When I hopped off the bus in the middle of Manhattan, the first thing I remember is that I tried to look like I knew where I was going. This was before almost all phones had a GPS built in — I didn’t have a smartphone, so I was entirely reliant on street signs, the grid system, and my ability to make a very subtle pedestrian u-turn.
It was 2012, I was 19, and it was my first time going to Pride.
I hadn’t planned on it. I’ve never been someone who likes being in a crowd, especially in the middle of summer. But I’d recently come out and, somehow, I ended up making plans with a college friend, a Tumblr friend, and my 8th grade boyfriend to meet in New York to go to the parade.
When I was 19, I didn’t know what I was. I just knew that I wasn’t straight (and that everyone else really wanted to know how I labeled myself). I’d come out to my family a few months earlier and everyone was still, for lack of a better term, assessing me. When I told my aunt I’d be going to New York for the day to go to Pride, I remember feeling my feet press so firmly into the ground, like I dared her to say I couldn’t or shouldn’t.
I was just as defiantly determined that I belonged at Pride as, just one year before, I had been determined that I absolutely, definitely, was not gay.
If you’re like me, you grew up hearing stories of people who “just knew” that they weren’t straight from an early age. Stories of people who had crushes on people of the same gender as them, or on everyone, as soon as they hit the playground.
That wasn’t me. I never conceptualized that I could be queer until, all of a sudden, I was. I had a steady string of boyfriends or almost-boyfriends from middle school on, I was super-feminine, and I had never had a crush on a girl.
So when I fell nauseatingly, heart-racingly, head-over-heels in love with someone after only one week of talking to them during my first year of college, I was confused, alarmed, and had no idea what to do. I didn’t know it was possible to want someone so deeply or to feel so intensely tied to someone so quickly.
One of my most prominent memories from that college week is sending a text message that said, “I know I have feelings for you, but I don’t know what to do. I’m super straight, and this is all very confusing.”
Reader, if you’re laughing at me right now, that is totally okay. Because, as you’ve probably figured out, I was not “super straight.” When I think about this moment, I laugh (and shake my head) too.
But like I said, I’d never considered queerness to be a possibility for me. It wasn’t something that was even on the table. The only femme queer character I’d ever seen was Megan (Natasha Lyonne) in But I’m a Cheerleader, which, at the time, went mostly over my head. The episode of Glee where Santana and Brittany officially start dating wouldn’t even air until two weeks after I sent that text message.
My internalized queerphobia was so deeply embedded, I couldn’t even tell you where, when, or how it started. It feels like it was always there. I know some of it was given to me by my conservative parents. I know some of it was given to me in the hallways at school. But there was never just one thing.
It took a lot of time, a lot of Tumblr, and a lot of therapy to unlearn it. By that point, I was also interning at a sex education organization, so the unlearning was happening more quickly than I knew how to manage. So it makes sense to me that in the summer of 2012, I fell off of a bus and landed in the middle of the world’s biggest Pride festival.
And then…spent almost the entire day inside, away from the crowds, watching the parade from a distance while I drank lemonade with three friends from three different parts of my life.
After all of my defiant insistence, I still wasn’t sure if I belonged there. I felt people sizing me up, looking for subtle cues to figure out if I was queer or just there for fun. I was doing the same thing to myself. None of the words or labels I tried on seemed to fit. “Lesbian” felt restrictive and “bi” was like an ill-fitted jacket. I used “pansexual” for a while but at some point, that didn’t work, either. I didn’t know how to dress, or what music to listen to, or anything, really.
For years, my identity label shifted based on who I was dating at the time. It was never just about me, it was about me in relation to someone else.
Over time, that changed. I built more and more friendships with other LGBTQ folks. I read, and then read some more. I took queer theory and then had to deal with my feelings in the middle of class. I had mentors who guided me and let me be a mess, who didn’t trust me less because of my messiness. I started dating someone who didn’t judge me when I changed my label every week until one stuck. I made sure that my internet circle was so abundantly queer that slowly but surely, queerness just felt…normal.
I stopped feeling like I had to come out over and over again (although people still make plenty of assumptions). I stopped feeling like I had to dig my heels in and stare someone down every time I mentioned my queerness. I stopped feeling like it was all so confusing and overwhelming that I couldn’t handle it.
It’s been almost 10 years since I sat on the sidelines of New York Pride, and I don’t regret not being more “in it” at all. I was as in it as I could be at the time. For once, I had listened to my brain when it told me “this is more than I’m ready for.” That Pride parade was a turning point for me, not because I was suddenly dancing on a float covered in rainbows, but because I actually started to pay attention to myself and my needs—something I hadn’t done for most of my life. I didn’t leave feeling more “out and proud”, but I did leave feeling more tied to my queer friends and feeling more confident in myself.
I don’t know where you are in your journey, but I do know that there isn’t a timeline that you have to stick to. There isn’t a secret playbook that everyone but you has. Everyone—even those people who knew who they were early on—will have a messy, confused, clumsy phase. That’s human.
When I work with clients on unlearning internalized queerphobia and on exploring their identities, I ask them, “what do you stand to gain by creating a new script for yourself?” Ask yourself that same question. What could you gain by following a new script? What could you gain simply by throwing your old script away? Be curious about yourself, because no matter where you are in this journey, you’re worth getting to know now, as you already are.
If you’re hanging off to the sidelines this year (or any year, honestly), that’s okay. I see you. You’re still invited to the party even if you don’t want to be at the party. If you need more time to learn and explore, take it. Build internet communities. Follow subreddits. Watch TikToks that absolutely blow your mind. Google the questions you have, and then Google the follow-up questions. Journal to yourself. Go to a queer community center if there’s one nearby. Don’t blame yourself for not knowing, or for doing things differently than you would have now.
Your level of “outness” doesn’t say anything about your queerness. Going to Pride doesn’t have to be your thing. And if you’re not sure which labels fit you best, try some on, toss them aside, pick new ones up. Unlearn the nonsense you were given earlier. Write a new script for yourself. Take all the time you need.
Hi, I’m Cassandra. I’m here, I’m queer and demisexual, and I want you to know that you get to take all the time you need to figure it out.
About the Author
Cassandra Corrado is a Contributing Educator for Nurx and an independent sex educator who teaches at colleges and universities across the United States. Formerly a victim advocate, she mostly teaches on topics related to un/healthy relationships, violence prevention, LGBTQ+ health, and sexual pleasure.
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