Married to a child, I look straight. I’m finally ready to stop hiding my identity.

I stood in the swampy summer heat, waiting for instructions, ready for the New Orleans pride parade to begin. I marched with other members of the queer community wearing an elaborate double rainbow headdress that I spent hours making.

I’ve never been sure how I fit into past parades, despite the emerging awareness of my queer identity at age 13, the pride parades I’ve been in for almost two decades, and the many queer relationships. I constantly navigated the difficulty of being invisible and hiding my identity.

This Pride was different.

I became part of the fun in a new way, having publicly declared myself a few weeks before. I felt like I belonged, although I stood on legs that seemed as wobbly as those of a baby giraffe.

My first pride was in Dallas in 2005, which I attended with some confidence due to my role as a board member of an LGBTQ+ non-profit organization. I was on parade in a perceived alliance, not an identity.

While I shared with our small team of volunteers that I am “not straight,” we acknowledged that my performance as a vivacious straight college student could be rewarding.

Inwardly, I struggled with whether the Pride spaces were “for me”, longing for connection, believing that I had not earned the right to claim those identities on my own.

I have never misrepresented my identity, but over the years, in various contexts, I have strategically used the privilege and power of my presentation to influence educators and elected officials in our conservative state.

Nobody ever asked me to stay in the toilet. Instead, I enthusiastically volunteered.

I used my activism as a happy excuse: allowing myself to appear honest – and skip any further reflection – was an advantage to our defense!

In graduate school, my first serious queer relationship also helped keep me from making a name for myself.

I met Carrick at a speed dating fundraiser. Our conversation was easy, so I was glad when a few days later I saw that we matched.

On our first feature date, we had an easy rapport and I felt a strong chemistry. However, when he hugged me goodbye in the kitchen, our dynamics seemed unnatural. He seemed clumsy and flustered, and I couldn’t figure out if I liked him.

Over dinner on our second date, Carrick shared that he was transgender. I was the first person he met after the transition.

We both fell hard. Our communication was nuanced, vulnerable, and emotionally aware. I found it so intoxicating and our dynamic so exciting that it was the achievement I made in class that semester.

Despite the fact that our relationship was fundamentally different from my past, outwardly we looked like an ordinary heterosexual couple.

Being considered straight didn’t leave me feeling like my identity had been erased, in part because I didn’t have a clear sexual orientation to erase. On the contrary, communication with Carrick confirmed my belief that specific labels are not important to me. My loved ones knew that I was not straight, that Carrick was transgender, and there was a unique depth to our connection.

“My new friend and I were chatting about sexuality. He asked how old I was when I fully accepted my sexual orientation. I realized that I still haven’t done it.”

For most of my adult life, I have defined myself as “not straight” and then as “anything”, based on a 2013 article by Maria Bello. modern love essay. Her fluid sexual orientation matched mine, and the term “whatever” was convenient, as if I didn’t let terminology define my sense of self.

In the meantime, I married a cisgender man. We had a baby and bought a house that literally came with a white picket fence.

Recently, a new friend and I were chatting about sexuality. He asked how old I was when I fully accepted my sexual orientation. I realized that it still doesn’t. Avoiding labels was a form of hiding for me. I felt like I didn’t deserve it, as if I wasn’t “considered” a faggot, since I presented myself as a natural monogamous mother from the South.

In the last decade, there has been another part of my personality that has kept me a secret: I am polyamorous. For me, polyamory means that my husband and I share a lifelong commitment to each other and our family. We also meet other people and accept the possibility of love outside of our marriage.

Polyamory provided an additional level of invisibility. Although I had dated a lot of women in recent years, I still seemed very honest to the outside world because I kept my polyamorous life under wraps.

Invisibility gave access to power and the perception of heterosexuality in the mainstream culture and in my Catholic extended family. It also brought relief and discomfort. I hid—even from myself—in ways I still contemplate.

Even though I dated women and non-binary people, I still didn’t feel weird “enough”.

For people who have realized their sexuality at a later age or have not had the opportunity to explore it, there is a special cocktail of impostor syndrome, guilt and self-doubt. Do we deserve to be labeled queer if we don’t have enough queer sexual and life experiences? Should we claim these identities without suffering for them? We are weak or biphobic because we No public with this person?

Here’s what I know now: Staying in the closet avoiding labels kept me from having new queer relationships, and not having more queer relationships helped keep me in the closet.

Identity is not based on some secret scoring system that evaluates the type(s) of genitals you’ve touched, the trauma you’ve experienced, or whether you’ve appeared on Instagram.

Identity is associated with sexual and romantic attraction. This is deeply personal and this exploration is up to you.

We may ask which comes first, personality or action. We can control and evaluate who deserves a label, but why?

No one can tell you how to identify, it’s your right to claim – or not!

It’s never too late and you’re under no obligation to anyone or the movement to claim a label or perform. As one reader wrote to me: “Your life, your pace.”

For those who have lived openly for years, I feel there is a real tension between welcoming newcomers with open arms and wanting to be seen and respected for what they’ve been through, what they’ve endured, to pave the way for people who can be ungrateful or ignorant.

I think of people who have lived through rampant homophobia and the HIV crisis, their lives constantly affected by fear, grief and loss – terrible social stigma and our government’s deliberate disregard for their safety and well-being.

Today, the lives of BIPOC and non-binary members of the LGBTQ+ community are threatened daily, both legally and physically. There are understandable concerns about people like me, directly representing white people with huge privileges, taking an inordinate place in this movement. (It’s kind of our way.)

For those of us who have come to these identities very recently, it is our responsibility to understand the history and current context, acknowledge our privilege, and become strong advocates for change.

As hateful anti-LGBT legislation becomes more rampant and violence against members of the trans community continues, I feel compelled to accept and share my truth.

“The more people who go out and live their true selves, including those of us who appear to be straight, the safer it is for everyone.”

In this month of pride, I finally felt ready. I attended this year’s events, fully declaring myself in all complex nuances. I marched in our pride parade in New Orleans in alliance with people who have been at the forefront for decades, in solidarity with those who have been the targets of abhorrent legislation and hate crimes.

As well as I appeared in my own person.

I spent hours making an elaborate costume out of sequins, feathers, and glitter tapes. On the back of the headpiece, I wrote “QUEER” in rainbow letters with a bright yellow arrow pointing down.

Along the parade route, a mother stood next to her teenage daughter. The mother screamed and pointed at her child, saying, “This is her first pride! She just got out!”

With tears in my eyes, I ran up and asked if the young man wanted Wonder Woman stickers and hugs. She did.

When her mom cheerfully said, “She’s 14!” I turned around, pointing at the “QUEER” on my headdress, and told her, “I’m 37 and just got out too!”

Finally, I finished hiding.

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