This past weekend I, along with about 5,000 other lesbians, was walking the streets of Provincetown for Memorial Day weekend when I came upon a little shop called Womanscraft. Inside the shelves were filled with wonderful paintings, books, buttons, pins, and t shirts all about bold, empowering women, diversity, equality, justice, the list goes on and on. Yet it wasn't the massive portrait of RBG that stuck out to me. Instead, it was a tiny sticker hidden in a basket full of stickers with a single phrase printed in black ink - "Pride: The opposite of shame."
I held it for a moment, feeling the printing raised off the slick, shiny paper and breathed a low, deep breath. Shame. If there was any feeling I was familiar with for most of my life, it was that one.
I grew up in a Christian home and I am still proud to call myself a Christian, though the road to that place of comfort and acceptance was a rough one for sure. I was first sent to conversion therapy at the age of 14 when it was discovered I had been watching a new show called . . . The L Word. It wasn't the sort of Cameron Post therapy where you get sent off to camp with fellow gays, or showed images of penises in hopes of making you want one. It was a simple room with one man who held a Bible and prayed that God would make this "sin leave my heart".
After a few months I was able to convince my family that I was "healed" and stopped going. When they found out I had a girlfriend two years later, I was asked if I felt like I needed to go back to therapy. "No"! I protested. The answer, instead, was to purge myself of any and all possessions that reminded me of the girl, and girls in general, frankly.
When I began attending college at the age of 17, I hoped things would be different. I hoped that feeling of internal hatred and shame would finally leave me for good. And perhaps that would have been true, if the college I began attending was not Liberty University, "the world's largest evangelical university". Where the motto is "training Champions for Christ."
I didn't want to be a Champion for Christ. I didn't want to be his enemy either, but I just wanted to go to an old school with ivy crawling up the brick buildings, read poetry under a big oak tree, learn photography in a dark room, study abroad in Europe, and hide myself in mahogany shelves reading about history.
My school offered none of those things. By my sophomore year, I decided that I had become close enough with some of the girls on my hall and told them I "liked boys but liked girls too". A total lie - I had no interest in boys. I had tried dating one my freshman year and cringed every time he wanted to even hold my hand.
My trust, I soon learned, had been misplaced. The next night my R.A. knocked on my door and told me we needed to talk. That there had been rumors that I was struggling with the "sin of same sex attraction" and that I needed to go somewhere where people could help me. I needed to go back to therapy.
To be clear, this wasn't an option. I could go to therapy or be fined $500.00 - the monetary cost of the sin of homosexuality at Liberty in 2007 according to the "Liberty Way". And so, back to therapy I went. More Bible holding, more praying, more shame.
As I'm sure you've guessed by now, "pray the gay" away didn't work the second time either. By my senior year I had met a girl with bright blue eyes and let's just say she didn't find me to be as gross as I found myself by that point. We dated for several years and even moved in together. But when I got into law school at none other than Liberty, the weight of the religious environment began to press down on us both. Our relationship was ruined, mostly due to my own self loathing and I pushed her so far away she finally left and never came back.
The next several years presented a series of toxic relationships and self torment and loathing. Suffice it to say, when you treat yourself like shit, it's not hard for someone else to come along and do it too.
It took me a very long time to actually hold my head up high and be happy with who I am - with who God made me to be. The first time I ever waved a Pride flag was in 2018 and if you know the history of Gender Traitor, you know that is where our little shop began.
And so, as I looked down at that tiny sticker, I remembered the girl who got sent to conversion therapy twice. I remembered the girl who hated herself, abused herself, and punished herself. I remembered the girl who was ashamed, afraid and alone. I remembered the girl who was convinced that God had somehow made a mistake.
I didn't buy the sticker. Instead, I laid it down for the next patron who might be moved by its words, reached out, grabbed my beautiful fiancé's hand, and walked down Commercial Street. Instead, I walked with pride.