I went to a conference recently where a smart, brilliant, funny, beautiful woman was presenting. I went for drinks afterwards, hoping to steal her away for a moment to congratulate her. We spoke, briefly, before she slipped off into the night.
Later, I googled her, shiftily, in my pyjamas, and found a fiercely intelligent, outspoken, warm, deeply admired LGBT champion and feminist – who is also happily married with a wife and two kids. Go figure.
I rarely look back at the time before I came out with any regret. Mostly I just feel grateful to finally be able to live the life I’ve always yearned for. And yet that night I did feel regret. Because I realised that all those years when I was cowering in the closet, terrified of people finding out who I was, I was missing out on meeting women like her.
What kind of life could I have led if I’d been a little braver, or society had been a little kinder? Maybe I would be married now or have a family. Maybe I’d be living abroad. Maybe I’d have made a whole bunch of other fuck-ups but hell, at least they’d be authentic fuck-ups.
Of course, I’m one of the lucky ones. For some women, this change in attitudes has all come too late. There are many women – thousands, tens of thousands, maybe millions, who will have lived and died without ever having the opportunity to love and be loved by a woman. Who will never know that feeling when you kiss someone and everything just works and it’s so bloody glorious you want to cry and sing and laugh all at the same time.
There are still people who can only truly be themselves late at night, beneath the sheets; people who live in communities where coming out could put their health – or their lives – at risk; people who are going through the motions of a marriage, forcing an intimacy they simply can’t feel, will never feel; people who are afraid that if they come out they’ll be rejected – by their work, their friends, their family, their God.
Some of them are young; some are in the final dance of their lives. And they need to know: it is never, ever too late to show the world who you really are; to be yourself; to open your heart and welcome love in.
This is why Pride is so important. It’s why on Saturday I dunked my muff in glitter and charged into London Pride on a fucking unicorn, waving my rainbow flag with wild abandon and howling. It’s why, coming up the escalator at Oxford Circus, with its walls daubed in rainbows, I had to choke down tears of joy.
Pride is not just a party: it’s a mission, a vow, a statement of intent: WE WILL NEVER STOP LOVING. We will keep loving, and keep loving, and keep loving until there is not a single person in this world who is afraid to be themselves. We will hold our heads up high for those who can’t. Day by day, year by year, our love will seep across blocked borders, hard hearts and closed minds.
So yeah, my crush may be married. But the fact that she’s married to a woman – and that I live in a time and place where two women can fall in love, marry and have a family – is pretty…well, extraordinary. I will never forget how lucky I am – nor how far we have to go.
Happy Pride 2017.