I was in my-mid twenties the last time the Brood X cicadas emerged.
The highly-anticipated — though now somewhat anticlimactic — return of the loud, unwieldy insects this year recently sent me down a rabbit hole of memories from 17 years ago.
In 2004, when the air was filled with the insects’ deafening calls, I was fresh out of graduate school and heading into a teaching position at the University of Louisville.
So many of my friends got married that year, I thought the sounds of the Chicken Dance and the Electric Slide might ring in my ears for all eternity.
That same year I took a flight to Tampa, Florida, and the images of the Twin Towers falling were still so fresh I was incredibly afraid — suspicious of any passenger who walked up the aisle to use the restroom.
It was also the year I decided to buy my first cellular telephone — a silver Samsung flip phone resembling a clamshell. I told no one but my mom for months, lest they should think I was available for chitchat at any hour of the day. Or worse, what if they wanted me to start sending text messages?
In June of 2004, I bought a small house to share with my two rescue dogs, Kenya and Moogle. By July, I picked up another stray, Lucy, from the parking lot of a Waffle House. She subsequently ripped apart three couches all before Christmas and only succumbed to old age just a few short weeks ago.
That year, nearly two decades ago, I was young enough and healthy enough I decided it would be the perfect year to ride my bicycle 500 miles in one week. With so many cicadas coming out of their shells to take flight, my timing to take up long-distance cycling couldn’t have been worse. A cicada in the face at 20 miles per hour isn’t exactly pleasant.
So many significant moments in my life are tied to that last emergence of those wild-eyed insects, but one stands out above them all.
Because it was also in 2004 that I came out to my friends and parents.
The decision to come out, to be fully honest, was 17 years in the making.
At just seven years old, I had already begun to realize I was different, and though this difference was just a singular part of my identity, I knew it was something that must stay hidden.
I was seven years old when I started worrying about going to hell.
“The queers,” as some people bitingly called us, were a popular sermon topic at our church, and I spent every Sunday morning and evening in the second row pew next to my mom, listening to the fire and brimstone fury that left me full of self-loathing and shame but empty of the love and grace of Jesus.
I was also seven the first time I experienced the swarms of Brood X cicadas. At my young age I confused them with the plague of locusts foretold in the book of Revelations, and I thought they signaled the end-of-days.
While too young to fully comprehend, I knew I was “one of those people,” and so when the cicadas came, I silently cried and prayed morning, noon and night that God would forgive me for being different and rapture me with all the other Christians before destroying the earth in a torrent of fire.
Again, I was just seven.
But the cicadas weren’t locusts, and soon enough they were gone, giving me a little reprieve to figure out how I could cure a “sickness” I didn’t yet understand.
In the late 1980s, as the AIDS epidemic left the gay community reeling, I would sometimes hear family members or friends quip that they wished “all the dykes and faggots” could be dropped on an island and then wiped out by AIDS, or maybe a tsunami, or perhaps even better, a bomb.
Just one big explosion of “flamers,” I heard someone say.
In my teens, when I began to realize my options were to either pretend to be straight my entire life or to be honest and come out, I thought dying would be better.
My town was incredibly small, and I felt alone in the shame of something I didn’t know how to change.
No matter how hard I prayed — no matter how many times I looked for answers in the Bible — this part of me didn’t go away.
So I did what so many LGBTQ+ youth do — I contemplated suicide, taking the sharp point of my compass from geometry class to a vein in my wrist.
Thankfully, I stopped myself and carefully bandaged the wound, always keeping it hidden beneath my sleeve. Now only a small scar remains — a lifelong reminder of how deeply engrained shame can be.
Unfortunately, many kids don’t stop themselves. LGBTQ youth commit suicide at a rate three times the national average for kids and teens. And those who come from families who reject them because of their sexual orientation are nearly ten times more likely to attempt suicide.
The decision to share this part of me with my parents and friends did not come quickly or easily. There was no scenario that would bring a Hollywood-esque ending.
I love and respect my parents immensely, but I knew that, for them, I was about to test the depth of a parent’s unconditional love. I was asking them to suspend a lifetime of deeply-held beliefs — to let me, their daughter, be the exception to the rule.
Every day, for months, in 2004, I looked at a magnet stuck to the side of my refrigerator that said, “It is better to be hated for what you are than to be loved for what you are not.”
I made that my mantra, saying it to myself over and over until it stuck. Until I summoned the courage to be fully honest about who I am — a decision that has created a longstanding, though largely unspoken, divide in some of my familial relationships and friendships.
But, for me, and much like those cicadas, there was no other choice than to loudly emerge from the shell in which I had laid quietly dormant for so long.
June is Pride month, and LGBTQ+ people celebrate this month not because we are particularly proud of our sexual orientation, but because we are not ashamed of it.
We have parades and festivals to celebrate that we have survived. We have survived being bullied and belittled by peers. We have survived being disowned. We have survived being denied housing and jobs. We have survived the physical beatings and sexual assaults at the hands of those who want to “teach (us) a lesson.”
We go to Pride events to openly and safely walk hand-in-hand with the person we love. We go to sing and to dance with other people who have also endured, and therefore understand, what we have lived.
Though the boldness and brightness of Pride may, to some, feel as annoying as those cicadas learning to fly, we mean you no harm.
We are simply coming out of our shells in order to survive.