Kim Riggins: A person to be proud of

I will share a little-known fact about myself because sharing is fun. I love country music. Well, let me clarify, I love old country music. Not this new country/pop/rap hybrid nonsense that people call country. I mean actual country music. Loretta Lynn, Conway Twitty, Johnny Cash…that sort of country.

Dolly Parton is one of my favorites and my favorite Dolly song is “Jolene.” Granted, the lyrics seem a little far-fetched. “Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, I’m begging of you please don’t take my man” is not the conversation I would be having with Jolene. “Jolene, it certainly seems like you deserve each other so take him, because after today he’s definitely going to need a new place to sleep,” seems like the more likely scenario. Or maybe, “Jolene, you can try.”

I shared this thought with my friend and, totally mistaking my meaning she said, “Okay, fine. Change ‘Jolene’ to ‘Joe’ and beg him not to take your woman.” We laughed, but I couldn’t help feeling just a little sad. In that moment I felt defined by my sexuality. It dawned on me then that many people I know referred to me as their “lesbian friend.” That was the image I portrayed. I was “out and proud.” I was not afraid and they were not afraid to call me their friend. There was a time when I was younger and fresh out of the closet that my chest would have swelled a little with pride, but all I could think was that there was so much more to me than that. “Lesbian” was my descriptor but not who I was.

When we talk about “Pride,” we are talking about the struggle of our community against hate, bigotry and injustice. We are talking about the fact that we no longer have to be afraid or ashamed of who we are. What would that look like if we weren’t just proud to be gay, but proud to be who we are.

What if, when people ask, “Why don’t we have straight pride?” the answer was, “Well, why don’t you?” Pride isn’t about being proud to be gay. I was born that way. There is no room to take pride in something like that. I just am. I didn’t accomplish some task that bestowed the blessings of gayness on me. So, in that sense I am not “proud” to be gay.

However, I am proud that I am no longer as afraid of what people may think or say about me. I am proud that in place of a bigoted, judgmental heart there now beats a kinder, more compassionate one. Those are results of a very real struggle directly related to my sexuality but have little to actually do with it. I am proud of the person that I am now because of those struggles.

So, the question is, what are we proud of? If I am proud to be me, what exactly does that mean? Is it just that I’m proud to be gay? That isn’t enough. Not for me. I want to be more. When I die, will they say, “She was gay,” and stop? I hope not, though after considering that for a bit, it’s kind of funny. What if they really did say that? Anyways, there must be more and so I have to ask myself, “What am I proud of?” and not only that but “What am I not proud of?” Then begins the arduous struggle of cutting away all the things I am not proud of like fear, anger, hate and selfishness to make room for a better me. A me I can be proud of.