It usually starts with sweaty palms. Then it moves to a lump in my throat, eyes darting back and forth, hands white-knuckle wringing by my sides. I’m a social person—or at least I thought I was—but something about the last two years has changed me. I can’t be in large group settings the way I used to. 

On a recent afternoon in Boston, I showed up to brunch with five other friends—a weekly ritual  that has been a part of my adult life for over a decade—and it was an entirely alien experience. Sitting in a restaurant and sharing airspace with dozens of unmasked strangers from who knows where and carrying who knows what pathogens was unsettling. I felt a wave of anxiety and paranoia wash over me. I was paralyzed. 

“You just don’t seem like yourself,” a friend said. 

“I’m fine,” I responded. 

I absolutely wasn’t fine, but as any dutiful homosexual would do, I was committed to getting through this brunch. Each time he asked if I was ok, the room got smaller and temperature jumped ten degrees. The thought of being surrounded by so many people became unbearable. All I wanted was to be back home, alone.

“If I struggle to get through a brunch with friends, how am I going to walk through crowded Pride celebrations with thousands of strangers?”

I wasn’t like this. When I lived in New York City, you couldn’t pay me to spend an evening at home alone in my apartment. But after working remotely and nesting at my parents’ house in the suburbs my perspective has changed. For the last two years, it seems like even the most social butterflies amongst us have rediscovered the joys of early bedtimes, baking banana bread, and passing long, lazy stretches of time from the comfort and security of home. Many of us were by and large able to watch the horrors of a pandemic unfold from behind the safety of a television screen. Now, as we re-enter the world and move back towards “normal life” we’re facing this new normal as changed people—and for me, that means navigating the social life I once knew with an unwelcome new friend, some low-grade agoraphobia. It’s worth mentioning that in New York I was a party reporter for five years for several high-profile fashion outlets. It was literally my job to walk into a room full of strangers and charm their socks off, so the irony of my newfound social anxiety is not lost on me.

This year, however, after two summers of canceled parades and downsized celebrations, Pride feels especially important. There’s something in the air about this moment, about where we are both politically and culturally, that it feels more urgent than ever to take to the streets and be unapologetically ourselves. 

“Life isn’t as simple as hitting a rewind button. We’ve changed along the way. We’ve lost parts of ourselves that we can’t get back, and picked up things we can’t get rid of.” 

Pride month is especially challenging for me this year. In the past, I would throw myself into the heart of Pride celebrations in New York, marching in the parade down Fifth Avenue and dancing on the Christopher Street pier shoulder-to-shoulder with strangers, heading to after parties in Brooklyn and dancing with new friends until sunrise. Back then, I found the sense of togetherness intoxicating, like there was no other else on the planet I belonged to more than exactly where I was, and there was no other person I wanted to be than exactly who I was. Pride was a tentpole celebration of the year, and summer wasn’t properly kicked off until you were sweating through your shirt waiting for a gin and tonic at Pieces with 100 of your closest gay friends.

This year, however, I’ve been watching June creep closer and closer on my calendar and dreading its arrival. If I struggle to get through a brunch with friends, how am I going to walk through crowded Pride celebrations with thousands of strangers?

We keep talking about picking up the pieces post-Covid and getting back to the way things were, but what about dealing with who we’ve become? Life isn’t as simple as hitting a rewind button. We’ve changed along the way. We’ve lost parts of ourselves that we can’t get back, and picked up things we can’t get rid of. 

I haven’t yet made up my mind about what my Pride will look like this year, but I’m hoping I’ll find the strength and determination to put this anxiety aside, even if only for a few hours, and get back to the crowded bars and busy block parties—because while Pride is a radical act of community and togetherness, an act of creating space in which we all have a stake, this year it’s also a radical act of returning to myself.