In recognition of June as Pride Month, we sat down with a series of queer individuals and couples to ask them about the evolution of their pride and how they have grown over the years. And from June 20th to 24th, $1 from the sale of every Evolution product will go towards the Tegan and Sara Foundation, a charity that fights for health, economic justice and representation for LGBTQ girls and women.
Michelle and Carissa met online a few years ago and connected over their shared interest in video games and comic books. Though Michelle wasn’t as big of a “nerd” as Carissa is, she managed to impress her anyway and they’ve been together ever since. We heard their pride stories when we met with them in the apartment they share in Toronto’s east end, which they describe as “a very comfortable and accepting neighborhood.”
How are you celebrating Pride this month (if at all)?
C: I’ve done the parade in the past, but once you’ve done it a few times, you’ve seen it. I love going to the Village during Pride and just seeing people around. I do really like the Dyke March because I find the everyday person can get involved and it’s not as corporate as the main event. I find there’s more of a sense of community.
M: This year, I want to be more “extra.” Maybe going shirtless or something along those lines, that I haven’t done before. I want to take advantage of that one time a year where it’s okay to be extra.
Are you comfortable sharing your coming out experience? If so, what was it like?
C: I’m from Halifax. I moved here when I was twenty-two to go to school. I think when I removed myself from that environment, I realized myself, so that’s when I came out. I actually sat up one night in bed and was like, “Holy sh*t, I’m gay!” I took awhile to come out to my parents, not that I didn't feel they would approve, but it’s one of those very difficult conversations where you’re talking to your parents about sex. I did it through an email. But everyone has been very supportive, even my grandparents.
M: I was around 17 and I just showed up at home with my girlfriend and was like, “This is my girlfriend.” My parents told me to get out. I probably didn't talk to them for about two years. At first it was really difficult. They are South African and it’s definitely a different society. But I’m not the first in my family—I have a gay uncle and a lesbian aunt. But [my parents] did a complete 180 and now they are very loving and accepting. I don’t know what happened, but I’m happy because especially in the African community, I have a lot of friends who don't speak to their parents after coming out. So I’m pretty lucky. My dad told me that when they first heard, it wasn’t that he had a problem with it because he loved me anyway, but he knew that it would be hard for me to move through society as a queer person and that he couldn’t protect me anymore. So I understand where he’s coming from in that sense.
When you think back on who you were at that time, how have you grown? What’s changed?
C: I think I’m more aware of the community. When I first came out, I was googling everything, following all these different Youtubers, learning about the trans community and all the different identities across the spectrum.
M: I’m much more honest, much more open about everything in my life. I never hide how I feel or who I am, I never sugarcoat anything. And I’ve really discovered myself and gotten comfortable with all the different parts of me. Because when I first came out I was like, “If i’m gonna be a lesbian, I gotta be extra lesbian so everybody knows.” Labels are really restrictive, especially in the black queer community. [There are labels like] femme and stud, soft stud, stemme, chapstick or lipstick, pillow princess, touch me nots—there’s quite a few and people still really stick to them. But over the years, I finally found that happy in-between and my label is just “Michelle”.
What does it mean for you to be proud?
C: Being able to show affection to my partner and feel safe about it, and celebrating the community. I remember the first time I went to Church Street during Pride and I felt such a sense of belonging. I equate the experience to going to San Diego Comic Con for the first time, walking into the hall and just feeling so comfortable. So many different body types and so many people expressing themselves. Every day, I just try to be aware of the issues that directly affect me, like what’s going on around the world in terms of gay rights, and just trying to educate people as much as possible.
M: Being proud is accepting queerness in all its capacities and not having a definition for queer that people feel like they should follow. If you’re queer and you want to follow a heteronormative script, that’s fine, and if you don’t want to, that’s fine too. Just being happy and being the queer you wanna be. A little self love. We need more support in the community.