I have about a billion things to blog about – which is the sort of problem every blogger (bloggist? blogstress?) dreams of – because life has been quite chaotic of late. But… let me not get ahead of myself. One topic at a time. And you’ll just have to patiently wait for the rest. I’ll try to make it worth it, I promise.
If you’re not quite up-to-date with the drama-filled soap opera that my life has become, I am right now in the United States of America, on a program called the Mandela Washington Fellowship. I’m in a wonderful city called Columbus, which is located in a state that you might have heard of called Ohio. In the American mid-west.
Yeah, I know – I freaked out too. When I heard I was headed to Ohio, the first thought that ran through my mind was, “Well, at least it’s not North Carolina!”.
The second was, “But what if it isn’t any better?”
I didn’t know much about the American mid-west, except for that there was a lot of farming that goes on there. I also knew that Ohio matters to the entire world about once every four years, when the US holds its general elections, because Ohio is the consummate swing state that often decides the outcome.
Aside from that, I pretty much figured the entire mid-west to be backwater-hicksville-bigotry-central.
By the time I boarded the plane, I’d learned that Columbus, at least, was pretty progressive, and a lot of my fears were assuaged. I got on that plane full of determination – I was going to queer Columbus, Ohio. And I was going to queer it good.
My plan didn’t quite work out. Because, I got here and found that…
…it’s already pretty damn queer on its own.
And I’m pretty damn grateful for that.
My plane landed in Columbus on Friday the 17th of June – just in time for Pride weekend in Columbus. And one week after the tragic Orlando shootings.
I was excited, because this was going to be my first Pride. Back home in South Africa, there are a bunch of Prides, but I have to boycott most of them because of my political beliefs. And the ones that I can support in good conscience… well, so far, they’ve all been timed unfortunately for my busy schedule.
Despite a good twenty hours of travel time to reach Columbus, and poor quality sleep (as always) on the plane, there was no way I was going to pass up this opportunity.
So Saturday morning came, and I awoke early, got dressed, did my makeup, and hurried to catch the bus to the parade. There were masses of people. Beyond masses in fact. They lined up across the main road in downtown Columbus, filling the street edge-to-edge for miles along.
And spectators packed out the sidewalks, holding banners and waving flags.
I marched in the parade, amongst a group of students and staff from the Ohio State University (the institution that’s hosting me and my colleagues during this fellowship). In my bright pink shoes, and my tiny pink shorts, and my midriff-baring tied white top, with a rainbow garland around my neck, and a rainbow sweatband around my wrist. With a trans flag for a belt, and the same flag painted on my eyelids.
I was more than a little scared. And I have to be honest about that. More than once during the parade, I started panicking, anticipating the sound of gunshots, frightened screams and fleeing parade-goers.
But, standing in the middle of this throng, estimated to be 600,000 strong… Six. Hundred. Thousand. Queer people. Allies. Trans. Cis. Black. White. Standing up and refusing to be silenced, refusing to be scared, refusing to hide away. Refusing to be ashamed. I felt such unity, such community.
You see, Pride is not just a party. Pride is not about the booze and the bare flesh and the rainbows. Pride is, was, and always will be political. It’s a statement, it’s outreach, it’s education. It’s defiance. It’s a challenge of the status quo. An interrogation of a system that values straight bodies and cis bodies over queer ones.
To walk through the streets, in broad daylight, openly queer and openly trans, shouting and chanting and celebrating my identity, in the face of all the adversity that I have endured was beyond powerful. Baring my trans flesh, scars and all, and refusing to hide away, or pretend to be something I’m not… it was profound.
And the support was overwhelming. Corporations, schools, families, marching bands, the mascots of just about every sports team in the city, religious institutions, queer rights organisations. And, the thousands upon thousands of spectators, cheering us on, waving their flags, smiling and clapping and dancing and celebrating.
Because, for all the times they have tried to push us away or to wipe us out, we are still here. We are still queer. We are true to ourselves. We are who we are, and we love who we love, and we should never need to apologise for that.
I’ll let you in on a secret – because that’s what I do with this blog, share my most intimate secrets. People like me… we don’t always feel safe.You might wonder if that really makes sense; after all, if I felt afraid because of who I am, why would I be so open about it?
I’ll talk about this in more detail at a later stage, but the short answer is that I don’t know how not to be. I lost the ability to pretend. One year ago, when I came out to the whole world in a Facebook post, I resolved to be true to myself, and to be open and honest and forthright. To stop hiding away, and to stop feeling guilty.
It might put me at risk, or make me unsafe but, for me, there is no other way. Maybe I’m gutsy. Silly. Misguided. Arrogant. I don’t know, truth be told. All I know is that this is my way.
Stepping off a plane and straight into Pride was just what I needed. Celebrating the identity that has caused me so much hardship was a valuable reminder of the beauty and the humanity within me. And seeing others do the same was a valuable reminder of the beauty and humanity within them.
We have fought hard. We continue to fight hard. Our enemies are multitudinous. Social ills, bigotry and prejudice, discrimination both overt and covert. We still bleed and we still starve and we still die.
But we’re not going away. And we’re not going to change. And there is nothing wrong with that.
Happy Pride. To you, my friends, my siblings, my readers, my allies.
My book, Always Anastacia, is available at booksellers across South Africa. If you don’t see it on shelves, ask your local bookstore. Also available worldwide through Amazon. And catch up on all the latest #AlwaysAnastacia news, including interviews, media appearances and extracts here.