SEEING SOMEONE LIKE ME REPRESENTED ANYWHERE
What do you celebrate about your pride journey? The first thing that comes to my mind is representation tying into acceptance. Luckily, my immediate family is the most loving and supportive I could've asked for. My older sister, Brittany, has a rare neurological disorder called Alternating Hemiplegia of Childhood (AHC). Even though deep down I knew my immediate family would love me no matter what, what kept going through my brain was "my parents already worry about having a disabled daughter and the difficulties she'll face in life because of that, I don't want them to worry about having a gay one too." That and... How the hell am I going to come out to my sister?
Britt and I have always had a close relationship, as close as we can given the circumstances. She's 6 years older than me, but mentally and emotionally I surpassed her in age years ago. Our conversations rarely, almost never, go past surface level. She knew of my male friends that were gay, but really had no experience or exposure to any gay women. And everything with Britt has a connection. In order to peak her interest, you have to find a connection to something she loves. She's a savant of sorts, specifically for Broadway.
This was the first time in my life I realized how important representation is and how much I cherish it. I remember making a huge deal out of this... took her out to lunch, got her Mac and cheese from Panera (her favorite), and sat her down to have this (what I thought would be serious) conversation. And it went a little like this...
“So, Britt, you know Maureen and Joanne in Rent?”
“Well, that’s like me.”
“I want to marry a woman one day.”
“Oh ok!! Cool!"
And then she went on about how cute she thinks Taye Diggs is. Now she's even comfortable to the point where she's asked previous partners of mine if they'd be in her wedding party one day and they can "wear a suit if they want!"
My mom is a professional photographer and my dad works in advertising and owns his own ad agency. It's been amazing for me to see how over the years their work has become more open, inclusive, and diverse because of their daughters. I love seeing them both incorporate more women, people of color, LGBTQ+ people, people with disabilities, etc. in their work. I've shared with them how incredibly moving it is to see someone like me represented ANYWHERE. I'm happy I could be a small part in that.
There's a tweet I stumbled upon the other day reading "remember what it felt like when you saw a queer person owning it, and it gave you permission to be yourself? You're that person to someone." And it just resonated with me. There are people who have been that to me that I've never even spoken to. People I passed on the street. I think my biggest “Oh shit” moment was when the person I had a crush on all summer had kissed me, out of the blue. They were one of the performers for the company I was interning at the time in 2015. My first time living in the city. The summer I came out. I even got a little tattoo behind my ear that says "NYC" because that summer and living here influenced my life in so many positive ways. I have grown so comfortable in my own skin, my identity, and my sexuality. I'm also aware at how lucky I am to live somewhere like NYC and be surrounded by such supportive and embracing people that I can openly be myself and accept myself this way. I hope it begins to pave a little way for those after me. Even though the LGBTQ+ community has come a long way, there's still so much more growth that needs to happen in terms of representation. Even now, most queer media is still gay men.
I celebrate the freedom I've been given from my family, friends, and chosen family from the LGBTQ+ community to be unapologetically myself, the openness my family has had with representation in their businesses, the representation that has gotten me to where I am today, and the representation I hope to further for the LGBTQ+ people after me.
I celebrate: living in the now! Loving myself and my journey to get to this place.
Ashley (Ash) DeLuke is a Brooklyn-based Aqueerius. Writer of sappy poetry, lover of coffee, and former #1 Jonas Brothers fan.