I used to go to the Pride marches when I was younger. I would hop on a train to London, a place that terrified and mystified me at that age, in order to be somewhere that felt totally safe. At the Pride events, I was within a crowd of people that accepted you for who you wanted to be.
Though I knew I wasn’t gay, there had been men I had flirted with, embraced, and admired for their confidence in being true to themselves. Also, because of the incredible seduction of being wanted. When you are young and insecure, being wanted is difficult to ignore. All I knew at the time was that the idea of what was expected of me as a heterosexual male, felt wrong. Despite being only a boy, relatively, I felt the pressure of it and knew it was not a version of myself I recognized in any way.
I wanted to be free to cry, and not just when I was sad or in private. I wanted to cry at the beauty of the world, or when a story filled me so full of any feeling that something must surely burst inside of me. I wanted to love people openly, flirt, dance, and wear things that were pretty and flamboyant. Pride, for a time, was a rare space that gave me the confidence to do those things. It gave me that confidence because it felt safe.
The background to this was my anxiety, which at the time was a crippling fear of everything and everyone. Ordinary conversations with strangers would flood my body with everything it needed to flee or fight. My hands would shake, my voice would break, and at the worst times, the tears would become an involuntary and crippling response to a body so exhausted in the moment that it didn’t know what to do.
I would go to the marches with a friend (also a Lex) who was confident and outgoing, but reserved. She had a great tolerance for her awkward friend who would tag along in these strange waters. A silent watcher off to the left, safe in her presence and given license to learn to socially-swim through her natural buoyancy.
I lost contact a little with Lex over the years, both the friend and also the part of me who was the flamboyant Lex, and not the reserved Alexander. During this time, I was spurned a few times by less-tolerant elements of the community for being undecided. Sadly, I lost my confidence and stopped going to the marches; and when I did, little by little, I packed away the flamboyant parts of myself and the brave parts of myself. The parts that went to London and fought to find a different version of myself were allowed to atrophy. Excuses came to hand more quickly than anything else, not just to other people, but to myself.
There were some lonely years in this space.
Growing older, you can easily build layers of compromise around yourself like armour. Everything becomes easier with practice, and life gets a little smaller, the problems a little more mundane. The good thing about this is it’s a relatively safe space to confront yourself. It is easier to be honest about who you are and your failings, not to mention ask for help where you need it.
I’m in this space now, and as an adult I can recognize and own my identity as a bisexual and genderfluid human being. Through the Employee Resource Group (ERG) at GP Strategies I have reconnected with a community I had lost, and for the first time in many years, I want to return to Pride again. I want to be in the crowd to cheer all those who continue to put themselves out there despite the unfounded hatred people pour at them. To stand opposite those with signs of hate bearing signs of love.
It has also been a good space to look back on my journey and understand how it has shaped me and the lessons I can learn from it. Chief amongst those is the contrast in energy it took to be in a space like pride, where I felt the safety to be truly authentic, against the alternative. Outside of that safe space there was the ever-present choice to either be myself and live with the energy sapping fear of it bringing harm to me or masking myself. It takes no small amount of energy to constantly filter how you present and to maintain a facade.
It is a lesson that translates most easily for me when I am working with teams; both as a leader and as a team member. What am I doing to ensure every member of my team feels safe to be themselves, included, and engaged? I know that when I feel I am part of an inclusive team, then I quickly move from cautious and reserved to confident and creative. Pride is a fantastic example of the energy and creativity we can generate when we are all seeking to elevate each other instead of focusing on suppressing ourselves.