Showing Our Pride Through Storytelling and Action
by Abdi Nazemian
I’ve always described my novel Like a Love Story as a love letter as well as a love story. It’s a love letter to all the people who created a world in which I can live freely as a gay man, chief among them artists and activists. I wouldn’t have the freedoms I have now without these storytellers and fighters. As we head into our third month of quarantine, and as we begin a very new kind of Pride month, I find myself reflecting on the power of both storytelling and activism again.
In many ways, the imposed isolation we are experiencing due to COVID-19 brought me right back to my own adolescence, years in which I often felt deeply isolated. I was a queer immigrant kid. I moved to the United States when I was ten. Up until high school, I spent almost all of my time with other Iranian families. The culture I called home didn’t recognize queer people. We didn’t even have a word for homosexuality in the Persian language (well, not a word that wasn’t a slur). I had no exposure to the queer community outside of news stories about the AIDS epidemic, which only scared me deeper into the closet. How could I feel connection when I felt invisible?
Thankfully, in high school, a new world started to reveal itself to me. This started with an incredible teacher who shared queer films with a group of students. Because of this teacher, I saw Paris is Burning and The Times of Harvey Milk and Maurice. Watching these films made me feel one with a past that had been hidden from me thus far, and with a community I would soon be a part of. These films made me feel less isolated. So did the queer books I would discover through teachers, in particular those of James Baldwin.
Telling stories has been as important to my own self-acceptance as reading or watching them. In high school, I came out for the first time in an English paper. The teacher I came out to was a mentor, perhaps the first person to recognize that creativity was my path forward. He saw me as I longed to be seen, and because of that, I felt safe to come out to him. He taught me that above all, that is what teaching is: making students feel safe to explore their forming identities. So, I started high school being exposed to queer stories. And I ended it by starting to put my own queer story on paper.
After going through months of isolation, I feel more than ever that storytelling is a way for us to connect to our common humanity, to our collective rage, to our mutual love and joy. When we read a book, we are connected by an invisible thread to the book’s author and to every other reader who has been moved by that story. Same for films, music, television. Art connects humanity through a shared experience, and I hope we’ve been reminded of how essential art and storytelling are to our well-being. As long as we have stories, we have community.
But as powerful as storytelling can be, it must be translated into real action, and I’ve been reminded of that recently. As we head into Pride month, I’ve been reflecting more than ever on the fact that not everyone in the queer community shares the same freedoms and privileges. Like a Love Story depicts ACT UP protests organized in response to the government’s shameful actions during this time. These gatherings brought people together and created important change. Once again, we’re seeing brave people standing up to demand changes to our country’s shameful history of police brutality and systemic racism, issues which affect so many members of the queer community.
I wrote what I hope will be received as an ode to queer history and queer heroes. What better way to honor the heroes of the past than by supporting the heroes of the present. This Pride, we can do this by engaging with and amplifying the work of Black queer storytellers – James Baldwin, Audre Lorde, Cheryl Dunye, Janet Mock, Dean Atta, and Kacen Callender come to mind for me. And we can do this by taking action to support the Black Lives Matter movement – by donating, by writing our elected officials, by marching, by voting, by talking to our kids about how to be anti-racist.
I’ve heard some say that this year, Pride has been canceled. It has not. It never will be. Pride is community, and that can’t be canceled because it lives on forever in our stories and our actions. Stonewall was a riot, and this year, Pride has returned to the riotous spirit it was born of.
About the Author
Abdi Nazemian is the author of The Authentics. His novel, The Walk-In Closet, won the Lambda Literary Award for LGBT Debut Fiction. His screenwriting credits include the films The Artist's Wife, The Quiet, and Menendez: Blood Brothers, and the NBC television series The Village. He has been an executive producer and associate producer on numerous films, including Call Me By Your Name, Little Woods, The House of Tomorrow, and Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood. He lives in Los Angeles with his fiancé and two children.
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