It’s about Gay Pride parades. I find them (okay, the three I’ve seen) rather…distasteful. Now, I know a lot of gay people, and I like most of them, and I think they’re normal people and whatnot. But I have to admit, when I see what’s on display in the Gay Pride parade, my visceral reaction is “what freaks. If I had children, I wouldn’t want those people near them.”
I am a rational person so I grasp that the sorts of people who choose to put everything out there (I don’t mean the fact that they are gay, I mean really inappropriate costumes and vulgar pantomimes) in the middle of 4th Avenue in broad daylight don’t represent all homosexuals any more than, say, Joe Francis and his ilk represent heteros, but still. It seems to me that if the goal of the gay community is to be accepted as mainstream, those parades are a really bad strategy.
What are your thoughts about this?
June is Pride month. Happy Pride, everybody!
Right on cue, I received two frequently asked questions about Pride.
Here’s the short answer:
Every day is straight pride day. Once a year we want to celebrate our entire community and its splendid history. Well, some of us do. Others of us want to hide away the people in assless chaps.
And here’s the long answer:
It seems to me that there are at least two things going on here. First, the overtly sexual nature of the celebration, and second, the perceived agenda of the community. Let’s take them one at a time.
I know we seem pretty powerful, but there’s really no master plan here. The community is incredibly diverse. We have some national organizations, and some pretty great state ones, too. None of them speaks for the entire community. Not even for the majority, I’d say. We have vastly differing views on what the desired end result is, and how we should get there.
Some people and organizations think we should “mainstream.” That we should make sure that everyone knows we’re just like everyone else. That our sexuality doesn’t define us, and that we’re more than who we love.
Others believe that sexuality is such a definitional piece of who we are as people that it makes us fundamentally different, and that the differences in our lives should be celebrated and made visible in every possible way.
Pretty much everybody else believes it’s a combination of these things.
Some people think we should use legislation, some think law suits. Others think protests and picketing and direct action. Still others think we should do nothing other than live our lives.
So when it comes to the strategy behind Pride celebrations, I’m not sure there is one. They’re now commercial enterprises, run by for-profit companies. But there is a history to them. I’ll get to that in a minute.
When you have the reaction that you wouldn’t want your kids near the people in the parade, what is it that you’re reacting to? I hear you saying that it’s not, necessarily the gayness. So, how would you react if it was a parade of straight people wearing really inappropriate costumes and performing vulgar pantomimes in the middle of 4th Ave? In broad daylight or not. Would you have the same reaction? I have a sense that you would.
I think that’s important to note. It’s not the gayness that’s troubling to you, it’s the behavior that you wouldn’t want your kids around. It’s the overt sexual behavior (maybe its “deviant” nature?) that is uncomfortable. Once we’re there, we can talk about that, and not about the fact that it’s gay.
Because for the people who object to the fact that it’s gay people in the streets, there’s not a lot I can say. Here’s the thing. I’ve said it before. It’s not the leather daddies that make people most uncomfortable with the gay community. It’s the gayness. It’s the gender-bending, the girls wearing ties and the man-on-man kissing. I don’t think that’s what you’re objecting to here, though.
I’ll tell you, I’ve been to some pride celebrations where I was shocked at the overt sexuality. The assless chaps and banana-hammocks. Usually it’s the SM or leather communities that have made me most uneasy. The GLBT community is already considered abnormal, so why flaunt our most “fringe” elements? I’ll get to that in a moment, too.
I’ve spent a fair amount of time in Italy over the last year, and it’s been funny to have my friends there tell me how uptight and puritanical I am. Sexuality is something that is bubbling right at the surface here. It can be unnerving just walking down the street to have people look at me in an overtly sexual way. I come from a culture where that’s not something you do on 4th Avenue in the middle of the day. Maybe in a club at night, but not all the time.
So I can understand being uncomfortable with the over-the-top sexuality on display at Pride. Out of context it’s a little alarming. But there’s a history here.
