Pride by Claire McCulley

Editor Carrie Ivy, Editor's Choice, November 15th, 2017

"you took the word 'lesbian' off the shelf and put it on."

Claire McCulley Essay Nailed Magazine


A personal essay by Claire McCulley.

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prīd/ noun
the best state or condition of something;
the consciousness of one’s own dignity

[the alley opens into a clench of rainbow. your heart beats bravely on your sleeve, your palm sweating lightly in the late-june heat, skin to skin with hers]

when you were sixteen, you made a pact with yourself. you sat in your room and made a list of the boys you would love, and you told yourself you would not break this vow. you would play grave-digger to the rest of it. it, being the girls. the girls, the girls, god, their hands and their eyes and their backs and their hips, their ambulating laughter and your quivering, honest pulse. you would throw dirt over all that and forget about it. and there would never be a later. that list of names felt like a paper prison. it settled over you like a cage while you folded it and put it in a drawer and moved through the world with a certain kind of sorrow. you ate at yourself like cancer.

[you have never heard such a noise in all your life. it swims through your bones. people are yelling and yelling and they are free and you are yelling too. your throat opens like a door. there is no more hiding here. no white X across your body, marking you condemned] 

when you were seventeen, you fell in love with a girl. when you were seventeen, you turned yourself inside out with confusion. with fear. you knew who you were and you were afraid of it. you opened your journal and wrote: tuesday, 5pm, i will stop loving her, i will take her paintings off the walls and box her up, i will teach myself to love differently, i will make this end. you opened your journal and said: friday, 6am, i woke up loving her but i will not go to sleep that way, i will unlearn my feelings, i will stop, i will be strong enough to make it stop. but you failed, sweet baby. you failed.

[there are people who should be here but aren’t. forty-nine bricks stand missing from their wall. the plaster crumbles whitely around that vacant space, aching to hold what is gone. there are people whose bodies were ravaged and torn, whose love was shot out of the sky. the crowd is quieter without them. you feel the loss, in your teeth, in your blood. you hold her hand and take in air that doesn’t belong to them anymore, and you stand, glad to be alive. glad to suffer in the beauty of the second chance. glad to tumble up into this messy world for another day, another hour, another touch, another gasp. glad to hurt with your eyes open]

when you were eighteen, you told a girl you loved her. quietly, hesitantly, but with all your heart. when you were eighteen, you began the task of learning how to love someone with no instruction manual. no one prepared you for this. you brought flowers and dedication and dreamed of kissing her until neither of you were human anymore, until you grew wings and left earth together. you promised you would do a good job. you got off the bus and ran through the park and found her and held her until the sting of the word fag left her ears. you learned how to be a woman in the loving of another woman.

[but this is not a day of grief or shadow. this is a day of celebration. you are drowning in light, euphoric. you cut off the hands of those who have tried to fuck you over, murder you in their hatred. you let your flags fly free. you kiss her without a stitch of terror, and you remember a time when that was unfathomable]

when you were nineteen, you kissed a girl on your bed, clumsily, finding your way toward each other like two uncertain magnets. you didn’t know what you were doing and wished you did. you waved goodbye to her through your window when she left later, and fiddled with the buttons on your flannel, because that’s what gay girls wore, didn’t they? except you weren’t gay. gay and lesbian were perfectly fine words when not applied to you. you preferred not to be labeled. you lay awake in the dark and said lesbian and shivered with recognition, then shoved it away from yourself. you were a magician, a sorcerer. i am a lesbian, you thought. now watch me disappear.

[there is a couple here who has been together since 1976, two women illuminated, who must have loved each other through riots and rallies and heartache and reconstruction and progress, who must have held each other tight as the world changed shape beneath their feet. you imagine loving someone that hard and that long. you imagine the i do of it all, the vow that existed beyond the united states constitution. the love that could not wait for congress to pass a law. you are humbled to exist in the same world as them. to see them, and say: i am one of you]

when you were almost twenty, you took the word lesbian off the shelf and put it on. and it felt so good. and you cried and twirled and watched yourself in the mirror, a white flag at last. when you were almost twenty you stood on a stage in a flannel shirt, because that’s what gay girls wore, and spoke about yourself without shame. when you were almost twenty, you wrote poems about women and regretted none of them. you met a woman who shook you like a storm the color of rubies. you grew yourself inside your own womb. and it hurt. like god must have hurt when she spun the earth out of thin air.

[when you are twenty, fifty city blocks turn prismic, technicolor bright. they call you home. and you go there. you go with a woman who loves you so ineffably that you don’t remember how to feel undeserving anymore. you go with a woman who looks like the future. you breathe deeply and there is no catch in your throat. no lingering torment. just love and noise and color and light. flags and movement. dancing. breathing. arrival. and her her her her her her her]

you crawled out of the graveyard for this.

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Header image courtesy of Sadie Lee. To view her Artist Feature, go here.

Claire McCulley Essay Nailed MagazineClaire McCulley is a 20-year-old feminist, lesbian, and art girl. She creates pieces about love and pain and soul and pride. You can usually find her in the basement of her university performing arts center, playing piano.This is her first time writing for NAILED.


Carrie Ivy

Carrie Ivy (formerly Carrie Seitzinger) is Editor-in-Cheif and Co-Publisher of NAILED. She is the author of the book, Fall Ill Medicine, which was named a 2013 Finalist for the Oregon Book Award. Ivy is also Co-Publisher of Small Doggies Press.