Commentary Sexuality

Get Real! I Gave Him My Virginity, But Don’t Feel Like I Got Anything Back

Heather Corinna

What to do when what's supposed to feel like a sexual milestone feels more like a raw deal, including sorting through feelings of upset about a partner's sexual history.

Published in partnership with Scarleteen.

needs some advice asks:

I’ve been dating my boyfriend for 6 months now. He is my first long-term boyfriend and I really do love him. He is 3 years older than me and has had a 3 year relationship with another girl before me. After 3 months we decided to have sex. I was a virgin and this was a really big deal to me but he was not a virgin and had been with 2 girls before me. I don’t regret being with him, I knew I was ready. But I get really upset about him not losing his virginity to me. Is it normal to be so upset about his past and past relationships? I have tried to just forget it all but I almost feel cheated. I gave my virginity to him and I didn’t get anything in return. I felt like it wasn’t as special to him as it was to me. How can I get over this?

Heather Corinna replies:

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Feeling like you didn’t “get anything in return” sounds very troubling to me. That strikes me as a huge deal, and like something that’s probably bigger and about more than sex being a first-time for you and not for him. Someone with partners before you isn’t limited in their ability to do their part to make sex be something where it feels like there is a very mutual benefit because they had other partners.

I want to make sure you know that if you made what you feel is a wrong choice for you in this, that’s okay. Our lives are an ongoing learning process, and we are not always going to make our best choices. Often enough, we won’t know or realize what our poor choices were and what the better ones could have been until we’ve already made them. It’s not the most awesome-feeling part of life, for sure, but it’s human, okay and is a big part of how we grow and keep figuring out what we really want and need. Plus, we really can do most things again in ways better for us when we want to try again. This setup some people create where first-time-ever sex is either perfect or awful, and nothing in between, doesn’t really support that process. I’ll explain more as I go, but I’d suggest you try and let go of that notion if you have it. Every time we have sex can be a first time if we approach it that way, which not only takes a lot of these pressures off, it tends to make for a much better sex life then anyone thinking their firsts are all over, or the most important part of their sex life — a part that’s most typically not the most awesome for anyone — already happened.

If you’re holding on to feelings of being mad at yourself about this choice, try and let that go. Beating up on ourselves rarely gets us to the good stuff. How about you instead focus on taking the valuable things you can from all of this and using them like we tend to use things we learn from a first try: to move forward so that our next try goes a bit more like we’d like it to than the first did?

What first-time sex (whether that’s intercourse or something else) means to any given person varies. What any given sexual experience someone can have can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people, including first-time experiences. Even if you’d engaged in sex for the very first time with someone else whose very first time it was, too, that doesn’t mean it would have meant the same things to both of you, like that you’d have felt it was as special to the other person as it was to you. It also doesn’t mean you’d have found in it what it was you were looking for.

I don’t know what first-time sex has meant for you before, during or what it now means after-the-fact. Like I said, people differ with this. I also don’t know what you, as an individual, have wanted or want now when it comes to your sexual or romantic partners. For some people, having a sexual partner with their same level of experience, be that general life experience or specifically sexual or romantic experience, is important. For other people, it’s isn’t, isn’t so much, or isn’t in the same ways. And of course, how important some of these things are can change for people through different phases of life, different relationships, or based on what they find out from their life, sexual or romantic experiences.

You get to feel however you feel about this. If what you really wanted was a sexual partner whose first time it also was, you get to have wanted that. You even get to still want that. But that’s not the person you chose to be with for this experience. You know we can’t unring a bell, whether that’s about choosing to engage in sex with this person or this person’s life having involved other sexual and romantic partners before you. How you feel about these things is in the present, but these events are in the past. They’re done. He had partners before you, and you chose to engage in sex with him, knowing that. I can get you might feel bummed about that, but I don’t think it has to be a big bummer, really, especially since that issue alone probably isn’t really what’s at the core of how you’re feeling, anyway.

You feel pretty bad right now, and about some things now in the past, but probably also about a relationship or parts of it that are still going on or might happen in the future. I’m not sure what you think might have been different if this had been his first time, but I think you can certainly start by thinking about that yourself, because I think that’s a good start to figuring out what you want and need now and moving forward.

