Pride is love, love is pride

After Nico died, I didn’t spend much time worrying about what I’d say at his memorial service. I was barely sleeping at night, my emotions were completely out of whack, and all of my energy was going into spreading the news, processing what had happened, and navigating the logistics of sudden death. But then, two days before the service, I woke up before dawn with a start, grabbed my laptop, and started to type in bed. I remember feeling as if the words were traveling directly from my unconscious mind onto the computer screen. Reading over the words on the screen, it became clear what I needed to share at the memorial: I would talk about the gift of his love.

And so, that Sunday, standing before 600 of Nico’s closest friends and family, that’s what I did. I spoke about how Nico’s capacity for love was boundless, and how it poured out of him into the world, reaching friends, family and lovers across cities, cultures and generations. I said that Nico was my guide through the unfamiliar terrain of love, showing me the path as our relationship grew stronger and deeper.

At the time, I didn’t think twice about the fact that I was speaking about love between two men, or that I was doing so in a temple in front of several rabbis. It didn’t seem relevant. It was only days later, after many folks let me know how my words had affected them, that I realized how powerful and beautiful it was that I was able to speak about our love so openly in a religious space. I was hit by a wave of gratitude for the queer activists before me who changed enough hearts and minds that I could speak my truth to a crowd of hundreds and receive only love in return.

Five months later, it was June, LGBTQ Pride Month in San Francisco, and I started thinking a lot about love again. As part of my work with Keshet, I was responsible for organizing a series of events and workshops celebrating LGBTQ relationships and raising up queer voices in the Jewish community. It was rewarding work, but it meant constantly exposing myself to material and contexts that reminded me of what I’d lost.

I was also reminded that Pride means different things to different people today. For many, it’s still a protest, a manifestation of queer anger and resistance against the forces in mainstream society that continue to abuse and reject those who don't conform to expectations around gender and sex. For others, it's the biggest party of the year, an opportunity to let loose and celebrate in jubilant unison with the entire LGBTQ community. For some, it’s a faded symbol that has been watered down into a corporate parade of produced diversity. And for still others, it's a mix of all of those, none of those, or something completely different.

For me, looking at Pride through the lens of Nico’s death, I see it as a testament to the endurance of love in all forms against the odds. It's a day that we raise up the women who love women, men who love men, and the bisexual, trans, and genderqueer folks who love each other and others, even when it isn’t easy or safe. We celebrate the deep loving friendships and partnerships that exist outside the realms of the romantic. We honor the love that powers so many queer families, celebrating parents of all gender permutations (like my own two moms) who are raising a new generation of queers and allies.

But loving is risky, as anyone who has survived the end of a relationship knows, no matter how or why it ended. Over the last months, many friends and family members sent me a link to this timely podcast, where Sheryl Sandberg discusses her beloved husband's sudden death and the impact it has had on her life and worldview. What struck me more than any other part of the conversation was her newfound insight into the potential of “post-traumatic growth.” She now believes that the inevitable personal tragedies of our lives, as torturous and painful as they are, also have the power to transform us into stronger, more resilient, more compassionate people.

I've already begun to feel the ways in which the experience of Nico's death is coursing through me, transforming the way I operate in the world and generating an entirely new spectrum of possibilities for the path ahead. With Nico, for the first time in my life, I had grasped on to a single person, dreaming about and planning for a decades-long journey through the world together. And then, in one heart-stopping moment, those dreams and plans were all ripped away from me. Immediately, I felt the temptation to push away, to hide, to run from all my other loving relationships. The pain I felt in those first moments was so all-consuming and terrifying that I was ready to do whatever it took to ensure I never had to feel that way again.

But even as I felt that temptation to pull away, I knew deep inside that it wasn't right. It didn’t feel like a good way to honor Nico, my partner who had let his love radiate out into the world so strongly without fear for the consequences. And so, instead, I doubled down on love. I leaned hard into the bonds of love connecting me to my family, Nico’s family, and my friends. It felt right. It felt like what Nico wanted. And it kept me alive, resilient, and grateful during the hardest days of my life.

It’s been nearly seven months since Nico died, but I still feel like I am only at the beginning of this period of post-traumatic growth. My mind is still grappling with the contours of my new reality, a Nico-less horizon that stretches out before me for a limited yet unknowable number of years. I can’t predict precisely how his death will continue to shape the way I chart my course through life. But one thing feels clear: I will love stronger than ever before, and I will do so with pride.