No two coming out stories are ever the same. Over the years though, as I’ve sat around tables and heard friends share theirs, patterns emerge. Some parents lose it, causing families to fracture. Some relatives wilfully ignore the news. Some embrace their kids with reassurance and love, as if to say, what’s the big deal. Other people’s families are broadly accepting, yes, but express concern: I love you, they say, but I don’t want your life to be difficult – when half of the time what they really mean is different.
I was in this latter camp. Privately, I too worried that my life would be difficult after I came out at 19, but on the surface, I waved the assertion away; I wanted 'different' – would have exciting love affairs, a queer community, and access to gay bars. It would be great, I told myself. When I claimed this difference for myself, I felt empowered, but when someone else called me different, I felt bruised or ashamed.
I remember being 20 years old, for example, and a family member saying, with an air of pity: 'But… don’t you want to get married?' I replied, frustratedly: 'For god’s sake, I still can.' I remember my response because it was a weird one: the year was 2011, and I could not legally get married to a woman as a gay person in Britain. Maybe I still saw the possibility of marrying a man (seems unlikely), maybe I was just feeling stubborn – wanting to rebut their question. Perhaps I felt certain of my unerring right to marriage, should I want to do it, or that same-sex marriage equality was just around the corner.
In 2014, I went to Britain’s first same-sex marriage (I was reporting on it for my book, Queer Intentions) and witnessed the words 'husband and husband' spoken first hand. And yet, despite actually being there, I sometimes forget that same-sex marriage has only been legal for eight years. Now that marriage equality is such a part of the fabric of our culture, sometimes it can feel – erroneously – like it has always been there. Now that we have rights like marriage on paper, it can, to some people, feel like we’ve reached the end of the road, that gay people can live as straight people do – that your life as a gay person doesn’t have to be difficult or different.
Case in point: often, when I tell non-LGBTQ+ strangers that I write and talk about LGBTQ+ rights for a living, they say: 'What is there to talk about?'
But recent current affairs jolt us firmly back to reality. News that in America, the Supreme Court may consider an attempt to rescind the right to same-sex marriage that was passed nationwide in 2015, following the ban on abortion and the repeal of Roe vs Wade. And the news, which broke on Saturday morning, that on the eve of Oslo Pride, two people were killed in an extremist attack at a gay bar, leading to the cancellation of the city’s Pride march. The U.S. news was an upsetting reminder that progress isn’t always linear, and that rights like same-sex marriage can be taken away despite the years of hard work that led to their passing. The Norway situation was a disturbing reminder that our safety is by no means guaranteed, that risk of attack remains.
As I lay in bed on Saturday morning feeling helpless and terrified, I thought for the first time in a long time of that well-intentioned but annoying sentiment – I don’t want your life to be difficult. I thought: this is what they were talking about.
We live in a very different world to 50 years ago – when LGBTQ+ activists marched in Britain’s first Pride – and even to when I was 20, a decade ago. More people than ever before (quite literally) identify somewhere across the LGBTQ+ spectrum, or are exploring their fluidity. Government figures show that the nation’s gay and bisexual community grew more than 15% in a year, reaching 1.4million people. We have endless queer and trans people in the public eye, and young role models too – like Lil Nas X or Eliot Page or Hunter Schafer. We have films and TV shows that capture the nuance of our experiences, like Moonlight or Euphoria, or else offer hopeful depictions of life and love without endless trauma, like Call Me By Your Name or Heartstopper.
But we always need more. We need a way to deal with anti-LGBTQ+ hate crime in Britain, which has been steadily rising since 2015. We need to build a culture where trans people are not attacked in the media and in the street and in parliament, but represented and respected, and where nonbinary people are legally recognised through a third gender option on passports, as is the case in at least a dozen other countries. We need a full ban on conversion therapy for all LGBTQ+ people, including a ban on forced intersex surgeries.
When you consider that all of these things are lacking, it’s no wonder that Britain is falling down the official rankings for LGBTQ+ rights in Europe year upon year.
I still don’t know if I want to get married to another woman – I’ll take the love affairs and queer community and gay bars – but I want to have the option to, and I want to live in a world where we can have all of these things, at once, if we choose. Where queer people are not disowned, disavowed or preconditioned to think their lives are going to be difficult, or made to internalise the idea that they are somehow different. Pride 2022 is a time for celebration, yes, but it’s also a time for reflection – on the changes we want to see before we can really talk about progress.
Amelia Abraham is author of Queer Intentions and We Can Do Better Than This - 35 Voices on the Future of LGBTQ+ Rights.
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