I have a couple lists you can make and look at which I think will help get to the bottom of some of this — including if this is bigger than his sexual history, which I suspect it is — may help you move forward from here in a sound way and will hopefully also help you make some peace with your feelings.

First: make a list of what you walked into first-time sex expecting and what you wanted from it. Be as real and as honest as you can. Then cross out the things where you feel like those expectations and wants were met: where it was as you expected and you did get what you wanted from it. After that, set that list aside for a bit.

Next: make a list of what didn’t happen with first-time sex you are NOW so strongly wishing it had been like: things that aren’t on the first list, that you’ve only realized or discovered in hindsight. That may include you wishing you had been this person’s first partner, but don’t stop there. Focus on all the things you can think of that you feel were not right or didn’t feel good (including afterward) about that experience, and put them on this list, even if some of those things seem silly or like they shouldn’t matter.

Now: look at both of those lists. Put an X by things that really, truly ONLY could happen or could have happened if you had been his very first partner.

Chances are, there won’t be much to put an X by. For instance, maybe you wanted this person to put more value on the sex you two were having or better recognize how important this was and is to you. His having had partners before you doesn’t prevent that (nor would you being his first partner mean he’d have done those things), so that’d stay. What about wanting something like someone to ask you more how things felt for you during, or maybe have expressed how he felt about you more demonstrably during or after sex? He can still do those things and could have: his having previous partnerships didn’t stand in the way of any of that, either.

Maybe you wanted him to feel just as vulnerable as you did, a vulnerability you think is about it a first time? Even in that case, I don’t think you can cross that one out, because for all you know he didn’t feel any more vulnerable than when it was his first time and wouldn’t have. Maybe you wanted him to act like he didn’t know what he was dong? Again, I don’t think we can cross that off: a lot of people having a first-time don’t act that way, and just because we’ve slept with other people before also doesn’t mean we know what we’re doing with a new partner, even if we think we do or act like we do.

When you’ve X’d the things it truly is sound to cross off as things that absolutely could not have been or can’t be based only on his past, because his past is not something he can change, take a look at what’s left.

Those are the things where you could potentially have experienced or might still experience something different with this person if he or you changed your behavior — during sex or in general — ideas or attitudes. Or where things could have gone more like you wanted and didn’t, but not because or only because he had sex with others before you.

Those are things you both can probably potentially change if you both want to change them, be that with the way you relate, how you approach and go about sex together, how you think about these things, or even by changing your expectations. Plenty of people’s expectations about sex before they engage in it (and plenty after) are not very realistic, so some of this stuff may just be about acknowledging the things we can’t ask sex itself to provide, like increasing a partner’s value of us, for example. Those are the things that are not about his having previous partners.

Next. Do you want to do what you can to resolve these feelings with this person, and/or keep pursuing a sexual and romantic relationship with them? Then after you think about these things for yourself, it’s time to start talking about them together. In these talks, I’d focus not on what he or you can’t change — like his part or your choice to have sex with him — but what you or he can change. If you wanted those things then and feel bad now, you probably also want them now and in the future, right? The things you have on that list you feel you want and need that he can provide or help with, regardless of his sexual history? Tell him you want and need them. Ask him to talk with you about how he feels he or you might be able to make changes so you can have them.

You also want to make sure that you’re taking stock of what things you wanted and want still that he might not be a big part of. For example, how’s your self-esteem? Do YOU feel special all by yourself, without any status from your relationship, including the status you don’t have, but want of being a first sexual partner? Too, with what you know now, were you really ready? Do you feel ready now, or like maybe you need to take a few steps back and rethink this for yourself? Anything you come to realize is about things you need to do or work on for yourself? Hop on ’em.

If his having previous partners still feels like a big issue for you and you want to stay in a relationship with this person, it might help to think about romantic or sexual relationships as being similar to friendships or family relationships. People often apply very different standards to them in some respect, but that’s often not sound.

