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Three months after Donald Trump was elected president, I found myself on a makeshift stage in an abandoned, gutted, former CVS in West L.A. I was about to do something I had never done before: share my coming out story in front of 100 people.
They had come to hear a true-life monologue I had prepared about growing up in a small town in Upstate New York, attending Evangelical churches, and then choosing to attend a Christian college. That period in my life was traumatic and depressing, but ultimately it gave me the tools I needed to come to terms with myself, to come out to my friends and family and to reimagine God.
As I prepared for that performance, I doubted the value of my story. I wondered who would care. “This is such a specific story,” I told myself. “Very few people can identify with it. And you’re in Los Angeles — no one here wants to hear this story.”
What I didn’t account for was all the people who told me afterward they needed to hear it. Gay men of all ages, but also middle-aged women, 70-year-old Catholic grandmas who argued about theology afterward, straight couples with missionary parents, a sister wondering if her little brother is gay, a young Muslim woman who found meaning in it for herself.
That truth — that people needed to hear my story as much as I needed to tell it — hadn’t crossed my self-conscious, worried mind. And it’s a truth that has been kept from many LGBTQ people in order to prevent us from telling our stories.
If our stories go untold, they go unheard, we go unknown and the world is denied the privilege of being transformed by our powerful examples of resilience, beauty, love and freedom.
I recently read an essay Oscar Wilde completed a few years before his trial and conviction for sodomy and gross indecency. From the year 1891, Wilde said to me, “‘Know thyself’ was written over the portal of the antique world. Over the portal of the new world, ‘Be thyself’ shall be written.”
Elsewhere in Wilde’s essay another statement struck me: “Disobedience, in the eyes of anyone who has read history, is man’s original virtue. It is through disobedience that progress is made, through disobedience and through rebellion.”
I couldn’t help but immediately draw a connection between those two statements, and to the realities of queer people.
We have had to do a lot of hard work, some more than others, to know and be ourselves. The entire world is constructed to tell us that the true selves we sense inside are false, and that if we express that true self — if we allow it to come into being — we will pay the price.
And so when we take that step, when we turn the knowing into being, we disobey. We rebel. In so doing we make progress for all human beings by acknowledging all that we are.
And all that we are is a story. So we must tell it.
We must share our stories first and foremost for ourselves, for our own freedom. Then we must share our stories for the freedom of others. We must share our stories for those who cannot yet speak and share their own story. We must share our stories for those who don’t yet know they need to hear them, and for those we think won’t listen. We must share our stories for those who are afraid of us or who wish we didn’t exist — because sometimes they’re the ones who need to hear and see our stories most.
We must share our stories no matter the cost, because the cost of not telling them is greater.
We’re lucky to live in a time when, relative to our history, there’s more empathy for and interest in our stories. Increased visibility and advancing technology also make sharing our full selves with others easier than it once was. Moonlight won an Academy Award, Pose has instantly taken its rightful place in history, Tyler Oakley became a household name through candid YouTube videos and millions of us openly share our relationships on Instagram.
But today has not left us without challenges to confront. Laws like FOSTA and SESTA threaten to make the internet an increasingly censored place, disproportionately affecting queer people. Violence against trans people rises year after year. Hateful regimes around the world guarantee oppression in all its forms will not die easy.
We will need to continue to fight to make our existence known and respected, and one of the best ways to do that is with an army of stories, both written and visual.
That’s what the #HornetTrueColors campaign is all about. The colorization of decades-old photographs in the video above brings our history to vivid life in much the same way that sharing our stories with the world connects us to those who came before — those who, knowing themselves, being themselves and sharing their stories, set the stage for breakthroughs we enjoy today.
So we at Hornet invite you to disobey. To rebel. And to add the color only you can to the LGBTQ community’s army of stories.