A Cynical Queer Killjoy's Mixed Feelings on the Rainbow Machine

It’s June, which means that cynical, nerdy, political queer killjoys are spending the month rolling their eyes at the shiny whitewashed respectability spectacle of corporate-sponsored pride celebrations. I would know--I'm one of them.

But sometimes I fall off my high horse and remember: I didn't start out thinking like this. Not even close.

When I sigh at the rainbow-themed sneakers and laptop ads popping up around the city, unimpressed with corporations' willingness to co-opt symbols of a successful liberation movement now that it has been deemed more profitable than not.

But I also remember living in a time and place when public support of LGBT rights was more of a business liability than a strategy, and think of how much tweenage angst I could have avoided had I seen rainbow-plastered shoe stores then.

When "I Kissed a Girl" comes on, and I rant about the way queer female sexuality is fetishized for the male gaze and sensationalized for mainstream consumption.

But when I first heard that song during seventh grade carpool, my friend's mother expressed a very different type of moral disgust based on the title line alone. I immediately chimed in with an "Ew, that's gross," despite the fact that I had been listening with fascination to Katy Perry's description of anonymous girl's touchable skin, in awe over how she was able to admit these desires on the radio.

When I lament how pride has turned into just another party for straight people, despite the revolutionary origins of the celebration.

But I sure as hell wouldn't have had the guts to show up at my first pride event if I couldn't have been written off as just another straight person there for a party.

When I cringe at how the legalization of same-sex marriage was celebrated as the pinnacle of queer rights, while issues of violence, employment discrimination, and youth homelessness remain under-addressed. If anything, the eagerness to join a domestic and historical oppressive patriarchal tradition seems like as the pinnacle of respectability politics.

But the first time I heard of same-sex marriage was being told not to talk about it. It was the off-limits topic in elementary and middle school discussions of elections and politics--too controversial and scandalous. I remember thinking that it must be impossible to live something like that, if it couldn't even be said out loud.

I make no apologies for where I am today, delving into more critical and intersectional forms of queer politics, but that sure isn't where I started. And whether I like it or not, the shiny mainstream gay rights machine undoubtedly played a role in getting me to this point--even as I came to realize that it wasn't always built to include me. Even as I came to realize that some of the people it claimed to represent were being thrown under the bus.

Beyond any too-cool cynical facade, I wholeheartedly believe in critiquing queer conformity, consumerism, and commodification--not to mention colonialism. But I also can't deny that it's far easier to eschew my place in the mainstream order now that I feel like I have one.

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