In families with more than one child, can a second or third child never be as special as the first? Whoever your best friend is in life right now: are they less special than your best friends from before? Was your very first best friend any less special because you have this other best friend now? Is this boyfriend less special to you because you had boyfriends before? In all of those cases, the answer is probably no.

We don’t have a tiny handful of love or ourselves that we can spend in one place like that and have it be gone ever after or be less than we had in the first place. Value, love and care for other people are kind of like rechargeable batteries. We can use up a lot of juice with one person at one time, sure, but then we can recharge and have just as much to give someone else. That’s part of why we CAN have more than one friend and have them both be special, and parents can have more than one kid and love one of them just as much as another. I’d suggest you try to let go of ideas about this person or you being more or less special and embrace the fact that BOTH of you can be special, just in different ways and at different times. Even if his very first partner was special to him, that doesn’t mean his very first time with you wasn’t, too. This doesn’t have to be a competition: everyone can win.

That all said, if you strongly feel you would feel better being with someone whose life experience and romantic and sexual history is more like yours, then you get to choose that moving forward. Maybe for you, at this point in your life, having this kind of relationship with someone years older than you and with more life experience isn’t what you want or what feels right for you. It’s okay for people to have those kinds of preferences in ways that are still respectful of others, which is mostly about just owning your preference as yours instead of suggesting it should be everyone’s and recognizing it’s about a preference of yours, not about someone like your boyfriend having less intrinsic value as a person because he had other partners before you.

You know, for as long as this work has been my gig, I have heard a vast array of first-time sex stories and feelings about them afterwards. One of the many things I’ve learned in that listening and talking is that there is NO one right way of engaging in first-time sex — sparing serious basics like everyone really wanting to have that kind of sex, full, mutual consent and people feeling ready — that results in people getting the expected results or what they wanted. For instance, I’ve heard people be disappointed or feel hurt in the ways you’re expressing when both people were both having a first-time. I’ve heard from people able to marry who waited until marriage and were disappointed. I’ve heard from people who didn’t wait and were disappointed. People experience disappointment and regret with first-time sex in every context you can think of, just like other people don’t in every context you can think of.

Disappointment with first-time sexual experiences is tremendously common. Having seen so many people aim to do what their (or someone else’s) idea of the “right way” was who still found it didn’t give them what they were after, my sense is that’s usually less about the context being wrong and more about people’s expectations being problematic. So many people who feel disappointed with first-times seem to often have had the idea that a first time is about things being perfect or one-time-only. I don’t know about you, but for me, that’s an awful lot to ask of a first time for anything.

First-time sex, just like first-time bike riding, first-time public speaking or first-time writing isn’t about getting everything exactly right or about any sort of end. It’s about beginnings, about a start to what will likely be a lifelong process of learning and growing and experiencing things. The first time we try and walk? We usually fall flat on our face or our bum. Our steps are unsteady. Our knees wobble like jello. Then we try again. And again. And we get better and better at it over time, rather than magically being expert at it and feeling expert at it that first time, or framing that first time as an ideal for how to walk. Over time we learn things that help us get better at it, like what we need to be stable in our steps, how we can move from walking to running or jumping, and how to feel more confident in walking. We learn how to walk whatever our own best way is, based on the uniqueness of our bodies and selves. We don’t — and can’t — know any of those things with our very first step. That first step is where we just start learning, not where we stop. The same is true here.

Your first time wasn’t what you wanted it to be. I know how important that can be to people, so I’m so sorry that you feel that way. But one of the very best things about what really makes a first time so cool and potentially important, even when it’s not ideal (and sometimes more because it isn’t!), is that it’s about opening a door to many, many opportunities afterward for next times, many of which will, just by virtue of not being first times, usually go way better. Now you’ve learned a few things, maybe gotten some clues about things you want and need you might not have known or acknowledged before. You had a first time. Going into it, you expected certain things, you wanted certain things, and you felt you did or didn’t need certain things. So, going into a possible next time, and a time after that, and after that, what do you know now? What can you use from what you know now to make choices moving forward, to ask of partners moving forward, and be much more likely to get what you want and need?

