Remy and MJ (above, left to right) are two University of Maine Orono students who are a part of Planned Parenthood GenAction - a group of college students working for reproductive access and justice. The two are a couple and this month they marched with Planned Parenthood Maine Action Fund in the Portland Pride Parade for the first time.
My coming out story is complex. A couple years ago, I identified as a cis, bisexual woman. I had unrecognized signs of dysphoria during intercourse with my boyfriends, mostly related to my chest and the desire for a more masculine body like the ones they had. I attended a women-centered university my first year of college and to say it was eye-opening is an understatement. It was the first place to facilitate mandatory practice of stating pronouns with introductions; the university was dripping with members across the gender identity spectrum.
I was outside of my comfort zone as the education I was receiving regularly made me question my own gender identity, as well as my sexuality. The first time my parents came to visit me they asked me why I was dressing so differently and I stated, “I just see myself as an amorphous being, without the labels of female or male.” It took a long time for me to identify as non-binary; the transgender community on campus was considerably white and it was isolating to be a proud, black person instead of a proud, black woman at a women-centered university.
When I transferred to another university for my second year, I decided to change my name to MJ, a gender-neutral acronym for my first and middle names. I’m really proud of this name; it’s undeniably mine because I chose it. People respected it, and if I told them to instead call me MJ, they did so. It’s easy to feel lost on a large campus like the University of Maine Orono and I struggled to find a place on campus to feel safe, seen, and heard. But, my second semester I became president of Wilde Stein, UMaine’s all-inclusive club for the queer community and allies, which had evolved over 25 years from gay men and lesbians to trans and non-binary members. I became respected as one of the few people of color in the queer community. I was the first transperson staffed in the Office of Multicultural Student Life and my boss respected my pronouns as well as my position in Wilde Stein enough to allow me to lead trainings in classrooms about facilitating use of pronouns and educating people about gender and sexuality. I was seen, and that was new for me.
Then my current partner came along. We’d been introduced through the Feminist Collective, an activist-based organization I became entrenched in as I wanted to collaborate with them as executive of another organization. This is my first partner who identified similarly to myself and while I was more than comfortable with my identity at the time, they really pushed me to express myself as comfortably. They encouraged me to wear my first binder. They encouraged me so much that they actually took a two-hour long photoshoot of me in said binder, capturing how truly happy I was to be comfortable in my own skin. We have conversations about gender and dysphoria, and the way religion, family, and society helps and hurts our growth and acceptance. They’re an important part of my life and my journey.
This is why Pride in Portland meant so much to me this year. Not only was it my first Pride as an out member of the trans community, but I was able to walk hand in hand with my partner for the first time. My partner and I were nervous for our Pride together; the line-up seemed daunting and the array of pink is usually something we both shy away from. But together, holding hands, expressing our love openly at an event so intrinsically surrounded by love and acceptance we couldn’t help but be happy, so incredibly proud to be together, and to separately be so proud of our respective journeys to reach a point in our lives where we can be ourselves so openly.
During the march I kept glancing at them to make sure they were okay, and I smiled to see them so proud of who they are, proud to wave and cheer at a community with only love in the eyes staring at us. I was overwhelmed with emotions at the time. From the “Mom Hugs” t-shirts to the young queers observing the march to the trans pride flags waving out of windows, it was apparent to me such a Pride event was a culmination of everyone’s journey. Everyone was proud, whether it was to be a proud ally, a proud parent, a proud member of the LGBTQ+ community – everyone stopped what they would normally do on a Saturday afternoon and came together to celebrate acceptance, love, and growth.
Personally, I was incredibly moved to be a member of the LGBTQ+ community represented in the march with Planned Parenthood, a cause I’ve supported before I came out. I was even more incredibly proud to be standing next to an outstanding individual, activist, and loving partner as a participant of this year’s Portland Pride. Thank you Planned Parenthood Maine Action Fund for making it possible for two non-binary transpeople to be seen.
Pride, for me, was a long road comin’. I grew up in a religious, small Nebraskan town in the middle of Midwestern cornfields. The most I knew about the LGBTQ community was hate, and hate for myself. I was 17 years old on a school trip to Chicago when I first saw two queer individuals openly holding hands. I immediately cried upon the sight. I felt seen and free for the first time and I wondered if that would ever be me.
After that I searched for community everywhere. I volunteered for my own state’s Pride celebration. The event was small and getting into the park meant being confronted by protesters, but to me it felt invigorating to even have some semblance of being surrounded by allies and community members in a semi-safe space. The next year I drove 11 hours to the nearest Pride celebration in Denver and partied with strangers, but still didn’t really feel that sense of community.
This year, I made plans to walk with Planned Parenthood in the Portland Pride Parade with my partner. When walking up to the line-up spot I felt that same fear creeping in – fear of protesters, hatred, and discrimination. I felt self conscious in my outfit and of looking too visible. And then my partner and I reached the Planned Parenthood lineup of pink and my fears melted away. The group was so full of love and excitement, I couldn’t help but feel swept up by it. We doused ourselves in glitter and laughed with our friends and stared unabashedly at all the dogs that were dressed up for Pride in tutus and the like. We kissed, and embraced, and took pics.
For the first time in a long time I felt that same joy that I felt when I was 17 – a joy that only comes with a cocktail of feeling safe, and feeling safe enough to be visible and seen. And then we marched. We started walking up the side street, walking and chanting with the sounds of cheering steadily becoming louder and louder until we were amassed by the roar of the crowd. We waved signs and flags, we smiled and waved, we cheered and I admit, I cried. All the while I got to hold my partner’s hand in pride and it meant the world beyond words.
Being able to celebrate Pride with the comfort and support of friends is a gift I will never forget, and an experience I will treasure in my memory for a very long time. Thinking back on it is like a series of snapshots. I will remember the faces of the people we passed, the way they cheered, the little baby queers who were crying at the show of love that passed them on the street. I’ll remember the way my friends smiled, the joy on their faces, the way the Planned Parenthood flag danced in the wind. It was a sight to behold. It’s a sight I won’t easily forget. And it’s an experience I’m incredibly grateful for.