Ahead of NYC's Pride celebrations this weekend, we are celebrating the people, parties, and places that make up the LGBTQ community.

Meet Jordan Volness, a 25-year-old trans woman living and working in New York City. She began her transition five months ago, and is documenting the process on her Instagram and YouTube with humor and raw honesty. We asked her to share what Pride has meant to her in the past, and why this weekend's Pride celebrations--her first as an out trans woman--is so important.

I came out as a gay man to my friends and classmates at the young age of 14, and to my family at 16. I didn't realize it at the time, but growing up in conservative Fargo, North Dakota with no real tangible access to any gay community besides the "token gay guy" in my school, and no real mainstream representation other than Will & Grace, I had a lot of internalized homophobia and self-hatred.

I vowed to never go to gay bars because I thought they were tacky. I thought gay pride parades were a disgrace to our community because it flaunted overt sexuality. All around me people threw around the word "faggot" and "gay" in a derogatory manner. I grew up thinking that "queer" equaled "less than."

I was never really bullied in school--at least not to my face. I think that's largely due to how hard I tried to blend in and normalize my sexuality. I was so afraid of my queerness being noticed, and so ashamed of my femininity. I so desperately wanted to be invisible that through most of middle school my wardrobe consisted of five identical Champion sweatshirts and a pair of jeans. I wore this outfit every single day no matter the season. It helped me feel safe and comfortable. If I did not express myself then no one could make fun of me for it. No one could tell me I dressed feminine or "faggy."

Looking back now as a 25-year-old trans woman in my fifth month of medical transition, I understand that I was struggling with more than just a fear of homophobic violence toward me. I was struggling with a fear of my own body as well. At that time I did not even know that being transgender was an option. I did not understand that I identified more as a female than a male. All I knew was that my body was changing in a way that was different from the rest of my female friends, and it made me hate my body.

Once I moved from North Dakota to Minneapolis, where a thriving LGBTQ+ community was much more prevalent, I started immersing myself into gay culture and my outlook on the LGBTQ+ community shifted entirely. For the first time, I felt free to express my flamboyancy. I was working for American Apparel at the time, where I proudly wore tiny little gay shorts and knee high tube socks every day. I loved being gay and I loved being surrounded by gay men. Every Friday and Saturday my friends and I would go to Jetset, a gay bar in North Loop, Downtown Minneapolis, and for the first time in my life I wasn't afraid to dance and express myself because everyone was there to do the same. At Jetset I was safe. I was home. I was free.

Since starting my medical and emotional transition from gay male to straight female, I have found that one of the hardest aspects is letting go of the idea that I am no longer part of the gay community. Of course we, the LGBTQ+ community, all stand together as one family, but there is a bond between gay men that no one outside of that experience can really understand. The same also rings true in the trans community. Within the LGBTQ+ community we all embrace and love each other, but we can't ever truly understand each other's individual struggle and experience--and that's okay! I don't expect anyone who is not trans to understand the trans experience; I only expect them to listen and respect it.

Pride for me this year is so important, because for the first time in 25 years I finally feel I am my most authentic self. Words cannot describe the joy I feel just walking down the street and simply existing as a woman. The constant weight of suppressing my true nature has been lifted. I feel alive in a way I did not know was even possible. I can walk down the street with as much spring in my step as I want and not feel bad about it. I feel pride for myself in a way that I have never felt before. With the trans community being so much smaller in numbers than the gay community, and with myself still being so new to it, Pride is a way for me to connect with my trans brothers and sisters in a way I rarely get to in my daily life. We can take down our shields that we carry with us every day. We can take off our headphones that drown out society's comments. We can make eye contact with each other without the fear of judgmental stares. At Pride we do not have to be educators and warriors--I think that's what I'm most excited for.

It may seem silly--and maybe I'm just hormonal from the estrogen--but after the Pulse shooting I am so overwhelmed with love for my community. It brings tears to my eyes whenever I am around my brothers and sisters, even just passing by on the train platform. It is hard to go about my daily duties, when all I want to do is surround myself with queers and mourn with them and celebrate our diversity. Thank God for Pride, because submitting myself to a 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday, cis-heteronormative corporate environment can feel so suffocating, especially after accepting and embracing my truth. I would much rather give my time and efforts to supporting my community. It is sometimes challenging, now having accepted and owned my identity, to be in an environment that I feel serves no higher purpose. If only going to Pride could be a full time job.

This year's Pride is probably the most important one of my lifetime. Yes, my heart is filled with sorrow and anger right now after the attack in Orlando, but never in my life have I felt so much love for our community. This tragedy has brought us closer together, while also reminding us that there is still so much progress to be made. I am fearful for our safety this year, but we cannot let hatred and fear win. We cannot be silent. Silence is compliance. Now, more than ever, it is so important that we show our pride and love for one another and make the world EAT IT.

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