[dropcap]“I[/dropcap] love June! All of the Pride parties and events make me proud to be gay! All the cute queers to cruise!”
“I hate Pride month. I get totally overwhelmed by the crowds and the expectation to be endlessly social.”
“Visiting San Francisco for the Pride Parade is the reason I fell in love with this city and moved here. This was what I always dreamed of.”
“I always get depressed during Pride. Most of the people I’ve loved are dead, and I’m worried about my future. I can’t relate to the celebratory energy.”
This is the spectrum of feelings that my psychotherapy clients express during June, that strange month when there is hypervisibility and hyperawareness of LGBTQQI people in the media and in the streets. Some of my clients love it—they feel visible and recognized. And some hate it. The ones who hate it are unhappy for a variety of reasons: The crowds are overwhelming. The pressure to be happy and celebratory is immense. And certainly in the past decade, there are things to celebrate: Marriage Equality as a broad spectrum conversation leading to first steps in new federal protections. PEP and PrEP. Newer and less toxic drug combinations. Slightly easier access to healthcare. There are also things to mourn: a rise in HIV infection rates among lower income communities and communities of color, the horrific increase in bullying and hate crimes, more and more suicides of young LGBTQQI and trans folks.
And within the celebratory realm, there often isn’t space to grieve, to feel the absence of our community members who have died. June is a perverse month, where attention abounds about the history of our movement, but not about the casualties in our community.
Visibility highlights absence. Long-term survivors both seropositive and negative may find that our experiences aren’t recognized by younger community members who didn’t live through the years of terror before the protease inhibitors. As HIV has become seen as a chronic manageable illness, people who are newly diagnosed HIV-positive may have difficulty finding space to have all of their feelings mirrored about how their diagnosis will impact their sex and romantic life, their family, and their sense of their embodied future.
In the first Pride Parade that my friends and I went to, we marched with ACT UP. ACT UP became our community and my family. Five years after that first parade, more than half of my chosen family had died. I walk into Pride month experiencing the same range of feelings my clients do. Overwhelmed by the crowds but wanting to celebrate. Feeling my way toward a visible queer family. And deeply grieving and longing for my family who are gone.
A few years ago, a lesbian couple from my beloved ACT UP family came to San Francisco for Pride weekend. We had dinner and told stories, reminding one another of things and people we had almost forgotten in the twenty years that have passed. They rode in the opening contingent of the parade with Dykes on Bikes. One of them has been HIV-positive for more than twenty years. Most of her cohort is gone. But I stood on the sidelines of Market Street and watched them roar past. Still here.
When I look through my photos from that Pride march, some of which were taken from a balcony above the parade, there is a fabulous balloon sign declaring “Love Won.” The sign was referring to Marriage Equality. But it also holds true for community. Love wins when we take care of each other, when we make space for each other’s experiences, when we remember together and keep imagining a future with room for our whole experience.
Here are a few small things you can do to survive and thrive during Pride:
• Find ways to engage in dialogue with people who have different experiences of AIDS/HIV—across generations, genders, and serostatus.
• Know that it is also fine to need to share space and time with people whose experience closely mirrors your own.
• Take a walk or dance or do yoga or stretch—something to move your body.
• Remember that you have a body, and spend time feeling what it needs. Then try to do it.
• Eat and drink whatever will help you feel enlivened and present with yourself.
• Get more sleep.
• Ask for help.
• Offer help to others.
• Spend time with those who love you and whom you love.
Keiko Lane, MFT, is a Japanese American writer and psychotherapist. She writes about the intersections of queer culture, oppression resistance, racial justice, and liberation psychology. She has a psychotherapy practice in Berkeley, California, specializing in work with queers of all genders, artists, activists, academics, people affected by HIV/AIDS, asylum seekers and other clients self-identified as post-colonial. Keiko also teaches graduate and post-graduate psychotherapy courses on queer and multicultural psychotherapies, the psychodynamics of social justice, and the embodied literature of exile. She is a long-term survivor of ACT UP/Los Angeles. Visit: www.keikolanemft.com.