Pride and Community

by Louis Mitchell

I really had to think about Pride and my relationship to it. I don’t remember any of them before recovery. The first ones after I got sober, I spent volunteering for Rainbow Sound. It was great to have purpose and something that didn’t involve drinking or drugging.

I like most folks really didn’t have any idea of the history of Stonewall or any of the rebellions that preceded it. For me, Pride was a party!  It was dykes on bikes, leathermen and leatherwomen. There might have been trans people there, but I didn’t know anything about trans-ness.

The most memorable pride for me was the year that I was one of the MC’s for the Dyke March. It was an amazing crowd and an awesome opportunity to rally and party with so many women who had kept me alive!  They taught me, loved me, fought with me, mentored me – they were my anchors when I wanted to die. Standing in front of them, one thought kept ringing in my head. I was taking a chance from a black butch because I was too afraid to transition.

See, by then I knew I was a man. I knew I wanted to live freely as who I am. I also didn’t want to let go of the community that I loved so much. That moment on the stage shifted everything. I was no longer just a coward, I was a thief! I decided there and then that I had to stop taking space in the women’s community.

As much as I know about Compton’s, Cooper’s, Dewey’s and other pre-Stonewall uprisings, that Dyke March is still the one thing that comes up for me every year. That was my own rebellion, uprising, step to my emancipation into truth.

That was 20 years ago. I lost some of my friends from the community and retained others. My transition was quite bittersweet in the beginning. I’m grateful for those who remain and have compassion for many of those who couldn’t get past seeing in me the face of their oppressor or perpetrator.

In these decades that have gone by, I’ve seen our “community” for what it is – a group of sub-communities trying to survive while frequently trampling each other. I continue to work towards a time when each of us is safe and have our needs met. I pray and strive for the day when those in the margins of the margins feel that those with the most privilege care about them and their welfare.

The both/and of our “community” can be hard – we celebrate marriage equity and mourn the mounting murders of trans people, most often women of color. We are Ellen, Neil Patrick, Caitlyn, Chaz, LaVerne, Janet, Silas, Angelica, Tiq, Kylar, Lourdes, Kortney and the list keeps growing with very visible and high profile folks. I’m grateful for their service and the gifts they offer to community. We are also so many whose names we may never know – those who choose to live low and no disclosure, those who stay below the radar to survive.

We are parents and grandparents, children, siblings. We are represented in each and every segment of the population. Our ideas of pride are varied and sometimes in conflict with one another.

So, in 2018, I re-commit to being present for those at every level, in whatever ways that I can. Not because I’m so special, but because someone did it to make a way for me.

Louis Mitchell is executive director of Transfaith.