Pride, in the sense of queer Pride, has not been something I’ve experienced much of in my life. From my sheltered upbringing, in which I only realised my gender identity at 18, to Covid-19 stopping me from living my truth, pride was not always innate within me. However, for me, Pride also goes beyond my queerness, it cannot be disconnected from my intersectionalities as a disabled, mixed-race person. To have pride in myself has been a struggle my entire life. Nonetheless, over time I have learnt to show pride not only for my community by attending events, but also pride for myself.
When I first learnt of Pride, I was 16. The Orlando shooting had just happened about a thirty-minute drive away from my house. This was the first time in my life that I saw my home covered in rainbows with everyone in the community coming together to let queer people know they would be safe. There was a march of mourning and protest. Pride was always a protest to me since it involved fighting for queer rights. I supported it, quietly and from afar because I had only just had my first thought that I could be queer, which didn’t sit easily with me. I didn’t want another reason for people to ostracise me so I thought I can just not be, but I will fight for those who are because no one should feel like this.
I attended my first Pride in Durham in 2018 clad in my Doc Martens with rainbow laces and my shirt which said ‘shoot rainbows into fascism’ (designed by Ozzie Wright). I had cut off my hair a week earlier and had come out to my university friends the month before. I felt strong and powerful, but even more, it was like a weight had been taken off my chest and I could finally breathe. I had thought I had done the hard work; I had fully accepted myself. This was far from true, accepting oneself when you’re surrounded by supportive people is easy. This period in my life could best be described as my insecure period, I had to tell everyone who I was and what I stood for and even an accidental misgendering by someone who did not know me drove me to insanity. To summarise, it was not a chill time but it was an important time. It solidified my identity, helped me to learn not everyone is either malicious or kind, and that ultimately words are just words.
In March 2020, I flew back home in a rush to my family. They live in Southwest Asia in a country where my mere existence is looked down on. I was unable to leave for over a year due to travel restrictions. My family and I took the period to reconnect with our land and our culture. It grounded us all. From my research, I began to learn that the homophobia and sexism that existed in my modern society were the consequence of colonialism and imperialism in my region. I discovered that there were accomplished women throughout my history and that queer Europeans used to run away to my lands to escape persecution. I learnt how one of our most beloved poets was probably queer. I learnt that I could love myself as a queer person and a member of my community. This was a rhetoric which I had never been told before. In fact, I was told the opposite, that I will never find love in any of my communities, whether it was my white side hating me for being Arab, or the Arabs hating me for being queer.
The saddest thing was that I realised my queer bubble of friends at university had been the most destructive. Many of them, mostly the white ones, often told me that I was “safe now away from [my] family” and that my life would be better once I disconnected as it was an “uncivilised and hateful” culture. Meanwhile, over my time at home, I came out to some of my family and friends and they accepted me fully with open arms. I learnt what it meant to have pride in my whole self.
Today, I exude pride in everything I do. However, I have to say thank you to all the other people who have been in my place before me, living on the edge of everything and trying to make their own existence a happy one. From queer individuals, like Marsha P. Johnson, at Stonewall in the 1960s to every decolonial movement, including that of Edward Said, I am grateful. I hope that my writing and my existence continue to expand the parameters of society, allows others to live their truth and to have pride in themselves. As Lao Tzu said “Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom. Mastering others is strength; mastering yourself is true power.”
Illustration credit: Anna Kuptsova