Full Spectrum: Bittersweet Pride

In this moving article, our graphic designer Lee Riddell shares their experience and the complex and bittersweet emotions they feel during Pride Month. REC Solar is honored and proud to be a part of Lee’s journey.

Like my queer* experience, June is complex and bittersweet.

Pride month, for me, is filled with a lot of grief. Grief for previous generations who lived and died in the closet, their true selves never being seen or loved. Grief for those who fought for liberation and didn’t live to see it. Grief for the generations lost to AIDs, swaths of queer elders who should be here, who instead died alone and neglected in hospitals.  Grief at the possibility that I may have seen the high-water line for our rights in my lifetime, and the constant erosion of them. Grief for our dead siblings, victims of hate crimes and bullying, and some who we believed buried their identities with them for a greater good.

In Pride month there is also, well, pride – the kind of pride that leaves me bawling. Lou Sullivan was one of the first trans men to publicly identify as gay and paved the way for the modern differentiation between gender and sexuality. At the time, it was thought that queer trans people couldn’t exist, and were discriminated against by gender clinics. After being diagnosed with AIDs, he wrote “I took a certain pleasure in informing the gender clinic that even though their program told me I could not live as a Gay man, it looks like I’m going to die like one.” One of the reasons the L is first in LGBT is as recognition of the countless lesbians who helped their gay brothers and trans sisters during the AIDs crisis. When medical professionals refused to touch AIDs patients, lesbians would provide end-of-life care. When unsupportive families weren’t there, lesbians were holding them as they died. When patients passed, lesbians helped with tasks like preserving leather culture from destruction. I’m barely scratching the surface here, there are so many other queer ancestors to look up to.

I’ve been lucky. I came out at work in 2018 when I started using they/them pronouns. I remember shaking with anxiety as I told my boss, whose reaction was to ask how she could support me. I similarly shook when I told the team that I was going to be transitioning in 2022, but less so, and I received congratulations instead of discrimination. My friends and coworkers have delighted with me as I grow and change, becoming the person I had always expected to see in my reflection. People from our CEO to my boss to coworkers check in with me to make sure everyone is still being cool (they are). Even family, if not always supportive, haven’t been as bad as they could be. I live in a state with strong protections and in a city where I always see other trans people when I’m out. I have a gay psychologist, queer therapist, a trans nurse who helped me become comfortable with self-injections, and a trans friendly barber who gives me tips as I teach myself how to shave.

As lucky as I’ve been, there’s still a lot of anxiety. From the mundane, “figuring out basic hygiene again in my 30s” to the more serious. There was a period where I had begun hormonal transitioning, hadn’t legally changed my name, and needed to have video calls with a lot of outside parties. I had to hope that no one mentioned the discrepancy between the face they saw, the cracking voice they heard, and my previous legal name** – and pray I didn’t experience overt or covert discrimination. I now pass*** on a semi-regular basis, and as open and out as I am about my identity, the possibility of the wrong person seeing my they/them pronouns in my email signature or X on my government ID fills me with dread. On the daily I hear from people who think being trans, especially non-binary, is a mental illness and who think we’re pedophiles. As I write and post this article, I’m bracing myself for bigoted comments – which will reported, deleted, and the commenters blocked because other trans people don’t need to see them. We see enough of that as it is, in the comments of every brand and public figure wishing us “Happy Pride”.

Transitioning, becoming and loving oneself, in 2024 is An Experience. Living in a state with strong protections and a decently safe city means I’ve begun to meet trans refugees from other states. I don’t cringe at my reflection anymore. There’s a state with a literal “do not travel” advisory from LGBT rights groups and more vying to join them. My voice finally sounds like what I’ve always expected it to sound like.  “Gender critical” could have been something cool like critical analysis of all the ways gender comes up unnecessarily in all aspects of life, but instead is about hating trans people. I see myself in the mirror more and more every day. My ability to use public restrooms is in question in a lot of the country. []. There’s “LGB without the T” groups, as if appeasing oppressors will save them (it won’t). Swapping hormonal experience & tips with trans femmes is beautiful and so sweet. Even as trans medical care is expanding, we still have to crowdsource a lot of our medical knowledge because of how under-studied we are. FTM at work means “front of the meter”. – there’s a lot going on. After planning this post for 6 months and procrastinating on writing it for 2 weeks, I’m still capturing only a sliver of the experience because there’s so much.

Performative activism doesn’t sit well with me – I prefer a show-not-tell kind of allyship. I manage our social media (in a loose sense, I rely on my coworkers for creative writing & subject expertise) which means I can make calls like, “we’re not going to do a ‘Happy Pride’ post, I’m going to write something from the heart and reshare it.” If you’ve wondered why there hasn’t been a Pride post from REC Solar, that’s why, and this is it. I can be my full self at work. I’m very fortunate to have this support and this opportunity to speak openly, and I guess what I want to ultimately say is –

I’m lucky, but I shouldn’t have to be. This should be the standard.

*Queer is a reclaimed term, frequently used as an umbrella for sexuality & gender experiences. There is a lot more nuance to this DiscourseTM than I want to get into here.

**for me, my former names carry no emotional baggage and I refer to them as “previous legal name” rather than “deadname”. This is not the case for everyone, and “deadname” is the standard unless you know someone’s preferences.

***”pass” or “passing” refers to being able to be interpreted by others as a binary gender. This is not the goal for everyone, and being able to do so even if only for safety (which is my case) is a privilege. There is a lot more nuance to this DiscourseTM than I want to get into here.

[] Removed “This year was the first since 2018 with fewer anti-trans bills introduced and passed (43 out of 598) than the previous (87 out of 604 in 2023).” At the time of writing on 6/17/24, it was 43 out of 589. 10 days later, it is now 44 out of 617, making this the 6th year in a row with a new record for introduced bills. As of 6/27/24, 225 of those bills have failed.