people around me.
This, to me, is Pride.