Some of what you learned here might mostly be for or about yourself, like maybe part of being ready for you when it comes to sex is being with someone and in a time of your own life or a relationship where you already feel very special and very valued in the greater context of their lives and your own, separate from them. Maybe some of what you learned, and this partner can too — after all, it was his first time with YOU, so he’s at the start of a learning process just like you are — is that there are some things you need for sex to feel good for you neither of you knew you did, like perhaps some more affirmation and loving communication during sex or more affection afterward, like things to make it feel more special for both of you, like having it be more clearly recognized by your partner that sex with a partner is a very big deal to you.

I don’t know anything about this relationship. I know you love this person, but that doesn’t tell me anything about the dynamics or quality of the relationship. So, I also want to make sure you’re thinking about that. Sometimes sex with someone illuminates parts of our relationship: it can do that with the great stuff but also with the stuff that isn’t great. It may be some of the bad feelings you’re having are because the failings with the sex you had are also failings in your relationship as a whole. I want to make sure you don’t have the idea that you have to stay with this person if things really aren’t good, if this relationship isn’t what you really want, or if what went wrong here for you with this sex is what’s been or is becoming wrong for you in the relationship, like not feeling special to this person or like you get as good as you give.

I know sometimes people can feel that if they “gave their virginity” to someone and they don’t stay with that person evermore, they will have really messed up. But since it’s rare for people to stay a lifetime with a first partner, and staying in a relationship that’s not what you want and need and isn’t good for you is bad news for everyone, I disagree. Again, we’re talking about first-times, not last times.

If you feel lousy about sex you had with someone, like feeling that you didn’t get anything close to what they did out of it the first time, chances are good that — unless something changes about that person, how they interact with you and vice-versa, and the way you’re having sex together — it’s probably going to feel that way the next time. And the time after that unless, again, whatever created those feelings can change and does change. So, in working all of this through, be sure you also do some thinking about this relationship as a whole and if it’s right for you. If the things you want and need are things you can both work on and improve, but this guy doesn’t seem to care about them or really want to work on them, the big issue here may not be this guy’s past, but this guy just not being a good fit for you in the present. Same goes for figuring out if, with what you know now, a sexual relationship with this person is right for you. If you feel like it’s not, or you’re really unsure now, you can always take sex off the table. Just because we had any kind of sex with someone once never means we have to keep having sex with them.

This is a heavy stuff, I know, and it can be hard to try and sort it all through when you’re feeling blue. You don’t have to figure all of this out at once: you can’t, anyway. Before you even get started, you may need to take some extra care of yourself, like doing things you know make you feel better when you’re feeling down. Take whatever time you need with this, have as many talks as you need to with this person, friends or family. I don’t think you did anything wrong here in any big way. But I think you can use how you’re feeling and what you know now to inform your choices moving forward so that you’re more likely to have sexual experiences and romantic relationships you feel great about, rather than conflicted with. And that’s going to involve more than loving someone or not, but taking some larger stock of what you really want and need for yourself and in sex with someone else beyond feeling love.

Whatever conclusions you come to, just be and stay real about whatever it is you really want and need right now, using this past experience not as something that makes your present miserable, but as a way to get better at seeking out, asking for and agreeing only to what you feel will make sex or sexual relationships in your present and future be more likely to be as right for you as they can be.

I’m going to leave you with some links I think might help, and you’re also always welcome to come to the message boards if you’d like to talk more about this either one-on-one, or with other users who’ve been where you’re at:

Roundups Politics

Campaign Week in Review: Republican National Convention Edition

Ally Boguhn

The Trump family's RNC claims about crime and the presidential candidate's record on gender equality have kept fact-checkers busy.

Republicans came together in Cleveland this week to nominate Donald Trump at the Republican National Convention (RNC), generating days of cringe-inducing falsehoods and misleading statements on crime, the nominee’s positions on gender equality, and LGBTQ people.

Trump’s Acceptance Speech Blasted for Making False Claims on Crime

Trump accepted the Republican nomination in a Thursday night speech at the RNC that drew harsh criticism for many of its misleading and outright false talking points.

Numerous fact-checkers took Trump to task, calling out many of his claims for being “wrong,” and “inflated or misleading.”

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 Among the most hotly contested of Trump’s claims was the assertion that crime has exploded across the country.

