A few weeks ago, my girlfriend and I drove to Chicago to network with LGBT athletes and coaches and march in the Chicago Pride Parade with Outsports and Nike (my girlfriend is a college athlete, so this trip wasn’t as random as it seems). I thoroughly enjoyed meeting so many new people, hearing about their shared struggles and triumphs, and making friends I will forever be proud of. But that weekend was so much more than just meeting new people, exploring a new city, and making new memories. That weekend was an experience that made me think, confront my own insecurities, and grow as an individual.
On the day of the parade, we met up with our group wearing our matching “Be True” shirts. Everyone was taking pictures, Pride flags were flying, floats were absurdly colorful, and I was uncomfortable.
I wasn’t uncomfortable because I was gay, with my girlfriend, or even at a Pride celebration. But rather, I was uncomfortable because there was something in the back of my mind that told me that I was being “too” gay.
You don’t have to be an LGBT person to know what I’m talking about. We’ve all done it, said it, thought it. We all know that person who is “so gay” that their sexuality is the main thing that defines them. You can tell they’re gay when you pass them on the street. They’re flamboyant. They’re in your face. And it makes you uncomfortable.
Until that day, I had never felt like I was “that” person. I was too conservative, too Christian, too feminine, and too “normal”. Yet, here I was, wearing my “Be True” shirt, holding my girlfriend’s hand, and posing in front of a Pride flag. I felt exposed and vulnerable. And I felt guilty for feeling that way.
When the parade began, a friend of mine (a 6’5″ offensive lineman) picked me up and sat me on his shoulders. I was having fun, but was also more embarrassed than I’m comfortable admitting. That was the best thing that could have happened to me. It was a very different view than my 5’2″ self would have had otherwise and I could see everything.
I saw couples holding hands, straight parents who came out to support their children, and families whose love for each other is not dependent upon a parent, child, or sibling’s sexuality. I saw churches who reminded me that Christ loves all and I saw LGBT people who felt completely accepted, supported, and loved for simply being who they were.
He didn’t carry me forever (it was 90 degrees outside) and I spent the majority of the parade walking side by side with the woman I love. But he, even though he never realized it, gave me the courage I needed that day.
That day, you could tell I was gay simply by passing me on the street. I was flamboyant. I was “in your face”. And I was happy. While it is highly unlikely that I will carry a Pride flag with me everywhere I go, the experience that I had at Chicago Pride was liberating. My girlfriend posted a photo from that day with the caption: “For the first time ever, I wasn’t afraid to walk down crowded streets holding Rachel’s hand.” After two years of dating, I know for a fact that was an experience that straight couples will never understand and gay couples will always long for.
That day, I didn’t try to be “normal”. I was just Rachel – a woman who is head over heels in love with another woman and who desperately wants their love to be recognized as equal. I held Chandler’s hand and didn’t care who would see. I kissed her in public and wasn’t afraid of how someone would react. I was “too” gay. I was me.