I remember the evening I came home from my first NYC Pride march, anxious and eager to share my experience–a day marching in 80+ degree weather from midtown Manhattan to the historic East Village with thousands of people cheering and standing in solidarity. And yet, I felt nervous going home, making the commute uptown to the Bronx, to a highly populated Caribbean neighborhood where misogynistic and homophobic dancehall songs drown out the sounds of the subway. It’s a societal norm in my area and deciding if I should step off the train, decked in Pride paraphernalia, was a risk. The unpredictability of it all, also a norm for those who identify as part of the LGBTQ community, was one that I was willing to take. Because there was someone swallowed in the masses along that route that afternoon that was afraid to do so, afraid to participate, fearful of being followed on the way home, discouraged to be who they are. Sometimes, someone has to take the risk.
When Vanity Fair Beyoncéd us all and unexpectedly released the cover of their June 2015 issue starring Caitlyn Jenner yesterday, I stared at my phone stunned and in amazement. How dare she debut herself in a lingerie piece, hair flowing, and not giving a damn? The audacity of this woman to come on the scene, unapologetic and fearless, and liberated enough after six and half decades to do so on an acclaimed American magazine. I loved it.
I excitedly shared the photo with my partner—a West Indian man who was once undoubtedly homophobic—which sparked a conversation on the rainbow flag perched in my living room from that epic Pride march that year. Our six-year-old kindergartener, learning to associate flags with countries, recently asked me about the origins of that flag, to which I answered simply, “a place of love.” Weeks later, he caught an image of a man dressed in drag on TV and inquired about clothes for women on a man. The response: “He can do what he wants if he isn’t hurting anyone.” That was all he needed to know for that time.
My partner opened up to me about questions he receives about the flag in the house from people that come over. Sometimes, he doesn’t explain it. Other times he does, saying it would be hypocritical of him to promote oneness and not allow me to celebrate who I am by this small token from a monumental day. I was reminded of Caitlyn’s words in her interview with Diane Sawyer prior to her transition where she said, “This is not an issue you can just walk away from. You can’t just take two aspirins and get plenty of sleep and you’re going to be just fine. It doesn’t work like that.” For too many of us, we’re constantly running from who we are to suit the needs and desires of people who are uncomfortable, but life gets real when you lean into who you want to be and forget about the likability behind it all.
My goal as a parent, from the moment I found out I was pregnant, was to encourage and exemplify individuality, support my children and their decisions in an overtly oppressive society. It starts at home. Racist children exist and it starts at home. Sexist children exist and it starts at home. Tolerant children exist and it starts at home.
How are we celebrating who we are? Are we truly living our best lives, our best selves? I tell my children what was reiterated by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie last month at the 2015 Girls Write Now Awards: “If you start off thinking about being likable, you’re not going to tell your story honestly because you’re going to be so concerned with not offending and that’s going to ruin your story.”
We live in a world where people are so quick to regurgitate Bible scriptures before attempting to understand. I scrolled through Twitter and there were more people flaunting their ignorance than reading open discussions on why her debut matters. On why all trans- stories matter. A bunch of “But God said…” and “My country this…” and few “Someone please help me understand the concept of transitioning” or “How many transpeople are living in silence versus how many live openly.” People are too caught up in their ways, their culture or their religion to even listen.
What does that show our children? What does it say to kids when someone like Caitlyn says she simply wants “a free soul and a lot of great friends” and people find fault in that? How are we protesting for Black lives and gay and transpeople are excluded from the dialogue?
The road to happiness shouldn’t be a convoluted one yet, unfortunately it is. Caitlyn’s story isn’t about popularizing “gender confusion,” but instead raising awareness and sparking a much-needed conversation about life and choices, giving into what you feel is your truth and standing by it. This isn’t about “forcing gay and trans culture” down people’s throats, but making the world aware that change is inevitable and it’s happening right now.
Diane Sawyer said, “The moment that carries you forward can also mean no way back,” and in 2015, there are too many intolerant, Bible-thumping and allegedly sin-proof individuals who refuse to move forward, acting as if the Rapture is well on its way because of progression. Caitlyn’s response was fitting for all of us, whether we support the LGBTQ community or not: “I’m saying goodbye to people’s perception of me.” That’s what I want my children to see and know about Caitlyn. You can do without the opinions of others and still be supported and, most importantly, incredibly happy. —Erica N. Harris