“Decades of progress made in bringing down crime are now being reversed by this administration’s rollback of criminal enforcement,” Trump claimed, according to his prepared remarks, which were leaked ahead of his address. “Homicides last year increased by 17 percent in America’s 50 largest cities. That’s the largest increase in 25 years. In our nation’s capital, killings have risen by 50 percent. They are up nearly 60 percent in nearby Baltimore.”

Crime rates overall have been steadily declining for years.

“In 2015, there was an uptick in homicides in 36 of the 50 largest cities compared to the previous years. The rate did, indeed, increase nearly 17 percent, and it was the worst annual change since 1990. The homicide rate was up 54.3 percent in Washington, and 58.5 percent in Baltimore,” explained Washington Post fact checkers Glenn Kessler and Michelle Ye Hee Lee. “But in the first months of 2016, homicide trends were about evenly split in the major cities. Out of 63 agencies reporting to the Major Cities Chiefs Association, 32 cities saw a decrease in homicides in first quarter 2016 and 31 saw an increase.”

Ames Grawert, a counsel in the Brennan Center’s Justice Program, said in a statement posted to the organization’s website that 2016 statistics aren’t sufficient in declaring crime rate trends. 

“Overall, crime rates remain at historic lows. Fear-inducing soundbites are counterproductive, and distract from nuanced, data-driven, and solution-oriented conversations on how to build a smarter criminal justice system in America,” Grawert said. “It’s true that some cities saw an increase in murder rates last year, and that can’t be ignored, but it’s too early to say if that’s part of a national trend.” 

When Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign chairman, was confronted with the common Republican falsehoods on crime during a Thursday interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper, he claimed that the FBI’s statistics were not to be trusted given that the organization recently advised against charges in connection with Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server during her tenure as secretary of state.

“According to FBI statistics, crime rates have been going down for decades,” Tapper told Manafort. “How can Republicans make the argument that it’s somehow more dangerous today when the facts don’t back that up?”

“People don’t feel safe in their neighborhoods,” said Manafort, going on to claim that “the FBI is certainly suspect these days after what they did with Hillary Clinton.”

There was at least one notable figure who wholeheartedly embraced Trump’s fearmongering: former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke. “Great Trump Speech,” tweeted Duke on Thursday evening. “Couldn’t have said it better!”

Ben Carson Claims Transgender People Are Proof of “How Absurd We Have Become”

Former Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson criticized the existence of transgender people while speaking at the Florida delegation breakfast on Tuesday in Cleveland.  

“You know, we look at this whole transgender thing, I’ve got to tell you: For thousands of years, mankind has known what a man is and what a woman is. And now, all of a sudden we don’t know anymore,” said Carson, a retired neurosurgeon. “Now, is that the height of absurdity? Because today you feel like a woman, even though everything about you genetically says that you’re a man or vice versa?”

“Wouldn’t that be the same as if you woke up tomorrow morning after seeing a movie about Afghanistan or reading some books and said, ‘You know what? I’m Afghanistan. Look, I know I don’t look that way. My ancestors came from Sweden, or something, I don’t know. But I really am. And if you say I’m not, you’re a racist,’” Carson said. “This is how absurd we have become.”

When confronted with his comments during an interview with Yahoo News’ Katie Couric, Carson doubled down on his claims.“There are biological markers that tell us whether we are a male or a female,” said Carson. “And just because you wake up one day and you say, ‘I think I’m the other one,’ that doesn’t change it. Just, a leopard can’t change its spots.”

“It’s not as if they woke up one day and decided, ‘I’m going to be a male or I’m going to be a female,’” Couric countered, pointing out that transgender people do not suddenly choose to change their gender identities on a whim.

Carson made several similar comments last year while on the campaign trail.

In December, Carson criticized the suggested that allowing transgender people into the military amounted to using the armed services “as a laboratory for social experimentation.”

Carson once suggested that allowing transgender people to use the restroom that aligned with their gender identity amounted to granting them “extra rights.”

Ivanka Trump Claims Her Father Supports Equal Pay, Access to Child Care

Ivanka Trump, the nominee’s daughter, made a pitch during her speech Thursday night at the RNC for why women voters should support her father.

