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It Didn't Get Better, I Did 

Reflections during Pride month

Happy Pride month!

I am so excited to be living in a time when the LGBTQ+ community has experienced so much progress that we are able to have an entire month dedicated to celebrating our culture and raising awareness. As with any and all things that involve humans, it is not perfect. But I have personally decided to make the best effort I can to focus on the positive progress while never forgetting what it cost and how far we still have to go.

As with many holidays, this time of year can be difficult for members of the LGBTQ+ community. Even during a time of year dedicated to the celebration and education about their own community, LGBTQ+ people still experience oppression, aggression, fear and trauma. For some, even more than usual. This may be confusing for some of you and, if you are anywhere near a decent human being, probably saddening. But contrary to the popular saying "It gets better," sometimes it does not. For me, it got much worse.

I came out as a gay man in August of 2013, three months before my 30th birthday. This was after decades of being raised to believe that homosexuality was the "worst sin ever," as bad as murder or abuse. Needless to say, this caused quite a few difficult psychological conflicts.

You can imagine how liberated and elated I felt when I finally came to the conclusion that I was not the one with the "problem," that the individuals who used religion as an excuse to abuse and manipulate me were the monsters. I genuinely believed that it would almost immediately start getting better. And I had every reason to believe so. It absolutely does get better for many people. Coming out is the beginning of their authentic life, the discovery of the path to their truth and the knowledge of how to truly love themselves. That is better.

But a short six months after coming out as a gay man, I ended up in the hospital with meningitis, nearly on my deathbed. After four days, I was told by my doctor that my bloodwork revealed I was HIV positive. So began a long journey of health, self-discovery, pain, trauma and healing that felt like the end, but also the beginning.

I kept waiting for it to get better. I kept thinking that "after this," or "when I feel better physically" it will be better. I built my hopes up and saw them crashing down further and further every time. Instead of having a lifetime to learn, grow, accept my sexuality, accept my identity, explore my personality and sexuality, I was thrown into a storm of discovery, mental and physical health issues and psychological trauma surfacing from long ago, as well as adding new trauma because you haven't dealt with the original one.

This was not better.

But people kept telling me that it would get better. They had my best interests in mind. Just be patient. Just be strong. Don't give up. You're so strong. It gets better.

It has been five years. I have created a drag persona I love, helped build LGBTQ+ opportunities in my community, experienced new sexual abuse trauma in the midst of beginning to deal with my past sexual abuse trauma, had the foundation of my entire worldview crumble underneath me, came out as a transgender woman, became suicidal, survived becoming suicidal, became an advocate for my personal and mental health, discovered a wonderful support system and learned how to let go of people who are not good for me. There were many other experiences, too, that I do not have the space to describe here.

Still, I never felt like it was getting better. I felt it was getting much worse.

But this Pride month, as I reflect on these past five years, I realized something powerful. It didn't get better — I did.

It is a fact that my situation is difficult every single day. It has not improved. But I have dug my 6-inch heels and acrylic nails in deep and held on for dear life. At other times, it felt like climbing upward an inch at a time to a future I wasn't even sure existed. But I never stopped.

It still isn't easy. It never felt good and often still doesn't. I was confused, depressed, frustrated, angry, sad, happy, hopeless and full of vision. I don't have a feel-good Pride story. What I do have is the knowledge that I am better.

I have improved. I have learned. I have grown. I have changed. I like the person I am now. And that is powerful. I like the person I am now. Yes, of course, there are things I wish were different, better, easier. But that does not change the fact that the person who emerged is beautiful, strong, compassionate, fierce and basically an all-around badass.

Nothing and nobody can ever take that away from me. I don't have any control over "it" and whether or not it gets better. But I can do my best to ensure that the part I do have control over — myself — always improves in whatever way I decide is best. It is my right and privilege.

So this Pride month, I encourage you to remember: It may not always get better but that doesn't mean you won't.

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Aydan Ash Tillett

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