Tuesday, March 21, 2023

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What is PRIDE in my life?

Community Guest Post by Nichole Pritchard

For decades, the LGBTQ+ community has lived in the shadows often leading a double life – pretending to be straight to maintain their jobs and community ties and only safe to be themselves with their close-knit group of friends and family. Being their authentic selves was against the law and punishable by fines, jail, beatings and in too many cases, death. Decades later, most people assume that these archaic beliefs are in the past but for so many living around the world it is still the present.

I came out when I was 18. It never occurred to me that my teenage feelings of loneliness or not belonging had a reason. The day I finally admitted to myself that I was a lesbian was a day of FREEDOM. But a hidden freedom. Would my parents still love me? Would my best friend still consider me such? Would my siblings support me? Would I still be Gramma’s baby girl? It was TERRIFYING to think their feelings about me would change for something out of my control. The juxtaposition of feeling so free, while also being so scared at the same time is something so many have experienced yet no one wishes to feel. The term “in the closet” is the best metaphor in that, you stay trapped in this box of “normal” with small glimpses of light as you slowly crack that door to be yourself, when deemed safe, until one day you can’t breathe any longer in that closet and you throw that door open and realize you don’t want other people’s normal you want to live YOUR normal.

I started that crack in the door with telling my dad. Regardless of the unknown, he loved me. He accepted me. He was proud of me. That ended abruptly 3 months later when he died of a heart attack in my arms at 44. My mom struggled to truly accept me, and we went a lot of time not talking much at first but over the years she has evolved and is now my one of my biggest supporters. I told my best friend while walking down the street. We were stopped at a light, and I just said it out loud. I was, consumed with worry that she would reject our friendship. I figured if she did not accept me, I could just run. There was zero reasoning for thinking she would but life in a closet is suffocating and self-deprecating. You feel like it is you, alone, and everyone is outside it with fingers pointed at you. When I told her, her only concern was that I did not tell her earlier so she could have loved me through it. Months later she would also be the first person to sit in the middle of the street hugging me while I collapsed and grieved my dad’s passing. 25yrs later and 2000 miles apart, she remains as integral part of my life as she did then. She has saved me more times than I can count. My siblings had differing reactions. My sister loved me and harassed me about it in a sisterly way to laugh and move forward. My four brothers differed. Two loved me through it, one refused to accept me (still to this day) and one has shown support but also used it as an attack when useful. My Gramma, as a Jehovah Witness, struggled but never stopped loving me and to this day I am PROUDLY still Grammas little girl. Overall, my support system was established. I started to gain confidence in who I was. I started to realize there was nothing wrong with me and I felt truly alive after years of hiding my true self.

Over the years I have continued this journey. Every time I meet someone, I must come out again. I met my other best friend 20yrs ago and when I did, I lied to her and said I had a husband until I felt safe. Now she lives close to me, is the godmother to my kids, and the best friend everyone deserves. I had to deal with fear of rejection, identity crisis of what kind of lesbian I was and with social media where so many from high school seemed to just want to prove, “I KNEW IT! I KNEW YOU WERE GAY!” Congrats. Delete. So many more celebrated me.

Having PRIDE in who you are, as a LGBTQ+ person, takes time for most. I have worked most of my adult life to find that PRIDE and be true to me. When I met my wife, it really opened my world of belonging and love. She loved me for ME. She was attracted to me! She was proud to be with me. She gave me courage to open myself to who I was. But mostly, she also became my fiercest protector. With my short hair and masculine choice of clothes, I was identified a mile away. I still am. So, the stares, the comments as I walk by, the sneers, and the attacks still come my way from time to time. When alone, I smile, stay kind, and push through, believing that attacking back gives them fuel for their hatred of people like me but showing kindness back might just open their hearts. However, it still punctures my heart a little each time it happens. My wife feels protective whenever we are in public and something happens. She will have none of it and will call you out the second your gaze lasts too long or your snickers are caught by her ear. She makes me feel safe.

With work, it is and always will be an evolution. Inclusion and equality are things that continue to grow in the corporate world. The first time I decided to be me and wear a shirt and tie for an interview, I was so nervous because I worried if being myself would cost me the job. Today I wear it with PRIDE and feel good about how I look and dress. Being part of the LGBTQ+ community, I always worry when I tell someone I’m gay.  Will I be accepted? Could this hurt me or my family? Those questions will linger until our world is fully accepting of the LGBTQ+ community and adopting of equality. We are not there yet but we are slowly gaining ground.

Now with 5 kids and many experiences under my belt, I navigate PRIDE, as a mom. Helping my kids figure out how to handle being questioned or made fun of for having two moms is especially heartbreaking. It feels like we are constantly explaining how our family unit is not much different than others. My kids need to feel loved and supported in their journey and their relationships in life. Lastly, we strive to instill PRIDE in our children- in who they are and the knowledge that their moms will always be in their corner and they know, without a doubt, that they will always be accepted for exactly who they are without reservation.

I have now been “out” for 24 years. My PRIDE in myself and my place in this world is constantly evolving but I no longer hide in the closet. My love for people and helping others is who I am regardless of who I marry. My sense of maternal instinct is both an annoyance and a benefit to those around me, regardless of which letter of LGBTQ+ I belong to.

PRIDE to me is a celebration of the strength, determination, love, and pain that I have been through to get to where I am today. It is knowing I will still experience all those feelings, but this life is worth the journey. The friendships I have, the family I cherish, the wife I adore and the children I love unconditionally, are the PRIDE I get to feel every day. It is my PRIDE that gives me the strength to continue to advocate for myself and others. Be you. Love you. Celebrate you. Accept you. Have PRIDE in you. And until you do, I and millions of others, have PRIDE for you.

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