“There have always been men of all background and ethnicities on my father’s job sites. And long before it was commonplace, you also saw women,” Ivanka Trump said. “At my father’s company, there are more female than male executives. Women are paid equally for the work that we do and when a woman becomes a mother, she is supported, not shut out.” 

“As president, my father will change the labor laws that were put into place at a time when women were not a significant portion of the workforce. And he will focus on making quality child care affordable and accessible for all,” she continued before pivoting to address the gender wage gap. 

“Policies that allow women with children to thrive should not be novelties; they should be the norm. Politicians talk about wage equality, but my father has made it a practice at his company throughout his entire career.”

However, Trump’s stated positions on the gender wage gap, pregnancy and mothers in the workplace, and child care don’t quite add up to the picture the Trumps tried to paint at the RNC.

In 2004, Trump called pregnancy an “inconvenience” for employers. When a lawyer asked for a break during a deposition in 2011 to pump breast milk, Trump reportedly called her “disgusting.”

According to a June analysis conducted by the Boston Globe, the Trump campaign found that men who worked on Trump’s campaign “made nearly $6,100, or about 35 percent more [than women during the April payroll]. The disparity is slightly greater than the gender pay gap nationally.”

A former organizer for Trump also filed a discrimination complaint in January, alleging that she was paid less than her male counterparts.

When Trump was questioned about equal pay during a campaign stop last October, he did not outline his support for policies to address the issue. Instead, Trump suggested that, “You’re gonna make the same if you do as good a job.” Though he had previously stated that men and women who do the same job should be paid the same during an August 2015 interview on MSNBC, he also cautioned that determining whether people were doing the same jobs was “tricky.”

Trump has been all but completely silent on child care so far on the campaign trail. In contrast, Clinton released an agenda in May to address the soaring costs of child care in the United States.

Ivanka’s claims were not the only attempt that night by Trump’s inner circle to explain why women voters should turn to the Republican ticket. During an interview with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, Manafort said that women would vote for the Republican nominee because they “can’t afford their lives anymore.”

“Many women in this country feel they can’t afford their lives, their husbands can’t afford to be paying for the family bills,” claimed Manafort. “Hillary Clinton is guilty of being part of the establishment that created that problem. They’re going to hear the message. And as they hear the message, that’s how we are going to appeal to them.”

What Else We’re Reading

Vox’s Dara Lind explained how “Trump’s RNC speech turned his white supporters’ fear into a weapon.”

Now that Mike Pence is the Republican nominee for vice president, Indiana Republicans have faced “an intense, chaotic, awkward week of brazen lobbying at the breakfast buffet, in the hallways and on the elevators” at the convention as they grapple with who will run to replace the state’s governor, according to the New York Times.

“This is a party and a power structure that feels threatened with extinction, willing to do anything for survival,” wrote Rebecca Traister on Trump and the RNC for New York Magazine. “They may not love Trump, but he is leading them precisely because he embodies their grotesque dreams of the restoration of white, patriarchal power.”

Though Trump spent much of the primary season denouncing big money in politics, while at the RNC, he courted billionaires in hopes of having them donate to supporting super PACs.

Michael Kranish reported for the Washington Post that of the 2,472 delegates at the RNC, it is estimated that only 18 were Black.

Cosmopolitan highlighted nine of the most sexist things that could be found at the convention.

Rep. Steve King (R-IA) asked, “Where are these contributions that have been made” by people of color to civilization?

Commentary Race

Black Lives Matter Belongs in Canada, Despite What Responses to Its Pride Action Suggest

Katherine Cross

Privileging the voices of white LGBTQ Canadians who claim racism is not a part of Canada's history or present ignores the struggles of Canadians of color, including those who are LGBTQ.

As I walked the streets of Toronto last month, it occurred to me that Pride Week had become something of a national holiday there, where rainbow flags and the Maple Leaf banners flying in honor of Canada Day on July 1 were equally ubiquitous. For the first time in my many years visiting the city—the place where I myself came out—the juxtaposition of Pride and the anniversary of Confederation felt appropriate and natural.

