A couple of weeks ago, I started seeing some of my friends – queer folks, mind you – posting articles asking “Why do we need Pride?” It trotted out a lot of the assimilationist nonsense that the Get Along Gays like to talk about when bemoaning what they feel as anything too radical or too queer for their heteronormative tastes: Pride is oversexualized, it reinforces unrealistic standards of beauty and body size for gay men, it’s not family friendly, there is far too much emphasis on alcohol and corporate sponsorships.
I get all of these criticisms; believe me, I do. As a larger than life drag queen, I know all too well that the images most often shown related to Pride festivities are young, chiseled men in skimpy outfits dancing on floats and flaunting their bulging muscles and impossibly overstuffed G-strings. People of my size are rarely seen, and if they are the contexts are extremely limited. There is also a problem with the whiteness of most images of Pride, and the erasure of non-abled bodies. There are lots of problems, and we need to talk about those. But these problems are not the problems of Pride; they are problems within our communities. The images that emerge from Pride are simply a concentrated look at communities that still struggle with sexism, racism, ableism, and all kinds of other “isms” every damn day of the year.
And as much as I want to critique the standards of beauty that gay, bi, and queer men are held to, the way these anti-Pridesters talk about the scantily-clad twinks (and occasionally otters) smacks of slut-shaming. It’s the old party line for the Get Along Gays – if we just erase the sex out of homosexual, then the straight people will accept us! I have two things to say about that:
Now that we’ve cleared that up, let’s look at a couple of the other criticisms.
The argument about corporate sponsorships makes me crazy. Years ago, we used to bitch and moan about how no businesses would have anything to do with us, and now we want to bitch and moan because there are too many businesses that want to provide money and resources to our Pride events. Are you kidding me? I get that Pride can sometimes feel like a corporate tradeshow, but guess what? All of those singers and artists that you’re enjoying? That’s what pays for that. You can do Pride events without big corporate sponsorships, but they are probably going to be on a much smaller scale and they are going to take money and resources out of queer pockets. Proctor and Gamble has plenty of money in their bank accounts; if they want to help pay for a Pride so that my broke ass doesn’t have to, I ain’t mad about it.
Sometimes the critique isn’t about too many businesses, but rather what some people feel are the wrong businesses. Yes, big alcohol companies often dominate the sponsorships at these events. And yes, alcohol abuse is a problem that affects a lot of people in our communities. But the fact remains that you are seeing all of this advertising because these are the companies that are offering their money and resources to the events. I promise you that these Pride planning committees aren’t turning down huge gifts from other types of businesses because they just really, really want to promote alcohol at their events. Instead of attacking the people who are willing to sponsor our events, maybe you should start asking other big businesses and companies why they aren’t.
And don’t get me started on the people who want to say that these are triggers…let’s be full on real for just a moment. I’m sensitive to the fact that people with alcohol abuse problems may have an issue with being around others who are drinking, and I think it’s fine (better than fine…encouraged? essential?!) to plan some aspects of your Pride to be alcohol-free. That’s about being respectful to those with substance abuse problems. But if your sobriety is so fragile that seeing the name of an alcohol brand or beverage is going to trigger a relapse, then I’m sorry to say that this is not the problem of your local Pride coordinators. We all have struggles and we all have demons, but we need to develop some resilience and grit to get through them. Being able to exist in a world in which alcohol is a part is crucial to your future happiness. What’s going to stop you from seeing an alcohol ad at a downtown bus stop or in a magazine? Alcohol exists, and just because you have a problem with it doesn’t mean that it’s going to magically never enter your frame of reference. Go, or don’t. But if you decide not to take part in Pride because the name of a brand on signs is too much for you, then it’s time to start looking inwards – you’re not ready for the world at large. And if you can get through seeing that magazine ad or the bus stop ad, but still want to complain about the alcohol advertising at Pride, then there’s something else going on with you. Explore that.
Now that we’ve talked about all of the excuses and the petty squabbles, let’s talk about what Pride should be. Not a schedule of events, or my dream list of activities and entertainment, but what it should mean.
First off, we need to remember where Pride comes from. The first unofficial Pride was the Stonewall Riots. It was queers and trans people and butch dykes and non-conformers throwing bricks and starting fires, letting the police (and the world) know that they were tired of being harassed and treated as unequal. It was a moment of unrest. It was a moment of action. And we need to keep that action alive when we’re celebrating Pride. We need to talk about the things that happen in our world. We need to celebrate those who lift us up, and we need to flash a middle finger (and sometimes a fist) at those who continue to try to keep us down. We need to come together and find ways to build community instead of fighting over what letters should be first in the alphabet soup – when we all engage in the Great Oppression Cook-Off, no one wins. We have to build community, we have to bring different types and sorts of queer folks together to celebrate and make plans, and we need to surround ourselves with real allies who champion our struggles without appropriating and who don’t ask us to compromise who we are for their own comfort.
And we need Pride because even today we live in a world where someone can walk into one of our spaces and kill 49 of us and injure even more.
The Pulse shooting in Orlando was so shocking and so emotional for so many people across the country because we had started to believe that we’d made it. We had marriage equality, most of the time (unless county clerks decided not to do the job they were elected to do). We have employment and housing discrimination in many states and most major cities (I mean, sure, there aren’t any federally-mandated protections, but that’s life, right?). We’re more present on television and in movies and other media than ever before (sure, the body types and racial identities of these portrayals are pretty limited, but we’re all humans after all). All of those asides indicate the ways in which we queer folks have settled for “good enough” instead of continuing to work for true equality.
We have to be fierce.
We have to be compassionate.
We have to be strong.
We have to be allowed to be full, complicated, messy, imperfect sexual beings.
These are the qualities we should be celebrating and renewing when we come together for Pride events.
Pride is an inwardly directed emotion that carries two antithetical meanings. With a negative connotation pride refers to a foolishly and irrationally corrupt sense of one’s personal value, status or accomplishments, used synonymously with hubris. With a positive connotation, pride refers to a humble and content sense of attachment toward one’s own or another’s choices and actions, or toward a whole group of people, and is a product of praise, independent self-reflection, and a fulfilled feeling of belonging.
Those who criticize Pride are responding to the negative connotations. And queer folk, we have our share of hubris just like any other communities. But that doesn’t mean we have to settle for the hubris. We can work to improve our communities, to engage in positive and constructive dialogue that doesn’t ask us to stew in our guilt or crown the most oppressed of all the oppressed. We can work to be humble and content in our whole beings, and in the beings that make up our communities, and we can be fierce defenders of that community when others ask us to settle for less than what we deserve.
We need Pride because there are 49 fewer people in the world to help get us to that place, and we’re losing more all the time to violence, to suicide, to all manner of evils in the world. The world is a tough place already, let’s use Pride as a way to lighten the load, to come together and have some joy to temper our sadness. We need to be warriors for love. All kinds of love.
Pride is about action. “Proud” by Heather Small is my signature number, and it asks a very important question:
“What have you done today to make you feel proud?”
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