Updated: Jul 13
There is a cliche that LGBTQ+ people face in movies and in books that our parents don't want us to be LGBTQ+ because of how hard being queer will make our lives. We are instilled with fear of what harms might happen to us because our straight parents/caregivers had yet to see queer joy represented in a way that lasted, that stuck out. I am from the middle of the millennial generation that in the early 2000s and 2010s made us the It gets better generation.
I always worried that It gets better was too passive. I wanted then, what I want now, to make things better for LGBTQ+ people. When I was coming out to myself, I felt isolated and alone. I was bullied relentlessly at school. My first girlfriend lied to our peers on my behalf saying I wasn't gay, while she came out to draw the attention away from me long enough to get my feet under my legs so I could stand proud by the time I reached high school, and when I did get the courage to come out, I did so boldly.
In high school, I had already been introduced to amazing authors like Julie Anne Peters and Nancy Garden, people whose characters helped me feel seen and less alone. I was a voracious reader at the time, tearing through any and every LGBTQ+ young adult book I could get my hands on. I desperately wanted the characters I read about to have happy endings, to experience queer joy, long before I knew what queer joy was. I witnessed gender dysphoria in books, and kids losing their families. I witnessed bullying and harassment in person that made me hate the queer parts of myself. But I could handle the bullying.
So I made myself a giant, rainbow, target. I wore my pride flag like a cape through my high school halls even as things were thrown at me, my property was vandalized, my physical safety threatened. I drew the attention on to me so other baby gays ouldn't feel alone, and so they were less likely to be targeted themselves. I organized my high school's first gay straight alliance which started off as a very gay alliance between myself, a classmate, and one advisor. But the group began to grow.
We educated ourselves about identities we didn't know about. We worked to educate others about LGBTQ+ issues in schools. We wore purple in the first LGBTQ+ Spirit day to recognize the lives, and losses of our LGBTQ+ peers from around the United States. We fought to be recognized with respect. We listened as others, many older and wiser, told us "It gets better." And I can speak only for myself when I say, I wanted to believe that was true, but I didn't see it happening anytime soon.
When would it actually get better and how? What piece of the puzzle was I missing to make my life feel more fulfilled---to make it better? I didn't know that what I was missing was positive representation of people like me living their best lives, but at the same time, I tried desperately to be the representation of Out, Loud, and Proud, for my peers. Even as I was kicked out of a church* for doing so. Even as my parents didn't understand what I was. I tried to be the confident and open person my peers could come to. I tried to educate our high school faculty to make our school a safer, better, place.
Fast forward to now, there's more representation than The L Word, than Queer Eye, than Will and Grace. We have musicia
ns across genres, artists, and authors. We have celebrities from A-list to D-list. We have politicians and everyday people out and proud in so many ways. Instead of reading and hearing only about the kids that took their lives in Fall 2009, or the people who are on the list for Trans Day of Remembrance, we hear celebrities like Dolly Parton and Barack Obama exclaiming their support for the LGBTQ+ community. We see queer joy on queer faces in pictures from queer weddings. We use community support to create trans joy with gender affirming care. We see beautiful beings like Jeffrey Marsh on TV, publishing books, creating spaces to be held with, by, and for the LGBTQ+ communities across the United States and around the world.
My queer joy is the tiny moments of gender euphoria. It is celebrating having my dog, and the feeling of accomplishment with my degrees as a queer person, and each publication. I have seen things get better. I have had, and continue to have, an active role in making LGBTQ+ representation positive and joyful. I see people like me living happy lives with and without partners, with and without biological family. I have seen adoptive families take on a whole new meaning through the use of social media.
Queer Joy runs through our veins a
s we support and celebrate each other in ways made possible by the internet and cell phones. Queer Joy is in the face of the kid just coming out, and in the face of an adult who waited decades to say, "this is me." Queer joy is what, when, and where, we make it. It lives in us, and every time we pass it on between, across, and through generations, we are doing more than waiting for it to get better. We are, in fact, making this world better, if only by existing as our true selves in as many moments as we can.
Note from the Author:
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