Together as one: Pride through new eyes

The day was blustery with an autumn chill; a threat of rain hung in the western sky, held at bay by a glorious, radiant sun. It was an auspicious beginning to this year’s Blue Ridge Pride celebration.

My first such event, it held a special significance for me. Although I’ve lived as an openly transgender person for several years now, I’ve avoided these celebrations, partly because I believed the things I’d heard about them and about the queer community, but also because I was afraid to commit myself. Now I was here, feeling anticipation and wonder as I set up the transgender-information tent.

Pride, however, wasn’t what I’d expected. Being here in the “Cesspool of Sin,” I was shocked by how wholesome and mainstream it was: truly a family event with fun, uplifting music; inspiring speakers; and interesting, helpful exhibits. In many cases, I couldn’t really tell queer from straight. Could that be because, ultimately, we’re all people before we’re those other things?

We often think of pride as a dirty word — who wants to be around arrogant, conceited souls? Yet pride, in this community, seems different, more closely resembling a healthy humility. Truly humble people understand, accept and love themselves; they display dignity, contentment, a sense of where they are in the big picture of things, and a willingness to take risks, live life, be authentic. There’s no need and little room for either self-exaltation or self-denigration. That kind of pride is a deeply beautiful human quality.

No one, of course, is always like that, yet these are marks of our community’s growing maturity, even as we retain some of the sparkle of youth. This is something we can offer the straight community, because we’ve had to struggle with ourselves and how we’re treated and perceived. Those who survive this without turning to stone gradually strengthen and grow. In this context, “pride” seems less an in-your-face political statement than an affirmation of who we are as people: personal authenticity in the face of opposition. Could that opposition be rooted in a fear that allowing others to be themselves challenges us to ask uncomfortably difficult questions about our own identity and worldview?

A stark contrast underscored this for me. The people of Pride were like a large, loving, eclectic family with an obvious joy of life. Opposing them were a handful of seemingly bitter protesters who, like me, identified as followers of Jesus. Why did we see this event so differently? Why were they so wedded to angry protest, rather than taking the opportunity to talk and share life experiences with the many different people there?

I met many people of faith that day, and I could see God in their faces. I’m certain that Jesus was in our midst, celebrating life in its many colors and harmonies right alongside us.

Many people visited our tent: young people, parents of transgender or questioning children, health-care providers, clergy, people from all corners of the queer community, and straight allies. We gave them all warm smiles, information and resources, appreciation and joy, even sweets (and directions for the lost!). And maybe we gave them a taste for who we are: real human beings who bleed and love and live, just as they do.

Have you noticed that diversity scares some people, while others find it an elixir of life? What if diversity is an acquired taste requiring exposure to others in order to appreciate it? What if we are some of the spice of life?

One of the most wonderful things I received from Pride was the sense that I was at home with “my tribe.” Here I felt perfectly “normal” in my diversity, even celebrated! Seldom has this sense of belonging gripped me in such a moving way: Together, we’re a people who know what it is to feel marginalized. We make the effort to “live large and let live,” and when we open ourselves to all kinds of other tribes, that endearing vulnerability gives us all a chance to know, like and love one another. We’ve “come out” as individuals and are out together in community, the fresh breeze and sunshine of it helping us push past our insecurities and differences.

The day waned and grew cold, but a warmth of fellowship and accomplishment stayed the chill as we brought Blue Ridge Pride 2012 to a close. For me, the event’s real significance was the reminder that “God made me transgender because God thought I might enjoy it.” Will you tell me how you are made, so we can enjoy each other as the gifts we’re meant to be?

Postscript: Thanks to the Asheville Police Department, park rangers and other city workers for helping make this event peaceful, powerful and uplifting.

Asheville resident Brette Blatchley once lived as a special sort of man and now, by God’s grace, lives as a special sort of woman.

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