We wouldn’t have Pride if we didn’t have the closet first. The closet isn’t a good place to be. It’s dark, it’s lonely, and, over time, becomes a kind of prison. It’s a difficult problem everyone in our community has faced because the closet exists for a reason: it keeps us safe, helps us maintain relationships with people we care about, and, in some cases, is necessary for survival.
Each of us has a different relationship with the closet. Living in rural Maryland, I’ve met a number of people of all ages, genders, and sexualities who have an active relationship with the closet. Maybe they’re out to friends and family, but not at work. Maybe some friends know; others don’t. Maybe the whole world knows except for Grandpa, “because you know how he can be.”
In a way, closets are about conflict. The reason we all spent time in the closet is to avoid conflict, especially the kinds that result in pain, loss, and even bodily harm. The closet allows us to survive, but it does not allow us to thrive. Thriving requires openness, self-respect, a secure sense of self, and strong relationships with others – all things that living in a closet doesn’t provide.
It’s a problem that follows most of us into life after the closet. During our adolescent years, the time we’re meant to learn to be open, be ourselves, and form relationships with others, many of us learned to hide ourselves. We wanted to connect, but we couldn’t because that would mean losing the safety of the closet. So, many of us blamed ourselves for being “different.” After all, we knew we wouldn’t have these problems and concerns if we were cisgender and straight. For young minds, this can quickly translate into “I’m not good enough. No one will love me as I am.”
It can be difficult to un-learn the lessons of the closet. When we’re taught to show others what they want to see, it can be difficult to learn to show them who we are. It isn’t until we learn to do this that we can really begin to thrive.
That’s why Pride is so important. Stonewall wasn’t a protest – it was a riot. It was a riot fueled by those who were tired of being told they weren’t good enough, weren’t deserving of rights, and therefore undeserving of love. It was an act of empowerment, of being one’s authentic self and asserting one’s worth. It’s what each of us does every single time we come out of the closet.
Pride is what heals the wounds of the closet. It’s a time when the community comes together, showing us that we were never really alone in the closet. It’s a reminder that countless others have had similar experiences and that these experiences can be the basis of new connections. Pride gives us the safe space we needed but didn’t have when we were younger, and this space allows us to be ourselves, connect with others, and realize that our lives can always be different if we allow them to be.
The world is changing quickly, sometimes faster than our own perspective. It’s always surprising and heartening to see how many vendors, organizations, and allies are at Pride supporting our community. I think we can each remember a time, maybe not that long ago, when none of this seemed possible. We’ve come a long way, and that’s good cause for celebration.
This Pride season, I hope you’ll feel like you’re part of a community and celebrate how far you’ve come in your life. I hope you’ll know that there are others dedicated to making positive changes in the world, and that you can be part of that. But mostly, I hope you’ll un-learn the lessons of the closet and fully love yourself for all you are, the way you are. Happy Pride!
- Brian George Hose has been an advocate for LGBTQ persons and issues all his adult life. He holds a Bachelor of Social Work from Shepherd University and looks forward to pursuing a Master's of Social Work with a focus in mental health. A former musician, Brian served as minister of music for New Light MCC for several years and incorporates music into social work practice. He lives in rural Western Maryland where he has amassed a sinful number of books, yarn, and books about yarn. He has been writing for Baltimore Out Loud since February 2016.