After a moment's hesitation, I shaved my head, painted myself blue and ran outside to parade in my underwear.
I'm not gay. Why was marching in the Pride parade so important to me?
I recall one of my early conversations with a gay friend. "To me, wearing suspenders is kind of like being gay. I COULD change the way I dress or act at work and pretend to be someone else. But I shouldn't have to. I should be accepted for who I am." "That's so funny because I've always thought of being gay as the same as wearing suspenders!" And we laughed.
I would wear suspenders year around even with scrubs. I often dressed very expressively even when it wasn't a suspenders and scrubs combo. Oddly, it seemed to offend the occasional co-worker and I never understood why. I shrugged it off. Haters gonna hate.
In the ICU, a new female Indian attending was taking over. She burst into our team room the Friday night before her term. She immediately singled me out. "You. You're the one who walks around with headphones and suspenders." "Oh, so you've heard about me!" "You can't do that any more!" "What do you mean? I can't wear suspenders?" "Nope." "Well, what if I wear them under my shirt?" "No." "Ok..."
Without reason, I had been chastised and discriminated against. The absurdity of the request was overt. She hadn't just spoken out against my suspenders. That fact was somewhat neglible. In my mind, she had spoken out against my personality. My character. This attitude was pervasive throughout the system in which I worked. Frankly, it was something of a feat for me to have made it this far given that I appeared to grate against many of the existing mores on a regular basis. The medical system thrived in obsolences, and the idea that my blue flame suspenders (which matched perfectly with the scrubs, mind you) constituted a lapse in professionalism was just another drop in the bucket for someone like me. Patients loved a doctor with personality, in my experience. And I performed at a higher level when I could be myself.
If I couldn't wear suspenders with scrubs, I would stop wearing scrubs. I spent the remainder of my rotation wearing formal attire: dress pants, ties, dinner jacket and, of course, suspenders. No one would stop me from being myself. She was well aware of what I was doing, but of course, she couldn't say anything about my suspenders now. I was dressing more formally than she was.
That rotation ended and months past. When I returned again later, yet another attending attempted to banish my individuality. My response was the same -- but even more aggressive. I started wearing the some of the loudest outfits I owned. At one point, I entered a code and witnessed a patient dying while I stood bedside wearing a bright pink shirt with red heart suspenders. Even I thought I looked ridiculous. But no one ever accused me of looking unprofessional at this point. During my feedback session with this attending, I donned my custom two-toned black and white shirt and sat across from him. He addressed the issue of my attire but only my suspenders with scrubs were suspect to him. How absurd! He also brought up the fact that my 3:05 marathon was impressive but asked why I felt the need to stand out by dressing as a baby. It wasn't worth the effort of explaining myself to such a man. He couldn't understand the need for an artist to express themselves. Nor would he understand that my performance was optimized by expressing my individuality. I was only able to run that fast (only even CONSIDERED running that fast) because I felt the goal of breaking the world record was worthy of my person. Furthermore, far fewer people held world records of running than ran 3:05 marathons. So really, I was achieving a higher goal anyways. Sadly, this was beyond the scope of many in my line of work.
With my individuality chronically bombarded, I finally understood the real value of Pride to someone like me. I realized why I marched. It had nothing to do with sexual orientation. To me, Pride was about individuality shining against a system which condemned non-conformity. It was about being proud of who you were no matter who that happened to be and expressing that for everyone to see. After all, being gay isn't so different from wearing suspenders in some ways. And that's why I march.