Why I Came Back

Jul 19, 2019

Asher Head Shot

This was written when I awoke Sunday am, and felt my heart overjoyed with love, affirmation and acceptance from my hometown. Nearly a week later, all of that sentiment remains. Instead of diminishing as I have settled back into my normal routine, I find that is has continued to grow and spread. If Pride is something you have yet to experience; just know there’s room for all of us to celebrate and love ourselves for all that makes us who we are. 

Yesterday was my first experience at
Hagerstown Pride. An active and outspoken queer person since long before I had
a grasp of myself, I have had the pleasure and joy to visit and participate
with Pride celebrations up and down the East Coast over the years. However, my
hometown had long been abandoned by me as a lost cause. Almost a year ago, I
embarked on a journey to change not only where my roots are, but also my own
perceptions of the area I grew up in. An area that I had long associated with
the cause of a lot of my painful memories and hurt, and an area that many of
those in my generation have long abandoned and only refer to with disdain in
their words. I have had many humbling moments in the past eleven months, all
which have shown me not only how wrong I was originally, but how right I was to
come back.

While humbling to realise how inaccurate my
long-held beliefs have been, what has hit me at my core almost monthly, each
with more reverberation throughout my soul than the last; what has been my favourite
moments this year are the times I have caught myself simply overwhelmed with
actual pride. Pride with my hometown when over thirty people came out in the
blistering cold in November for TDOR. A sobering proclamation and the
candlelight reading of the people we have lost to hatred that while I felt pain
as a transguy reading each name of a light no longer shining, a sense of
security as I was not alone reading these names. I had a family, a group of
people around me who are just as dedicated to shrinking that list to zero as I
am. When we put on the first ever queer prom at the end of April, and fifty
young people showed up and had a blast. Seeing a bit of the youth I struggle
with feeling I lost out on able to dress to their own affirmation and selves
and dance and laugh the night away reminded me that I did not lose out on my
youth. My youth is in the joy on each of their faces. It lives inside of me
now, as I laugh and enjoy living life as I never thought I would be able to
actualise outside of the inside of my mind.

And yesterday I watched a lot I have visited a multitude of times transform. The parking lot where my parents would drop me and my brother off for dance class when we were younger. The lot where I would wander through in my teenage years, lost both within myself and with a sense of purpose or direction. The lot that hosts so many events and branches so many parts of our city together. This lot went from being bare to being filled with thousands of people within a mere blinking of hours. I blinked and there was a wall of posters, each with the name and image of a trailblazer, an activist that trailblazed a path so that we could all enjoy a stroll with the smell of local food and the laughter of the next generation as an ambiance. I saw a stage raised up from the pavement and host Kings and Queens, a celebration of glitter and heels and radiating joy far beyond the city blocks where we all gathered. There was a moment after the opening proclamation, the crowds were not quite at their peak yet that I found myself overwhelmed. I stood to the left of the stage and I saw my hometown celebrating something I had buried within myself to the point that it was killing me. There were familiar queer faces, acquaintances and friends I have yet to meet yet. Families, both with kids and parents who were draped in various Pride flags and outfits. Families just out to support their friends and the greater community. Our own area trailblazers, carrying memories and scars I could not comprehend because I grew up after the worst of the AIDS epidemic. People who have buried so many before they should have intermingling with a generation that is able to grow up with knowledge and resources and support that their seniors could not have imagined as they fought tooth and nail. At one point, I was wiping tears from my face because I felt so incredibly whole that my joy was literally streaming down my cheeks.

I came back because I felt I was needed. I came back because I was unbelievably ignorant of the good souls and work already being laid down by a group of people who represent something so much bigger than themselves, and yesterday I finally got to see the fruition of everything. I have never been happier to admit I was wrong. I was not needed to make our community better, I needed to see the anchors of that change. I needed to become part of that change for the sixteen-year-old kid who cried every night so that those kids I saw revelling yesterday do not. I needed to come back because so many gave their lives along the way for yesterday to happen. For me to smile today, and tomorrow. For me to have the ability to look in the mirror and watch my beard slowly grow in. To be able to see friends and notice that their voices are changing, just like mine did. To tell a friend how amazing they look in a dress that they used to just wishfully think of as they daydreamed. To walk a bottle of water to someone who spent their day in prejudice and hate, and genuinely wish them the same goodwill I do for all of you. Because if there is an impact to be made, it is by living authentically and honestly. It is by celebrating publicly and remembering and mourning in the exact same way. Hagerstown has always been my hometown. My roots are there, my childhood is there; and now I can say my future is as well. For myself, for my wife, for everyone I saw yesterday and everyone who wanted to revel but has not found their way out of the darkness yet. The darkness is temporary. Our joy is what is enduring and lasting, and I came back to find that. And I did, I found more joy in the last nine months than I thought I could feel. Happy tears are my favourite thing to cy and yesterday there was a waterfall of them.

Asher Kennedy

Hagerstown Hopes Board Member/
Trans Group Co-Chair

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