For some, however, this crescendo of inclusive celebration was threatened by the Black Lives Matter Toronto (BLMTO) protest at the city’s Pride March, often nicknamed PrideTO. The group’s 30-minute, parade-stopping sit-in has since come in for predictable condemnation. The Globe and Mail’s Margaret Wente dubbed BLMTO “bullies,” sniffed that its tactics and concerns belonged to the United States, and asked why it didn’t care about Black-on-Black crime in Canada. The Toronto Sun’s Sue-Ann Levy, meanwhile, called BLMTO “Nobody Else Matters,” also saying it “bullied” Pride’s organizers and suggesting we all focus on the real object of exclusion within the LGBTQ community: gay members of the recently ousted Conservative Party.

There is a lot to learn from this Torontonian incident, particularly around managing polite liberal racism—an especially important civics lesson in light of the past month’s tragedies in the United States. Privileging the voices of white LGBTQ Canadians who claim racism is not a part of Canada’s history or present means ignoring the struggles of hundreds of thousands, many of whom are LGTBQ themselves.

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Pride has always been a thoroughly political affair. It is, thus, hardly an “inappropriate time and place” for such a protest. It began as, and remains, a public forum for the unapologetic airing of our political concerns as a community in all its diversity. We may have reached a new phase of acceptance—the presence of Prime Minister Trudeau at Pride was a beautiful milestone in both Canadian and LGBTQ history—but Pride as a civic holiday must not obscure the challenges that remain. It is not a coincidence that the majority of transgender people murdered worldwide by the hundreds every year are Black and Latina, and that many of them are sex workers. That is part of the reality that BLMTO was responding to—the fact that racism amplifies homophobia and transphobia. In so doing, it was not just speaking for Black people, as many falsely contended, but advocating for queer and trans people of many ethnicities.

Even so, one parade-goer told the Globe and Mail: “It’s not about them. It’s gay pride, not black pride.” The very fact that Black LGBTQ people are asked to “choose” validates BLMTO’s complaint about Pride’s anti-Blackness, suggesting a culture where Black people will be thinly tolerated so long as they do not actually talk about or organize around being Black.

Indeed, BLMTO’s much-criticized list of demands seems not to have been read, much less understood. While drawing attention to the Black Lives Matter collective, it also advocated for South Asian LGBTQ people and those in First Nations communities, whose sense of not-entirely-belonging at an increasingly apolitical PrideTO it shares.

In each paint-by-numbers editorial, there was lip service paid to the “concerns” BLMTO has about Canadian police forces and racial discrimination, but the inconvenience of a briefly immobilized parade generated more coverage. Throughout, there has been a sense that Black Lives Matter didn’t belong in Canada, that the nation is somehow immune to racist law enforcement and, in fact, racism in general.

Yet to listen to the accounts of Black Canadians, the reality is rather different.

Janaya Khan, one of the co-founders of BLMTO, recently spoke to Canadian national magazine MacLean’s about the activist’s views on structural racism in the country. As a native of Toronto, they were able to speak quite forthrightly about growing up with racism in the city—up to and including being “carded” (a Canadian version of stop-and-frisk, wherein officers have the right to demand ID from random citizens) at Pride itself. And last year in Toronto Life, journalist and writer Desmond Cole talked about his experiences being raised throughout Ontario. He told a story of a traffic stop, none too different from the sort that killed Philando Castile earlier this month, after a passenger in his father’s car, Sana, had tossed a tissue out the window onto the highway. The officer made the young man walk back onto the highway and pick it up.

Cole wrote, “After Sana returned, the officer let us go. We drove off, overcome with silence until my father finally exploded. ‘You realize everyone in this car is Black, right?’ he thundered at Sana. ‘Yes, Uncle,’ Sana whispered, his head down and shoulders slumped. That afternoon, my imposing father and cocky cousin had trembled in fear over a discarded Kleenex.”

This story, of narrowly escaping the wrath of a white officer on the side of a motorway, could have come from any state in the Union. While Canada has many things to be proud of, it cannot claim that scouring racism from within its borders is among them. Those of us who have lived and worked within the country have an obligation to believe people like Cole and Khan when they describe what life has been like for them—and to do something about it rather than wring our hands in denial.

