June is National LGBTQ Pride Month. In recognition, I’d like to share a little bit about my own journey.
“Mark your calendar,” my psychology 101 professor said on the first day of class in January 1997, “There will be a gay panel here on April 15th. Your attendance is not required.”
I started sweating.
Where would I sit? Not too close.
What do they look like? I wondered, remembering the women with spiky hair and boyish clothes my mother referred to as “disgusting dikes.”
What will I wear?
I thought long and hard about that last question, unsure why my attire even mattered.
The day I discovered
Practically counting down the days, I asked my friend and classmate, Roxy, “Are you going to be in class on April 15th?”
She was. Thankfully. I wasn’t going to be alone in this uncomfortable experience.
Where do I fit?
I didn’t know why I was uncomfortable. But, I desperately needed to be there to see what these people look like. And—I needed to look good in the process of looking at them.
So, I put on my best jeans and t-shirt, showered myself in the best perfume I owned, put on my best sneakers, and got to the lecture hall early.
Nearly an hour before class started, I was in the hallway, peeking in the door (there was another class in progress), trying to figure out where to sit.
I wanted to be close enough to see, but far enough avoid eye contact.
Fifteen minutes before class, Roxy showed up. Forgoing our normal front-and-center seats, we opted for the edge of the aisle, half-way up the auditorium.
Seeing myself in them
Finally, I’m going to know for sure what a gay person looks like, I thought in the moments leading up to the panel being called out from behind the curtain.
Then, they came out… all five of them.
Kristen, the third woman who came out—the one who sat in the middle—captured my attention. She was beautiful. And smart… Two words I didn’t think went with “gay.”
In that moment, I knew I had a problem. I just didn’t know what to do with it. So, I called the LGBTQ resource center, and proceeded to hang up the first fifty-or-so times I called.
Finally, I stayed on the line. Cheryl, a man who dressed as a woman, listened patiently as I shared about my attraction to women.
After nearly an hour on the phone, Cheryl suggested we meet in person. The only problem? I didn’t want to be seen with him, he didn’t have a car, and he lived on campus.
“Can you meet me at my car, jump in, and then we can rush out?” I asked.
Neither one of us pretended not to know why I didn’t want to be seen with him, and yet he showed up.
Can you imagine? “I want your help to work out my gay feelings, but I don’t want to get too close to your gayness.”
Looking back, I cannot imagine what that must have been like for him. But—he showed up and sat with me for a long time on that dirt road.
Thank God for him. And thank God for the millions of people who have shown up and fought for gay rights.
Thank God for my straight friends who text me—Happy Pride on June 1st. If it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t have heard myself say these words—
I spend most of my life trying to forget that I’m gay… that I’m different.
Moments after hearing myself say those words on June 1, 2021, something deep in my core was shook—there was a part of me that I still believed was below par, less than, and to be hidden.
Too afraid of other people’s judgments, being harmed, or missing out on opportunities, I had carefully shared this part of me.
It was time for a change. It is time for a change.
It’s time that we go beyond accepting differences (of all sorts), and onto celebrating and supporting them.
This archaic part of our brain that tells us that we will die if we’re different has got to stop robbing us of the texture, beauty, and taste (imagine life without spices grown around the world) made possible because of our differences.
The greatest barrier to true belonging is trying to fit in. – Brene Brown
One of the greatest challenges I’ve faced in my life is feeling like I don’t belong.
Recognizing my journey to connection and belonging lies in my capacity to love and belong to myself, I searched the internet until I found the right rainbow sticker—
Science is real
Black lives matter
No human is illegal
Love is love
Women’s rights are human rights
Kindness is everything
As I put it on the back of my car, I whispered to myself— You belong to me, Misti. And I meant it.
Today is the day I replace fear of not fitting in with gratitude for all that makes me different. Will you join me?
P.S. On June 19, 2021, Yvette (my wife) and I walked down the street in Staunton, VA, a place we were visiting, when I asked her if she felt comfortable holding my hand. “No, but I will,” she said, and then grabbed my hand. Less than five minutes later, I pulled my hand away… I didn’t feel safe. Alas… this is a journey.
Here’s to your greatness,
Misti Burmeister has been facilitating communication that results in trust and connection for nearly 20 years, increasing engagement and productivity across generations. Make sure your communication is coming across the way you intend, visit https://www.MistiBurmeister.com