As an LGBTQ+ author, I haven’t had a lot of opportunities to attend fairs or large-scale events until today. I was invited by Leopard Print Books as a local LGBTQ+ author to sell and sign copies of my poem collections at Great Lakes Bay Pride in Bay City, MI. The sticky, 90 degree heat did not deter anyone from getting out and taking in the scene. Wenona Park, nestled cutely next to the Saginaw River, welled with music, vendors, vibrant colors, and self-expression celebrated.
Overall, the past two years have been incredibly surreal for me as an LGBTQ+ author. During the height of the pandemic, when Carbon Footprint (2020) was released, I did not anticipate the level of response to my work I’ve had. While I never aimed for this, I had the honor of being nominated twice for the Pushcart Prize and once for Best of the Net. Having been celebrated by the humanities learning center at the college where I teach, I just received the Humanities Scholar Award for my creative work. Despite these successes, I always circulate back the question of: how do I deserve anything? Throughout my life, I’ve always struggled to take pride in success because it always felt so far away. In fact, in many ways, I still feel that I’m experiencing some sort of fever dream. Thankfully, paying heed to my mental health and attending regular therapy sessions has allowed me to unpack that deep rooted childhood trauma which conditions me to always tell myself: “Donny, you’re invisible, don’t deserve anything, and don’t belong.”
After attending Great Lakes Bay Pride today and being able to see each individual celebrating, I was reinvigorated by a synergy. I was reminded that I’m not invisible, that I’m deserving, and that I do belong. I was reminded that the reason why I wrote Carbon Footprint (2020) and Feats of Alchemy (2021) was to illustrate the various challenges LGBTQ+ people face prior and post coming out. We spend much of our lives unlearning erasure, self-deprecation, and minimization. Poetry became my vehicle for mapping out this trauma and plotting coordinates toward a sense of recovery.
One of the many highlights of Great Lakes Bay Pride for me was meeting current and reuniting with former students – talented LGBTQ+ individuals and allies reconnecting with their writing. The most wholesome moment for me happened when one of my former students, clutching a copy of a poem collection said: “You’re the reason I pursued a degree in creative writing.” As a writer and a teacher, knowing that I can infuse my passion for this artform in another person makes all the vulnerability, discouragement, and uncertainty along this journey worthwhile. If anything, it was an educational moment for me; it served as a reminder that we’re all representation for one another. Our actions and words linger in ways we often don’t imagine. Sometimes, my students teach me with the same excitement I strive to enter my classroom with and it’s a full-circle moment I’ve never quite grasped until now.
When people ask, “why is Pride important?”, I believe it’s more than us celebrating who we are or the histories of our communities. Both of those are crucial, but I also believe that it’s a celebration of the belonging we’ve all worked toward creating. It’s a celebration of the connection we strive for despite all the forces that still continue to work against us. Pride is more than flags, buttons, bandanas, and commercialism. It’s a grove, and we’re the seedings springing beneath weather-hardened trees, connected by the root systems, mycelium, and the sustaining air we share. The darkness we see doesn’t compare to how solar we are in the way we celebrate our belonging.