By Cory Wade

Cory Wade talks growing up queer, the importance of self-talk, and how to love yourself during dark times.

Are you kind to yourself? Are you happy? Are you proud? What does your self-talk sound like? Does it shift and range? Maybe it’s steady. For me, it’s changed a lot over the years. Since turning 30, I can say that I’ve now finally found my ability to maintain a positive inner dialogue on a fairly consistent basis. I believe this is an ability each and every one of us has, as different our pathways toward finding it may be. As is true for most queer kids, mine has certainly had its trials.

My favorite Disney Princess was Pocahontas. I always loved the line, “she goes wherever the wind takes her.” As a 10-year-old growing up in the suburbs of Delaware County, Pennsylvania, I stood ready to be swept up for the adventure of a lifetime. As I got older, I learned that the wind doesn’t always loft you to great and magical places. Sometimes, a wind tunnel forms unexpectedly to suck you down a stormy spiral. Fear not. You can still reap the rewards if you let the storm take you.

My parents were always supportive of my self-expression. My Mom helped me with my makeup when I decided I wanted to dress in drag for Halloween. My Dad drove around every mall in Delco, hunting for a “Barbie Dream House,” amid the stress of stores nearly selling out around the Christmas of 1999. It was not at home that I learned: “boys don’t play with Barbie.” I do, however, remember sitting in front of the TV, listening to the Barbie Dream House commercial. “It’s a great time to be a girl!” it said. I thought, “I want to have a great time too!”.

I first developed insecurities about my voice after the kids at school told me I sounded like someone having a “great time.” For a brief period during middle school, I stopped using my voice altogether unless required to speak in class. My peers equally scrutinized other characteristics; my walk, flamboyant body language, and interests were all under the gavel. I began to feel obliged to edit myself to make others feel more comfortable around me. To say it was trying for my mental health is an understatement. When I came out of the closet in high school, I lost a few “friends,” and some of my extended family cut me off. The isolation I experienced left me to engage in extremely dark self-talk.

I wasn’t in love with myself the way I ought to have been; the idea of self-love seemed like a pathetic and lonely lie I would have been telling myself constructed from the messages I was receiving about my queerness. I wasn’t able to find much genuine gratitude. Today I cringe over how ungrateful I was back then. My parents loved and accepted me in a way that so many queer kids around the world will sadly never get to experience. I took some of the most beautiful blessings in my life for granted while becoming all-consumed by the narrative that we, as queer people, must foster resentful relationships with ourselves. We learn quite the opposite of self-love: self-hate. This script plagues queer people’s mental health everywhere.

Later, I attended a musical theater conservatory where I was told I would need to “butch it up” if I ever wanted to succeed. I studied “how to come across as a straight man on stage” during the day while performing as my drag-queen alter-ego in gay clubs by night. The former experience made me feel small, insufficient, and unworthy, while the latter made me feel seen, respected, and loved. The drag scene became my first immersion into the sheer energy and power of pride. The fearless warriors I met in that vibrant community reminded me of my parents’ love growing up. The gratitude I felt was akin to a state of elevated consciousness that helped so much in preserving my mental health.

That is the energy I draw on every time I attend a pride festival. I tap into my pride when I need to remind myself that I am right and beautiful as I am. My pride is my super-power against my doubt, my survival. I leave you with a song I wrote, recorded, and produced entitled “Queer Kids” in the hopes that you might fortify your connection to your pride through it.

Image credit: Cory Wade