Attending my first Pride parade in Atlanta, I didn’t know anything about its origins or why it’s so important. At the age of 17, just barely starting college and with a newly out gay best friend, I only knew that I was curious about the LBGTQIA+ community and was open to any new experiences Pride might bring.
I had been hiding the fact that I was bisexual since I was 13, when I realized I liked girls just as much as I did boys. I had a strict traditional Hispanic upbringing where cisgender heteronormative relationships were the norm and anything outside of that was deviant. I was ashamed of my attraction to the same sex, but it didn’t stop me from seeking out experiences. I just kept them a secret.
Pride changed everything. There, surrounded by the queer community amidst the joyous spectacle that is Atlanta Pride, I felt an intense and transformative rejection of all the strict heteronormative rules I’d grown up with. I saw Pride with the dazzled eyes of a brand new adult suddenly realizing there is more to life, gender, and attraction than what society has fed her. I felt liberated and seen. That my existence was not a mistake or sin as I’d been led to believe, but that instead, it was worthy of celebrating. That there is freedom in living out in the open and choosing to be yourself even when the stakes are high.
The experience was life-changing and I felt emboldened to cast aside the shame I carried for being attracted to women and embrace my bisexuality. To stand with people I now felt a kinship with and fight to secure equal rights alongside them. My passion ignited, I decided to come out to my queer friends as bisexual.
That moment would be my first, but not last, experience with biphobia.
All too suddenly, I felt unwelcome. I was accused of being a “fence sitter” and was told to “pick a side.” I was simultaneously embarrassed, hurt, and confused. I felt that I wasn’t queer enough for Pride or the queer community. Adding to the confusion, my OCD latched onto my sexual orientation and made me question it at times. I had moments where I wasn’t certain if I was really attracted to women or if I was just making it up for attention like everyone claimed I was.
I avoided Pride and the question of my sexual orientation for years, only coming out when necessary to date. However, upon beginning my journey to regain my life from OCD, I have had to face my bisexuality and acknowledge that it is true. As a bisexual cis female married to a straight cisgender male, I have immense privilege, but I must also acknowledge the toll being closeted and in doubt has taken on me. This is not unique to me. The LBGTQIA+ community suffers unique mental health challenges that need to be addressed, such as higher rates of substance use, suicide, and psychiatric disorders linked to stigma, lack of basic human rights, and discrimination.*
Understanding firsthand the difficulty of being both a member of a marginalized group and having co-occurring psychiatric disorders sheds new light on the importance of Pride for all of us. Celebrating Pride is not just about visibility, but about shedding light on the ways the mental health community can create change to support the LBGTQIA+ community and continuing the important work of securing equal rights for all.
Follow Alexandra on Instagram at @alexandraisobsessed!