Ten years ago, I would have never imagined that on a Saturday morning in the middle of fall, I would find myself in my mother’s dress and heels helping put together a Gayla. That day was just as queer as the folx who stood by me and showed me what pride means. Why did I wear the dress? What is a Gayla? To answer those questions and to get to that monumental morning, I first need to share my experiences with the North County LGBT Center.
In 2020, at the end of my junior year of high school, I came to the startling realization that the reason why I didn’t find my 12 years at Catholic school wholly holy was because I was in fact, homosexual. It took a while to parse out why it took me so long to realize that, who I should tell, and what it meant for my identities and upbringing. When I came out to my Mom, who I must preface as being as close to Sainthood as you can get while still having a sense of humor, she didn’t know how exactly to respond. She brought me to meet Jeri at the North County LGBT Center. Jeri has become my rock, and I her rockstar. Jeri and the rest of the wonderful angels at this Center, started me on the path of the Gay Agenda that has become my sense of self. I never knew an organization so foreign to me at the time, yet so close in proximity could be my newfound safe place. I’ve worked as a volunteer for the center ever since and have loved working alongside queer folx and my found family. When the Center asked me to help out with their annual gala, I was elated.
The theme was “Our Mission & All that Jazz” (us gays and our puns), and I was excited to join in the spectacle. But there was one problem: I had no jazz clothes and neither did my dad or brother. So in a moment of a genderqueer brain blast I nicked some clothes from my mom’s closet and set out to help with the event in any way I could. I brought along my fabulous friend, and Roger Revelle College sophomore, Mack Caldwell. Together, we set out to strut and pose, to sashay and shanty, to slay and boots throughout this event. In their words, “it was the gayest thing I’ve ever experienced, and I’m a nonbinary lesbian from New Jersey.”
Just before the event got started, as we were both putting on our makeup for show time, I noticed someone with a familiar face in complete white makeup in the corner. I asked, “is that Logan?” and it turns out it was. Logan is one of the facilitators I work with in the Queer youth group. I came to realize that he was dressing as a nun as part of his habit of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. This group was completely foreign to me and their body of work in San Diego merits a deep dive on its own. I was astounded and proud of my good friend in learning a new aspect of their community service and gender expression. The night was filled with moments like this — of sharing queer joy and comradery in a space of free expression and support for an amazing cause.
For instance, in a rapid dash over the span of one minute, the emcee challenged the audience to see how much money they could donate from their wallets. In just as long as it takes for me to realize the punchline of a joke, we had raised $1000 for the Center. In moments like these, where I ran frantically to collect bills, dresses flying in the wind, heels crushed into the concrete, I am reminded of how much love our community has for each other. This night was also shared with important members of our community. Mike Levin, representative for the 49th congressional district that spans from Northern San Diego to Orange County, was in attendance, along with his group of young, largely queer volunteers. Seeing political support from both Levin and the vigor of those that supported him gave me hope that this agenda I’ve dedicated my volunteerism to has support even in a country and world that often tries to undermine and leverage our identities. My mom and brother also joined the event and were simultaneously happy for how joyful I was and curious as to why I stole my mom’s dress and how my heels weren’t killing me. My brother, Brandon Wieboldt, a Sixth College freshman, was happy to help out at the Center and demonstrated how easy it is to show respect and support to our community as an ally to it.
Over the course of my experience with the Center, I have come to understand the importance of celebrating queer joy and of working within the community outward. I have learned that pride is not just a Hot Topic slogan, but a sense of belonging; to be queer in a space of queers means you are all the odd ones out, and there is no greater sense of belonging than with a community that will be there for you in the good times and the bad.
Image courtesy of North County LGBTQ Resource Center