We should hardly be surprised that the United States and Canada, with parallel histories of violent colonial usurpation of Native land, should be plagued by many of the same racist diseases. There are many that Canada has shared with its southern neighbor—Canada had a number of anti-Chinese exclusion laws in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and it too had Japanese internment camps during the Second World War—but other racisms are distinctly homegrown.

The Quebecois sovereignty movement, for instance, veered into anti-Semitic fascism in the 1930s and ’40s. In later years, despite tacking to the left, it retained something of a xenophobic character because of its implicit vision of an independent Quebec dominated by white francophones who could trace their ancestry back to France. In a blind fury after narrowly losing the 1995 referendum on Quebecois independence, Premier Jacques Parizeau, the then-leader of the independence movement, infamously blamed “money and ethnic votes” for the loss. More recently, the provincial sovereigntist party, the Parti Quebecois, tried to impose a “Values Charter” on the province aimed at criminalizing the wearing of hijab and niqab in certain public spaces and functions. Ask Black francophones if they feel welcome in the province and you’ll get mixed answers at best, often related to racist policing from Quebec’s forces.

Speaking of policing and the character of public safety institutions, matters remain stark.

A 2015 Toronto Star special investigation found hundreds of Greater Toronto Area officers internally disciplined for “serious misconduct”—including the physical abuse of homeless people and committing domestic violence—remained on the force. In 2012, the same outlet documented the excessive rate at which Black and brown Torontonians were stopped and “carded.” The data is staggering: The number of stops of Black men actually exceeded the number of young Black men who live in certain policing districts. And according to the Star, despite making up less than 10 percent of Toronto’s population, Black Torontonians comprised at least 35 percent of those individuals shot to death by police since 1990. Between 2000 and 2006, they made up two-thirds.

Meanwhile, LGBTQ and Native Ontario corrections officers have routinely complained of poisonous workplace environments; a recent survey found anti-Muslim attitudes prevail among a majority of Ontarians.

Especially poignant for me as a Latina who loves Canada is the case of former Vancouver firefighter Luis Gonzales. Gonzales, who is of Salvadoran descent, is now filing a human rights complaint against Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services for what he deemed a racist work environment that included anti-Black racism, like shining a fire engine floodlight on Black women in the street and joking about how one still couldn’t see them.

One could go on; the disparate nature of these abuses points to the intersectional character of prejudice in Canada, something that BLM Toronto was quite explicit about in its protest. While anti-Black racism is distinct, the coalition perspective envisaged by Black Lives Matter, which builds community with LGBTQ, Muslim, South Asian, and First Nations groups, reflects an understanding of Canadian racism that is quite intelligible to U.S. observers.

It is here that we should return again to Margaret Wente’s slyly nationalistic claim that BLMTO is a foreign import, insensitive to progressive Canadian reality. In this, as in so many other areas, we must dispense with the use of Canadian civic liberalism as a shield against criticism; the nation got this far because of sometimes intemperate, often loud protest. Protests against anti-LGBTQ police brutality in the 1980s and ’90s, for example, set the stage for a Toronto where the CN Tower would be lit up in rainbow colors. And any number of Native rights actions in Canada have forced the nation to recognize both its colonial history and the racism of the present; from Idle No More and the Oka Crisis to the 2014 VIA Rail blockade, that movement is alive and well. Indeed, the blockade was part of a long movement to make the government acknowledge that thousands of missing and murdered Indigenous women constituted a crisis.

If we must wrap ourselves in the Maple Leaf flag, then let us at least acknowledge that peaceful protest is a very Canadian thing indeed, instead of redoubling racist insults by insinuating that Black Lives Matter is somehow foreign or that institutional racism is confined to the United States. Canada has achieved little of worth by merely chanting “but we’re not as bad as the United States!” like a mantra.

Far from being a movement in search of a crisis, Black Lives Matter and its intersectional analysis is just as well-suited to Canada as it is to the United States. In the end, it is not, per the national anthem, God who keeps this land “glorious and free,” but its people.