Seventeen things you have to learn for yourself
as a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning, Intersex, Asexual, Pansexual
or otherwise Queer youth
by the time you are seventeen.
One is that the first Pride was a riot
I don’t mean that it was full of laughter, or that it was some grand party
where everyone spiraled up to dance among the stars
because the only glittering that night
was broken glass on cobblestones.
The first Pride was a riot
on the backstreets of New York
and they never tell us
The only protest
in a decade full of turmoil
where the cops had to hide out in the bar they raided
and run from shouting rioters
who fought to reclaim the only patch of ground they had ever claimed as theirs
the first Pride was a riot,
and two, around the same time it took place
it was a debated topic in the gay community
whether or not they should say
that they weren’t mentally ill
which, three, homosexuality was removed
from the American Psychiatric Association’s list of mental illnesses
all it took was a vote to declare that, whoops, we were never mentally ill
except, four, there are still teenagers being tortured today
in what some dare blaspheme as “therapy”
used to destroy their self-identity
in the hopes of making them normal.
except, four, the queer community still carries overwhelmingly high rates for poverty and homelessness and depression.
Did you know that, five,
over half the children forced into conversion therapy
And six, that lesbians
were regarded as “hangers-on”
of the movement
by much of the gay community
before the AIDS crisis?
Because it turns out, seven can wear a rainbow on your shirt
and still be a bigot.
There are people who stick rainbows in their ears
or wear them on their fingers
or slap them across their cheeks in badges of defiance
and will still hate you for the color of your skin
or the size of your thighs
or your gender
or the way you like to kiss two or more genders
or none of the above.
Don’t ask me why this happens
it just does
I think it might be that we’ve all been taught to hate ourselves
for so damn long
that we don’t understand what to do
in a space with no hate.
Or maybe it’s that the space seems too small, because
eight, there are people who will tell you that you are not enough
that you do not reach the magical benchmark of “gay enough” to pass through the gate even
when you are some flavor of the rainbow other than straight-out gay.
eight, this is bullshit
eight, those people are bullshit.
eight, you are enough.
eight, there is always enough room.
nine, there is no overarching “homosexual agenda”
we’re all kind of flailing along in here trying to figure out some way to make it work
when most of us have nothing in common
except that society looked at us in different ways and decided we didn’t fit
so we could all go be misfits together
under one big rainbow flag
but just so you know, ten, there are plenty of other flags
there is one for you, I promise
and eleven, misfits may not all need the same things
but we need to stick together, especially in a world where
twelve—refer to point seven—there are lesbians who hate other lesbians
for having the audacity to be born in a body
that everyone looked at and saw “boy”
which brings me to
thirteen, there is so much to understand.
fourteen, you need to understand
because we need to stick together
and to stick together we do not have to be the same but we do have to understand
and it will be hard because
you were probably thrown into this world with no warning because
fifteen, being queer is not genetic and we are not unique among minorities
in that we collect our heritage through broken bits of history and research in a world constantly working to make those misfit bits go away
but we are unique in that when we try to prove our legacy
we can be laughed down
or flat out ignored
but I swear to you
you have a history as old as Alexander the Great
as beautiful as Sappho
as dignified as Abraham Lincoln
and as proud as Eleanor Roosevelt.
But even with that behind us
they have always watched us die.
because even though the bystander effect is bullshit, sixteen
Kitty Genovese was a lesbian, sixteen
Ronald Reagan is a mass murderer, sixteen
our children, your brothers and sisters and siblings of all stripes and all colors and sexualities and genders are being murdered
Sixteen, there is an entire generation of gay and bisexual men
missing from history
because the government chose to do nothing
when they were dying by the thousands.
sixteen, we died from the disease and died from going back into the closet and died for staying there and died for coming out,
sixteen, they laughed at us because they believed god was punishing us for daring to love,
sixteen, ashes of your forerunners rest on the lawn of the White House because
SIXTEEN, THEY HAVE ALWAYS WATCHED US DIE.
you are allowed
to be angry.
You do not have to be one of the nice gays
or one of the nice trans people
or sweet or kind or educate the rest of the world in something less than a yell
you are allowed to be so furious it scalds your bones
at the way we are forgotten
and passed over
at the way, as soon as June becomes July
we are expected
to go back to dying in silence
and mourning our dead
and kissing all alone
when no one can be offended
at the sight of us.
You are allowed to be angry
and scream down the stars
to shatter like broken glass at your feet
because you know what?
The first Pride
was a riot.
— October 11