In May of 2007, my sputtering black PT Cruiser got stuck behind a Memorial Day Parade in Oberlin, Ohio.

I was on a road trip from Boston to Chicago with a group of my college friends, and we’d stopped in Oberlin for the night to visit one of our pals who went to school in that quiet college town. We were hoping to hit Chicago by mid-afternoon, but the parade unfolding before us made that possibility more unlikely by the second. As my aging car sputtered down the street, its engine always a threat to overheat, I began what I can only assume was an epic rant about why parades are terrible, pointless things.

This was a period of my life where I had decided that hating things was an admirable personality trait. I had just finished up my third year in film school, and couldn’t really face the fact that nobody (including myself) seemed to think that my work was all that great. My ego and self-esteem were so fragile that even the lightest hint of criticism would send me spiraling for days, so the idea of continuing to put myself out there was utterly terrifying.

Instead of doubling down on my own work, which would’ve lead to more criticism and rejection, I decided to spend my time dunking on whatever easy targets presented themselves, becoming a connoisseur of bad film and worse screenplays. And while I was never openly cruel to my classmates, I spent far too much time making fun of their dubious creative choices in private, over drinks with my friends.

I don’t regret everything about that phase of my life. For one, it allowed me to bond with several people who I still consider among my best friends today. Watching bad films and goofing on them is still a major comfort for me. Exploring the more problematic aspects of my classmates’ work also provided me with a good opportunity to interrogate some of my own misguided beliefs. I’d be lying if I said that hating things didn’t somehow play into my growth as a person and as an artist.

On the other hand, there were many times when I took things too far. While I can’t fully remember what hyperbolic vitriol I slung at that parade back in 2007, it made a pretty major impact on my traveling companions. More than a decade later, whenever parades come up around one of my college friends, someone always makes sure to point out just how much they know that I hate parades. Long past the point where I actually had any strong feelings about parades, I found myself slipping back into my past self in order to reinforce their point.

***

I don’t know exactly when I decided that I didn’t want to be known as “the guy who hates parades” anymore. It was certainly before I realized that I didn’t want to be known as a guy at all, but it was after I started to realize just how important Pride had become for so many of my favorite people.

I had never gone to a Pride parade myself, though. The whole event lived in the “not for me” bucket in the back of my brain, next to a thousand other things that I wasn’t ready to face yet. My parade rant that morning had more to do with the small town 4th of July parades that I’d been forced to sit through as a kid, where the sun was too hot and the crowds were too crowded and old men would throw off-brand Tootsie Rolls off the back of fire trucks and I’d be expected to scramble for them on hands and knees.

By the time I reached my late twenties, I began feeling a rush of embarrassment every time the “I hate parades” meme came up in casual conversation. It didn’t just remind me of the part of my life when I hated things on a semi-professional basis, but it had begun to feel exclusionary.

In my mind, hating parades when the most famous parade of them all was Pride was starting to take on a weight that was completely unintended. I began to deflect the accusation with clarifications like “I don’t hate parades, I just hate crowds,” or “I’m not talking about Pride — I’m talking about straight parades. Straight people have no idea how to throw a parade.” (NB: I stand by both of these statements.)

Even though I had become an open ally in support of pride Pride, I have to admit that I didn’t fully understand the point of the parade. I knew that Pride had begun as a protest, birthed from the Stonewall Riots, and that it was a way to increase queer visibility in a world where discrimination is still a major part of daily life for so many people. But why a parade? Was it just about shutting down city streets for half a day, or was there some other point? I still couldn’t see past the scorching pavement and stale candy of my youth.

***

Yesterday morning, I attended my first-ever Pride parade. Some of my friends have a loft that overlooks the parade route on Colfax Avenue in Denver, so I was able to avoid the crowds by standing on their balcony with a mimosa in one hand and a plate of fruit in the other. It was the ideal viewing experience for an introvert like me.

I had wanted to avoid most of the Pride events this weekend because I’m still presenting male and I knew that being seen as a cis man in a space where so many people are comfortable embracing their true gender identity would just make me feel bad about the progress I haven’t made yet. Watching from afar felt safe enough, though, and more than half of the people at the party knew my real identity regardless.

