It’s that time of year again, when preparations for Pride celebrations are underway, and with them the annual declarations from some members of our communities that “Pride makes us look bad.”
Blogger Joe Jervis posts his “watching the defectives” piece every year, and it’s an absolutely incredible read that I encourage everyone to enjoy, and share.
So, how exactly do Pride parades make us look bad? Well, there seems to be a pattern when it comes to answering to that question. Yesterday I saw someone comment online, “If you live in the South or the Midwest or any red state as I do, you would know just how badly [the Pride parade] is used against us LGBTs.” They also said, “If the focus were on ordinary folks it would be better. The half-naked and drag queens and sexually explicit displays don’t help the cause.”
Well, anyone who has a problem with drag queens being in pride parades needs to take a crash course in Stonewall 101, and the comment about “ordinary folks” is an outright dismissal of valued and vital members of our communities who are standing up to be counted. But it does bring up an interesting question ― what would make those Southern Midwestern red-state anti-LGBTQ folks happy, and what exactly is their barometer for what is acceptable? How can we apply logic, reason and consistency to people whose moral compasses seem to be nothing more than ever-widening goalposts to suit their own chosen prejudices? Are people really worried about “morally offending” the people who voted into office as president a thrice-married serial adulterer with five children from three different women who has boasted of sexually-assaulting women against their will in the most crass terms possible, who has openly mocked the disabled, and whose comments about women have been staggeringly sexist? Are they really the ones whose “morality” we need to cater to and need to be careful to not “offend” with our Pride celebrations?
The reason you’re still ashamed to be gay is that you’re still putting too much stock in the opinions of anti-LGBTQ people.
That Donald Trump won the Evangelical vote should be a wake up call to LGBTQ people living in red states and/or counties that attempting to cater to their puritanical ideals and demands is a no-win situation: they’re not consistent with their own pious claims of morality, and they will never be consistent when it comes to us.
How many fully-clothed married gay couples would need to march to “negate” this claimed negative impact that the decided minority of leather men in assless chaps or drag queens or semi-nude people seem to be causing? I’d wager the answer is none. That’s why such an argument falls apart. The parades are mostly composed of fully-clothed people anyway. It seems that the people who are most vocally against Pride parades are the people who do not attend them. The people who are choosing to hate us have excuses, not reasons, for their prejudices. There is a difference between a reason and an excuse.
The queer liberation movement is not just about legislative rights and freedoms, but about social and cultural freedoms for ourselves: the freedom to explore our sexual expression, our identities, the freedom to shake off years of the oppressive shame that so many of us have been made to feel about the sex that we have, our gender identities, and how (if ever) we express them.
A Pride parade could consist solely of people marching in smart business suits holding aloft signs telling everyone the most boringly-normal aspects of their lives and being, and not only would that not change the minds of people who still choose to be anti-LGBTQ, it would also be the most boring parade that ever was.
My parents had attended Pride celebrations years before I was even born, and we have marched together in the Parade for many years with PFLAG. If you’re curious to hear their thoughts on the Parade, check them out here.
My mum was even the Grand Marshall of the Toronto Pride Parade in 2013, and this is quote of hers is one of my favorites:
Our sexual expression is still under attack. Go to any video or article on LGBTQ people and in the comment section will be a legion of folks commenting specifically about how the sex that we have is both disgusting and sinful. Some people in our communities work to avoid and downplay the sex that we have, as if not talking about it and de-sexualizing ourselves will “win over” these people who choose to hatefully obsess about the sex they constantly imagine us all having.
Over the last few days I’ve read in comment sections statements from a number of gay men saying things along the lines of “I’m accepted because I’m nothing like the deviant sexual freaks that are in Pride parades.” That’s not really acceptance, though. That’s conditional tolerance. I’m not saying anyone has to drop trou and march naked (I myself haven’t ever marched in the parade in the buff), but what good is it if the tolerance you’re afforded hinges on playing by somebody else’s rules? And what kind of progress is actually made if you get tolerated, but the people in your life still harbor such intense dislike for the members of our communities that are not like you?
Every year, like clockwork, in comments on Pride articles and on people’s Facebook walls, I see some people saying “Pride Parades make me ashamed to be gay.”
When someone gives an excuse for being ashamed to be gay, all they’re really saying is that they’re still ashamed to be gay. Period. “Effeminate gays” are not the reason you’re ashamed to be gay. “Open relationships” are not the reason you’re ashamed to be gay. “Slutty promiscuous gays” are not the reason you’re ashamed to be gay. “Nudity in Pride parades” is not the reason you’re ashamed to be gay. “Drag queens” are not the reason your town or family are homophobic. Those are all excuses. The reason you’re still ashamed to be gay is that you’re still putting too much stock in the opinions of anti-LGBTQ people. It’s as simple as that. Their negative attitudes toward LGBTQ people have become internalized in you, and you’re blaming the targets of their hatred for your own shame and insecurity.
Pride is not the time to waste your energy worrying about or even considering what anti-LGBTQ people may say or think. Many people spend too much of their everyday lives doing just that. Attend Pride celebrations and give yourself a few days, or even a few hours, where you finally just allow yourself to be exactly who you are, however you want to be about it, without any concern about what some pious hypocritical bigot may choose to think about you or the people around you.
Pride is not the time to cater to the ideals of anti-LGBTQ people. Pride is not the time to “show anti-LGBTQ people how in many ways we’re just like them.” Pride is not the time to even think about anti-LGBTQ people.
Pride is our time, not theirs.
If there’s anything about Pride celebrations that we need to be most critical of it should be the over-reliance on corporate sponsorship and representation and, most importantly, that the most marginalized within our communities deserve to be seen and heard, and their lives and ongoing struggles be given a platform. That includes representation for LGBTQ people of color and accessibility for the disabled.
Pride is a party, but it’s also a defiant ongoing protest movement against a larger culture that still wants to persecute and discriminate against our communities. Pride is still political. As Joe Jervis brilliantly said, “They wish we were invisible. We’re not. Let’s dance.”
Finally, on a more pointed note, I’d like to speak to some of my fellow white cisgender gay men for a moment. Pride is not just about us, either. Pride is also about the people of color whom many of you are “not into” on Grindr. Pride is about the lesbians with whom you don’t socialize. Pride is about the bisexuals whose identities are still denigrated by far too many. Pride is about the disabled people you may still choose to ignore. Pride is about the transgender people you haven’t yet befriended. Pride is about the non-binary and gender-nonconformists that too many still refuse to see and listen to. This year I encourage you to reach out and talk to people outside of your regular social circles and aesthetically-similar cliques. I assure you your feelings of love for our extended communities will only grow, and your sense of pride in your own identity will increase exponentially the more you learn about these people, who are not just vital members of our community, but who are as worthy of your time and attention as any beefcake you may feel like chatting up ― possibly even more so. For all of the talk of getting our “Pride bodies” ready, now more than ever it’s time we engaged our Pride minds and our Pride hearts. How someone chooses to celebrate and show their Pride should not be the excuse you give for your own shame.