Why #SpiritDay Is More Than A Hashtag

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Gay Pride Flag

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#SpiritDay is not just another Internet trend or another hashtag to gain likes. There are realities behind this social media pledge, realities that are hidden in the shadow of stigma.

According to GLAAD, #SpiritDay was “started in 2010 by high school student Brittany McMillan in response to numerous young LGBTQ lives lost to suicide.” This pledge urges people to take a stand against bullying and homophobia by participating through social platforms and showing solidarity with the LGBT+ community by wearing purple.

#SpiritDay has always been a reality in my life, my tru ever since I was old enough to recognize queer shame.

I identify as a lesbian, and so do my two moms. Growing up with lesbian parents was always a point of shame for me, ever since I first experienced it at only eight years old. One day when I was in the second grade, Mom couldn’t pick me up because she was stuck at work, so Momma had to come get me. A classmate of mine remarked, upon seeing my mom, “No, that’s not your mom. She’s not a fat lady.” That comment made me realize, for the first time, that my family was different and that, by extension, made me different.

The tricky thing about shame is that you can internalize it without even realizing. It’s a pretty liar, a stagnant comfort. All throughout elementary school, I had tried to keep the fact that I had two moms a secret. One of my biggest fears was that if I invited anyone over to my house, both of my moms would be home at the same time.Would our guest freak out if they saw the one, queen sized bed in the room across from mine? Would the dirty, pre-teen mind automatically conjure up the image of two women being intimate in that space?

Admittedly, that’s a dark thought, even for me.

My self-imposed responsibility to protect my moms from any homophobia I could control made me want to reject my own identity. When I was thirteen, I came out to my ex-best friend, Mary*. Her family was very conservative: her mother worked in the rectory of a nearby church, she helped out during services by setting up the altar for Communion every Sunday and giving out palms on Palm Sunday. Mary* helped out as a teacher’s aide for the religious education program held on the weekends and after school.  Needless to say, they were a very God-centered family, and very… straight. Mary had her fair share of boyfriends. I was always there to listen to her cry when one of her boyfriends dumped her by not responding to her AIM message. When we would talk about boys during sleepovers, I would always answer her barrage of “who do you like” questions the same way: “No one. Boys are stupid.” It was half-true, at least. Pre-teen boys are gross. I think we can all agree on that.

When I finally came out to Mary*, her mom was livid. She told Mary* that we couldn’t be friends anymore because I was “contagious” and me liking girls meant I liked Mary the way I was “supposed to feel” about boys. I couldn’t understand that logic, and I still don’t understand it. The person I am today would have pointed out the homophobic nature of Mary’s mom’s argument and explained why it wasn’t true, that she was relying on the “lesbians are all in love with their best friend” trope. But I was thirteen, struggling to come to terms with myself, and trying to protect my moms from the very rejection and mistreatment I experienced in that instance. I was so hurt I didn’t go to school for a week after that. When I did finally return to school, I would come home crying or I would fake being sick just so Mom could pick me up early.

Eighth-grade prom was fast approaching around the time I returned to school, and all the couples in my class were nauseatingly vocal about their plans: how they were going to coordinate dress and suit colors, if the guys were getting their girlfriends corsages and what poses they would do in photos. I saw this as my chance to be “normal” for once, to dress up and impress the boys like all the other girls. Me, into girls? No way, I was just a confused teenager who said something dumb. I had set my sights on my math partner, Matthew*, to be my prom date. He was smart and funny, and I thought he liked me because I tried to make the moves on him by touching his hand quasi-seductively once when he gave me a pencil.

I never actually asked Matthew* out to prom, I was too shy. He wasn’t officially my prom date, but in my mind, in this heterosexual fantasy world I made my reality, he was totally my date. I got my hair ‘did,’ got my makeup done for the very first time and even wore heels with my dress. That night, I had someone to look good for: the person I was supposed to have feelings for. I walked into prom with my friends, feeling confident and unstoppable.

And then it happened: I saw him across the lunchroom-turned-prom-venue with another girl from our class. My heart dropped to my stomach. I looked away, blinking away the tears that started to form in my eyes, threatening to mess up my picture-perfect face. One of my friends asked what was wrong and I said my allergies were acting up. No one questioned it and we went back to dancing to Flo-Rida and Paramore until prom ended.

When Mom picked me up from prom, she could tell something was wrong. I revealed what I had seen and she consoled me, saying it was normal for me to cry, that I had experienced my first heartbreak. But little did she know (or maybe she did know, moms always know for some magical reason) the reason for my tears went deeper than just seeing Matthew* kissing another girl.

I was convinced I had failed at heterosexuality. If a boy didn’t like me, then for sure it was never going to happen. Accepting myself as homosexual meant, by default, I was doomed to be bad at love. Of course, that isn’t true, but unfortunately, it’s the isolating, toxic message the media and society feed to individuals in the LGBTQIA+ community.

The normalization of queer shame and the rampant homophobia born from are is the exact reasons why social media movements such as #SpiritDay exist. Viral hashtags give marginalized voices not only a platform of healing, but also a platform to raise awareness of the experiences faced by insiders of a culture many might not be familiar with.

COLLEGECANDY Writer
COLLEGECANDY Writer
Can usually be found singing anything, anytime, anywhere. Constantly writing for College Candy, HerCampus Pace, and Medium. I have a low-key (read: obsession) with Ariana Grande, Demi Lovato, cats, leather jackets, and lipstick.
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