I also knew that many of the folks attending the brunch would be openly trans, which meant that that the brunch would be a place where I didn’t have to fear anyone’s reaction to the slight presentation changes that I’ve been making so far. Even though I was feeling a lot of physical anxiety before heading over, I was excited to present as femme as I could.

So far, most of the progress I’ve made in that direction has been incremental; I’ve made a change, experienced gender euphoria, and decided to stick with that change as much as possible while secretly wanting to push things even further. My femme list is still pretty short right now, but I made sure that my body hair was well-shaven, my nail polish looked good, my hair was shampooed and blow-dried in order to create the swept-bang and wavy locks look I like, and I put on some of the perfumed sparkle spray that my wife bought for me.

Then I walked over to my closet and stood there for five minutes rejecting every shirt I own. I still don’t own any female clothing — I keep putting it in my Amazon and eBay cart, freaking out a little, and closing the web browser — but the further I get into this process, the more wrong it feels to keep putting on male clothes every morning. When I started questioning my gender, my relative lack of cross-dressing as a kid was one of the major things I clung to as evidence that I was really cis. Even today, my defense mechanisms still try to use this fact as ammunition when I start to feel depressed and worried that I’m “not trans enough” to start the next part of my transition.

Now, however, dressing femme feels more and more like something I want to explore. At the very least, I always wear the two pieces of clothing that I’ve arbitrarily decided are the most feminine whenever I go out with friends early on in my laundry cycle.

Those two articles of clothing were out of commission yesterday, though, and I flipped through shirt after shirt that were 1) far too big for me, and 2) in the most neutral colors and styles possible. With a sinking feeling, I realize that there was literally no part of my wardrobe that I purchased with the goal of allowing me to stand out. Every shirt I’ve ever bought has had the unstated goal of masking as much of my body as possible while allowing me to seamlessly blend into the background. Of course I’d never been to Pride before, I realized— I’ve never felt proud to be myself in really any context.

I expected the parade to be a colorful distraction, but I didn’t really think it would make me feel anything. Early on, my supposition proved correct — many of the early floats were sponsored by large corporations, and they felt both tacky and condescending. Xfinity is still a garbage company, rainbow logo or not. Visa using balloons to spell out “VISA” instead of, I dunno, “TRANS RIGHTS,” was even more gross.

But most of that happened in the first half hour of a parade that somehow managed to stretch on for almost three full hours. It was relentless, and I mean that in the best possible way. It felt like the entire city of Denver was there — every company, every community organization, every facet of life. Even from my perch on the fourth floor, I could see hundreds — hundreds!! — of openly trans people, carrying pride flags and marching proudly down Colfax Avenue, being cheered for; mile after mile, hour after hour.

I didn’t know that this was something that I needed to see, but it was. As someone who is on the cusp of being openly and visibly queer to everyone in her life, I needed to see that hundreds of trans people could march down the street, carrying our flag, and just…be okay. Proud, even. I needed to see that. I really needed to see that.

Halfway through the parade, one of the women I’m out to offered to do my mascara and give me some sparkly eye-shadow. I couldn’t say yes fast enough. She complimented my eyes, and I felt great, and I rocked that look for the rest of the day. I’m still not confident enough to do my own makeup, but I can’t wait until I am.

I had to go home and work after that, but my wife walked over to the vendor booths in the park and bought me a folding fan in trans flag colors — the same one that many of the trans folks who marched in the parade had. When she gave it to me, I held onto it tightly for most of the rest of the evening because I was so happy to have a clear and visible sign of the girl that I’m finally letting myself become. I can already feel like it’s going to be one of those things that I’m going to keep with me always, as a reminder of everything I feel right now.

Then I watched Suicide Squad with friends and we laughed about how bad it was for three straight hours. Just because I’m trying to be a kinder, better, truer, and prouder version of myself doesn’t mean I don’t still love to laugh at bad movies whenever the opportunity presents itself.

I think I’ll give the parade hate a nice, long rest though.

***

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Novelist. Trans lesbian. Early thirties. Former Hollywood hench-person. Lover of cats, mountains, bad movies, good TV, coffee, beer, and games.