Aside from the sweltering heat and the bugs, June is usually my favorite month of the year. It wasn’t always this way—seriously, I can’t stand being sweaty with insects buzzing all around me—but ever since I went to D.C. Pride for the first time in eighth grade, I’ve been able to appreciate June a lot more. When I learned about the history of Pride Month in the U.S., I started thinking of June not just as a hot sticky mess or the beginning of summer, but as the time of year where I can reaffirm my identity as a gender non-conforming lesbian and celebrate it with others.
I’ve been to D.C. Pride three times, and New York Pride once. It’s my favorite part of summer, so I was initially pretty upset that I was going to miss Pride in the U.S. I still wanted to celebrate somehow, though, and I decided to go to Roma Pride. I was a little worried about going to Pride in a foreign country at first. Even in the U.S., I’m careful about who I “out” myself to, and what I wear and say. Before I left for Rome, I was advised by quite a few of my family members to remove the rainbow band of my smart watch and replace it with a plain black one. I did so, but brought my usual band just in case I changed my mind.
In order to get a better idea of gay culture in Rome and hopefuly become a little more confident, I ended up going to two LGBT-friendly restaurants with some friends. One was called My Bar, and the other one was called Coming Out Roma. They just so happened to be right next to one another, and sitting outdoors created a cozy, communal atmosphere. They both had really good food, but even more than that, the people and the environment felt so warm. The staff and customers alike were always laughing and smiling, even with strangers.
This was about a week before Roma Pride. By the time the day came, I was more sure of myself and knew that I wanted to go. While my usual Pride outfits had me decked out in rainbows from head-to-toe, a smaller wardrobe forced me to be a little less flashy. I wore a t-shirt that I had bought last June, switched my watch band to my rainbow one, and splurged on a pair of rainbow socks. I also purchased a rainbow fan from Coming Out Roma, which came in handy since it was so hot!
I rode the bus to Piazza della Repubblica with some friends, and I immediately realized that the people next to me were also going to Roma Pride, thanks to all of their rainbow gear. I felt safe, comfortable, and empowered just by standing next to people that shared a community with me.
As soon as the bus stopped near Piazza della Repubblica, I could hear the music and see the crowd. There were vendors selling food, water, and little flags. Tons of different groups, including a drum circle and the U.S. Embassy, stood giving out information pamphlets and wishing a happy pride to everyone that passed by. I had never been in a parade before since I normally attended a “block party” event in D.C., so despite having been to Pride so many times, I didn’t know what to expect. My friends hadn’t been to Pride even back in the U.S., so it was new for all of us.
We just followed the crowd for a while, and found a slow-moving line of buses with people dancing in the street around them. The buses, like the groups near the beginning of the parade, all represented different movements. A moment I found particularly poignant was hearing the crowd singing a song in Italian. I didn’t know it and obviously couldn’t understand it, but I always enjoy people singing as a group. It makes me think of unity.
Soon enough, I also got a chance to sing some familiar songs with the crowd. My friends and I found a bus that was playing a lot of pop hits in English. They were all songs by artists that are often considered “queer icons” in the U.S.: Rihanna, Lady Gaga, and my personal favorite, Aqua’s “Barbie Girl”. I don’t usually dance, but when I was singing and moving with the crowd, it was pretty hard not to. I felt the embodiment of Pride in a way that was almost indescribable; I didn’t care who saw me or what I looked like. I knew I was in a place where people supported one another, and that was all I needed to enjoy myself and be confident about who I was and what I stood for.
Usually, after Pride, I feel some sort of “emptiness” in me while I ride the train back home, as if all of the fun I’d had was draining out of me as I left. I didn’t feel that this year. I think it may be because I was in a place so foreign to me, yet I was still able to find my footing and express myself.
“If I could find the strength to be myself in a place I’d never been to, then can’t I be myself anywhere?” That’s the message that I had running through my mind after leaving Roma Pride. I hope it rings true for a long, long time, and I hope that one day, in a more peaceful and accepting society, I can share this feeling with the whole world.