Gay Pride

Pride and Prejudice

Yesterday was a picture-perfect day to run – partly cloudy and warm, yet cool – clearly a late spring day. As I ran along the lilac-lined streets to the lakefront trail, the scent of the flowers, the type of day and time of year took me back to my youth. While each footfall moved me forward, mentally I was transported back in time. I was taken back to the soon-to-be twelveyear old boy on the cusp of finishing elementary school. A boy who had stories that you have heard me talk about before. Ones that may just sound like a reiteration of the same, yet to me, are part of my fiber.

June, as many of you know, is Pride Month. Just before going out for my run, I read a hateful post by a pedophile-enabling Catholic Bishop reminding Catholics “not to support or attend Gay Pride events” because it is “contrary to Catholic faith and morals and harmful to children.” My blood boiled with the hypocrisy of it all. I officially renounced my Catholic faith a few years ago.  Many of you have heard me rant on this in the past. So why, might you ask, does Joe still care about this all?  Here’s why…

You have all heard me tell the story of my teacher mocking me as I ran saying “You run like a girl.” I’ll spare you the details other than the disco loving, Jordache jean wearing boy who didn’t care about the same shit that many of his male peers did was once again made acutely aware that I was different. And different didn’t mean good. It was bad. Or how about on the last day of elementary school, the very start of the summer before I would be mixed into junior high with a rougher crowd? That day, my best friend suddenly dropped me as a friend. He called me a “fat femme” and wouldn’t play with me anymore.  I wondered what changed. I was mortified. Heck, I wasn’t even fat yet. But once again, I had validation. This time it came from a peer, my best friend – that who I was, was wrong.

Adolescence sucks. Pure and simple. It, for many, brings back memories of a time of life that is full of challenges. Your entire being is changing in a way that is wildly unfamiliar to you. You go from a child, innocent and sweet to becoming physically an adult, even though your mind will take longer to mature and develop than your body.  

Now picture experiencing that same adolescence as a person who doesn’t fit the standard bill – the societal norm. While most of my peers were attracted to or pursuing the opposite gender, I was attracted to those my own gender. Because it was 1980, this had yet to be normalized societally. I felt like I needed to hide who I was. Keep it a secret. Bear it as a shame. Messages that I received in religious education told me that it was wrong to feel this way. I wondered why God would have done this to me. Am I bad? I think I’m a good person. (Back then, I wasn’t even sarcastic yet.) I couldn’t help how I felt. This felt like it was coming from the deepest part of my being. Yet, society and people in collars who were supposed to be good and just kept telling me differently.

I prayed that it was a phase. Many of my gay brothers and sisters know that one. We’ve all been there…In bed at night, hoping the day would come when things would change. God, please let me be more attracted to Christie Brinkley than Richard Gere. But it’s not a phase. It is who you are – fundamentally, deep-down, intrinsically you. It doesn’t matter what anybody says or what robe they throw on their body when they tell you. You are who you are. And you do not need to change that for ANYONE. You love who you love. And as long as that person is a consenting adult, it is NONE of anyone’s business to say that it is wrong.

It has been nearly twenty-four years since I came out. I was older, twenty-seven at the time. A veritable adult compared to the brave kids that come out at much younger ages now. I have yet been out almost half my life. I am married. I have kids. MarrieD with children. That is something that the frightened twelve year old thought I would have to forego if I was true to myself.

I am vocal. Everyone who knows me, knows that to be true. I don’t always mince words which sometimes makes my husband cringe. I use my voice to make points. And since, if you are still reading this, you have patiently stuck with me all this time now, I will finally get to it.

I have shed my religion. I don’t care if something I do “looks gay.” The rational part of me does not need people to validate my life. However, every time I see a message like the one from the bishop yesterday or [insert any hateful organization or politician here], that little boy is nudged or slapped or poked. He feels frightened again. He feels judged. He has to remind himself that it is ok. He has to deprogram the scripts that were written and entered in the keypunch for years.  Yet as he is flashing between the pre-teen boy and almost fifty-one year-old man, he is reminded that he is also a father. A father who has children whom he wants to protect from these messages. Messages that criticize and unfairly judge who their fathers are; yet also ones that unfairly define who they may become.  Pride is about reclaiming who we are and owning it. It’s flipping the script. Better yet, burning the script if it is not your own script. 

So, do we still need Pride month? Yes. Unequivocally yes. That is until all kids can feel safe to be who they are and have the grown-ups around them act and behave accordingly.

Now for a shameless plug…this is my third year running with Team to End AIDS (T2) raising money for the AIDS Foundation of Chicago. I am training for the Chicago and NYC Marathons. If you would care to make a donation to support my charity and keep me motivated for 26.2miles x TWO, please click here…

At-home dad, husband, gay man, marathon runner, sarcastic to the core, off-center

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