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On this final day of Pride Month, I wanted to take a moment to discuss the significance of Pride in my life and share aspects of my personal queer journey.

During my teenage years, I came out as bisexual to my parents in tenth grade. Fortunately, neither of them disowned me, although my mother did dismiss it as "just a phase." In contrast, my father offered his unwavering support, assuring me that it didn't matter whom I loved or desired to be with—he would always love and stand by me.

Fast forward seven years, and I found myself in a heteronormative, monogamous marriage. While my understanding of my own sexuality remained unchanged, I discovered a reluctance toward monogamy. This presented a challenge, as my husband struggle to let go of the toxic notions of monogamy and masculinity instilled in him during his upbringing. Unfortunately, among other factors, these challenges led to our divorce.

Following two subsequent failed relationships and nine years of personal growth, I was transformed into a person barely recognizable from the child who stood before her parents, petrified to reveal her attraction to both boys and girls. In 2020, I embraced the practice of solo polyamory, opting to forgo nesting partners for the time being, and embarked on a profound exploration of self-identity. I've come to realize that I don't adhere to conventional beliefs about sex and gender. Instead, I find myself situated somewhere on the spectrum. Some days, I feel and express myself as more feminine or masculine, while at other times, I simply identify as a genderless individual. I am still polyamorous, though I find myself more attracted to relationships based on a platonic and romantic connection over intimacy and sex.

Today, I am proud of who I have become, and I no longer conceal my identity from anyone. Instead of "coming out," I simply exist authentically. I acknowledge my privilege in being able to do so, thanks to working in a field that is generally more liberal-minded, where people tend not to pass judgment. I intentionally surround myself with individuals who embody the belief that "love is love" and have never made me feel guilty or ashamed for being myself. Although I reside in a state that persistently attempts to deny and even criminalize my existence, I hold my head high, hoping that young people who observe me will see an adult who walks with pride and fearlessness—an individual who will advocate for them, accept them, and love them unconditionally.

Pride has been an incredible source of strength for me throughout my lifelong journey. I was fortunate enough to attend the Pride event in Knoxville back in 2019, just before COVID brought everything to a halt. The atmosphere was simply amazing. Every person I encountered was incredibly kind and welcoming. Although there were protestors present, and some even had the audacity to confront individuals directly, nobody let them dampen the spirit of the celebration. Those who attended Pride to embrace their queer identities, to revel in a space that accepted them for who they are beyond societal norms, radiated with positivity, enthusiasm, kindness, wonder, and pure joy.

And the same can be said of the Blount County Pride event that I attended in 2022. We were positioned right across from a church that was conducting its own protest in response to the Pride event. While they sang songs, prayed, and preached, we celebrated, sang, danced, and came together as a community. It was truly an amazing and unforgettable experience.

While today may be the last day of Pride, it does not mean the end of queerness. We are still here. We are still loud. And we are still proud.

As always, stay spicy.

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