Arts·Point of View

How having to get face stitches taught me to lose my expectations and have the best Pride ever

Maighdlin Mahoney thought her dream Pride would look like a TV show — but reality didn't follow the script.

Maighdlin Mahoney thought her dream Pride would look like a TV show — but reality didn't follow the script

(Maighdlin Mahoney)

I had high expectations for Pride weekend in 2019. I was single for the first time in years, having recently gone through a tumultuous breakup. I had become so much more confident in my own queerness since the last time I was single at Pride, and I was ready to look and feel like a hot gay. I imagined it like those scenes of queer bars from movies and TV shows — blurry, brightly coloured, crowded. The plan for the whole weekend basically boiled down to: make out with everyone.

I know, I know. I couldn't see it then, but retrospectively it feels so obvious — where's the catch?

A few days before Pride, I was riding my bike and a car caught me off guard. I slammed on my front wheel brake and flipped my bike — and myself — forward into the concrete. By the time I looked up from the ground, there was blood streaming down my face. Now, I was quite lucky — at the end of the day, I had no broken bones, no concussion. But my face had taken the brunt of my collision with the road. I split my lip and had gotten fairly widespread road rash across my forehead. Three stitches and a bunch of medical tape later, I finally looked at myself in the mirror. It was rough.

What was left, then, of my plan? The thing about lip stitches is, well, they're a little spiky. Even if I had been willing to push through the pain, I can't imagine that it would have been comfortable, let alone enjoyable, for the person on the other side. I barely wanted to look at myself at first. So, I had a decision to make. Option one: stock up on food and water, spend the weekend hiding in my bedroom, emerge once my face had returned to its normal state. (Tempting.) Option two: go anyway? What would happen if I decided that I didn't care how I looked? What would I spend the weekend doing if I couldn't kiss?

While my situation was obviously quite specific, I'm not the first person I know to grapple with their expectations of themselves during Pride. I think there is a general feeling that we have to be the hottest and queerest versions of ourselves, and this gets measured by how we are seen by other people (often by whether we are seen as attractive by other people). I always thought that there was something about Pride that would change me in some intangible ways; maybe that is how it goes, sometimes, for some people. But I never felt completely fulfilled by my Pride weekends because I woke up Monday morning feeling just the same as I had felt on Thursday night — the only change being that now I felt a bit guilty for not having had the best weekend ever and not coming out of it more gay than I went in.

I wonder how much of these expectations come from those same TV and movies that coloured my own imaginings of Pride. When I see characters in shows like The L Word exude effortless sexiness and meet dozens of hot queer singles in one night, I wonder if it's just me that can't quite get it right.

Mercedes Mason as Lena and Katherine Moennig as Shane in The L Word: Generation Q. (Showtime)

I'm not sure what persuaded me, but despite my stitches, I did choose to go anyway — and it turned out to be the best Pride weekend I had ever experienced.

It was nothing like I had thought it would be. I didn't kiss anyone; I didn't even meet any new people, really. I didn't spend much time in the Village or the super-crowded Pride Weekend events. I did spend every night out that weekend, but I wasn't always at "Pride" proper; most nights, I was just with my queer friends, at the bars we always went to. We drank, and danced, and stayed up late. We talked about our mental health and why the most popular queer bars weren't always welcoming to everyone in the queer community. We talked about whether it's possible to celebrate without forgetting how much more needs to be done.

(Maighdlin Mahoney)

And you know what, I did get to feel like the hottest, queerest, dreamiest version of myself. In fact, there is even one photo from that weekend that I am very grateful exists. It's quite late at night; I'm at a friend's house because bars were long closed. I am wearing a suit and tie, and despite the scabs over my face, I can just tell I am feeling myself — not because I found a hundred people desperate to make out with me, but because I let go of what I thought I wanted and took a look at what I had.

I would never want to take away the importance that Pride weekend or month can have for some folks. Visibility is impactful, and celebrating in large groups is powerful and uplifting. But expectations can be crushing, or at the very least distracting. This year, with many pandemic restrictions still in place, Pride can't be what it has been in the past. If by next year Pride might be more of what we have come to expect, what might we learn from this time where it can't yet be

Falling off my bike freed me from trying to make Pride into what I thought it should be. Perhaps this year, instead of focusing on what we can't do, we might look at what we can do. Stepping back from the celebrations and the partying might give us room to look around, and see not only what we have but also what we want for our future. It is my ardent hope that we don't all need a trip to the ER to realize that hotness, and queerness, and the ability to change, are not the results of any one weekend. I don't know exactly what we might find if we throw away our expectations and embrace our potentially last pandemic Pride — but I hope we find out.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Maighdlin Mahoney (she/her) is a freelance writer with a background in theatre production, creation and performance. You can find her on Instagram at @maddymahoney.

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