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Looking back on this summer as it comes to a close, I am struck by how my life continued on as normal after the end of gay pride month (June) this year, as all queer folks’ lives certainly did. After the parties and the dancing and the celebrating faded away, after the rainbow flags were taken down in the shops and bars, we continued on living as who we were.

Despite going back to normal life where no organization or company or hetero-dominated space is overtly celebrating my existence, I’ve been continuing to consider the meaning of Pride anyway, the way that it has changed and molded me and brought on the restoration of my spirit.

I remember being in rehab just a few months before Pride month in 2017. At the time, I had just come out to everyone who was there with me. They felt like the safest, most loving group of people I had ever known. They encouraged me to write a letter to my closest friends, coming out to all of them as well.

I took their advice and ran with it, sending a letter to nearly 20 people, but purposefully excluding my family members out of deep-seated and soul-piercing fear. Growing up in a conservative, fundamentalist Christian household, I knew that none of my family members would welcome my queerness into the fold. The truest fear came up for me around coming out to my mother. I thought I would never, not in a million years, be ready to face her as who I really was.

Related article: Denver’s Good Christian Woman, Kai Lee Mykels

I remember so clearly when my mother came to see me during my time in inpatient treatment for a session with my family therapist. Nearly everyone I knew there had congratulated me in their own way—they wrote letters or made me art projects, and I had painstakingly taped them all to my bedroom door. The center of the display was a giant “Yay! Gay!” sign painted gently in every color of the rainbow by a sweet friend.

I remember being so terrified at the thought of my mother seeing my door that I asked my therapist to walk us the long way through the hallways, avoiding that demonstration of acceptance altogether. To say that I was afraid is an understatement. I cannot stress enough how wracked with guilt I was about coming out, how ashamed and embarrassed, how I shook inside as I anticipated wrath, wondering if I would be disowned and thrown out of my family forever. We did end up taking the long way. My mother never saw the door.

If you were to fast forward to June of that same year, you would not recognize me as the woman who couldn’t stomach the thought of my family knowing the truth. I went to Pride that year in an electric blue tutu, danced like I had never danced before, moving my body with newfound freedom, and posting pictures of the festivities along the way. Somehow the party itself had transformed me. Somehow the feeling of belonging had ushered me home.

And to my great surprise and relief, my family did not disown me. Not when I went to Pride with a smile on my face. Not when I came out to them. Not when I brought a girlfriend to Thanksgiving. Not even when I proposed to her in front of my parents. My mother came to my wedding and sat in the front row. My father walked me down the aisle.

None of this would have been possible for me to even dream of without Pride bringing me out of my shell. That may seem like quite a stretch—a party full of rainbow flags and queer bodies saving and changing my life—but it is my truth, and it is why I believe down to the marrow in my bones that Pride is radically important.

After that fateful first year that I attended, I began to anticipate Pride month like some people anticipate December. The way that Christmas lovers wait for the lights and the music and the gifts, I wait for the rainbows and the Carly Rae Jepsen and the dancing. I wait with held breath for the freedom. I wait for the way that I feel like I belong.

More personal reflections in Pride Review 2019

Pride as a celebration, Pride as a radical statement, Pride as taking up space in a time made just for me and people like me, has shaped the way I show up in the world. It has changed how I interact with my family. It has moved me to be okay with the terms that describe me—“queer,” “lesbian,” “femme.” It has been a completely important, beautiful part of my life.

I know that I am not alone in my love for the revelry, but I hope that straight and LGBTQ folks alike can recognize the vitality of this time, the way that it lifts shame off the shoulders of the oppressed, the way that it changes the shape and size of the burden we hold in our hands. Pride has brought me safety and love and liberation, and even after it is over, somehow the vibrations of it carry me through the year.