Catherine Kleindienst

Flags

There's no flag for indecisiveness. There are no colors for "I don't know." Just curious glances begging for an answer and headshakes later, when you think you say you're one thing before realizing you're not. Unspoken judgment, when the scales are tipped. When girls were all you wanted one moment, and boys aren't so bad the next.

There was an alligator in a cage at my first pride parade. That sounds weird, but I used to live in Florida, so what can you expect? I remember peering into the cage, watching this baby alligator and realizing that this trapped creature knew more about himself than I knew about me.

People in the streets were smiling, laughing, rainbows of color displayed over their chests, matching flags carried and waved in their hands. But when I found where those flags were sold, where I could finally find my own, I felt nothing but the panic of indecision. No pride. Not happiness. A smile crossed my face, but a worried one, at best.

The people around me were happy and I knew I should be happy, too. I know people had to fight and are still fighting to give us the right to march around the streets, to wave our own flags proudly in the air.

But I don't even know what I am, so what am I allowed to be happy about? How can I celebrate something when I don't know what that something is?

I remember looking at the people marching beside me and the people cheering us all on from the sidewalks, and it hit me that I was standing in a road full of happy people, but I didn't know how to be one of them. When would it be my turn? There were flags everywhere, and I knew the meaning of them all, knowledge gained from countless hours of staring at a computer screen, taking online quizzes in hope that some random assembly of answers might know more about myself than I did.

Each answer felt more wrong than right, for some reason. And each time I claimed one title for myself, thought one finally felt right, the feeling would never last.

Two more pride parades have followed since the first. I tell myself I would have gone to more, if I had a flag. I would have gone to more, if I wasn't so afraid of those judgmental stares. Because for each parade, there's been a feel that I can't truly be myself. I haven't yet found what being myself means. I don't know what shades of the rainbow I am, what color flags I should own. I might own all the flags before finally finding the one that suits me. And maybe, that's okay. Maybe it takes time. Maybe it'll be my turn, one day.

Sometimes, I think back to that little alligator in his cage. I wonder how he's grown. Most of all, I hope he wasn't afraid, that day, of all the screaming people and happy faces. We both lived in cages, I guess. I hope he found a way out of his, too.

ABOUT THE WRITER

Catherine Kleindienst has an ever-expanding library, a dog who might be a demon in disguise, and an unhealthy obsession with black clothing. You can find her other work online at HerStry, Vamp Cat Magazine, and upcoming at MookyChick. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram @CDKleind.