History of Pride
For those who aren’t up on their gay history, here’s the story of where Pride celebrations came from. I really think the background on this is helpful.
So, in the 50s and 60s, the gay community had it rough. There were groups dedicated to proving that homosexuals could be assimilated into the rest of society, as “normal” people. This was a challenge, as gay men, afraid of being outed, were being entrapped by police officers in city parks (one of the few places they could go to meet each other), and lesbians and drag queens were being strip searched at bars (one of the few places THEY could go to meet each other).
In many places, it was illegal for a woman to be found wearing fewer than three feminine articles of clothing. But, the only way to prove whether someone was wearing men’s underwear , even to prove if she was a woman, was to have her undress. Publically – or not. Just going to a bar, or expressing gender in a way that was comfortable was dangerous for a queer person. There was no real, safe way to meet other queers, and no, real, safe way to express homosexuality.
The early “homophile” groups engaged in pickets. Quiet ones. In suits and dresses, and white gloves. Finding it important to “fit in,” they adhered to strict rules, removing anything that could be seen as offensive or abnormal. Not everyone in the community agreed with this strategy (we never do), but the pickets went on for a while. There’s a great documentary, “Gay Pioneers” about the movement at that time. I really recommend it if you can find it.
Something changed radically the night of June 28, 1969, in the middle of a raid at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village. The bar was known as a gay bar, the only one in town where men could dance together, and was frequented by the most marginalized parts of the community: queens, hustlers, homeless youth. The parts that nobody wanted visible. Raids had been happening more frequently. Tension was building. When men were asked for their identification, and women were escorted inside for gender checks. Somebody said, “no.” Then someone else did the same. For the first time. A police officer pushed a drag queen. She hit him with her purse.
The bitch hit him with her bag.
And that was it. It erupted into a riot. Things thrown, police attacked, fires lit. The riot continued the next day, growing from 100 people to 1000. It continued a week later. Wikipedia has a great post on this, detailing the whole thing. It even has a map of the bar.
Stonewall was immediately something important to the community. A rallying cry that told us we could stand up for what was important to us. That the most marginalized would fight for all of us.
It catered largely to a group of people who are not welcome in, or cannot afford, other places of homosexual social gathering…. The Stonewall became home to these kids. When it was raided, they fought for it. That, and the fact that they had nothing to lose other than the most tolerant and broadminded gay place in town, explains why.
I’m not a fan of violent protest. I am a fan of standing up for what is right. And I love that queen for swinging her bag (though I wish she’d kissed the cop instead). When I read this on Wikipedia, I teared- up:
Beat poet and longtime Greenwich Village resident Allen Ginsberg lived on Christopher Street, and happened upon the jubilant chaos. After he learned of the riot that had occurred the previous evening, he stated, “Gay power! Isn’t that great!… It’s about time we did something to assert ourselves”, and visited the open Stonewall Inn for the first time. While walking home, he declared to Lucian Truscott, “You know, the guys there were so beautiful—they’ve lost that wounded look that fags all had 10 years ago”
So Pride is important. Beyond the commercialism and the binge-drinking, it’s a declaration of individuality. It’s a nod to the street kids and the hustlers that said, “no.” It’s a thank you to the queen with the purse.
Does everyone in the parade know that? Hell no. Are they looking for a good time? Yes. A chance to be their most outlandish self? Maybe. The first time I marched I was scared. Would my family see me on tv? Would this ruin my political career? I made sure I wasn’t in a position to be photographed with a partially-naked, or body-painted person, just in case.
I was also exhilarated. I’ll tell you I get a thrill every time I march, every time I watch, every time I hear the rumble of the dykes on bikes. And I tear up every time I see PFLAG marching with their kids; church congregations marching in rainbow colors. Our communities are all diverse. We all have marginalized segments that are told to be quiet. Once a year, the gay community embraces itself. Fully. And publically.
I often get the question, “Why does the gay community have to march? The straight community doesn’t have a ‘Straight Pride parade.’”
No, the straight community doesn’t have a parade once a year to declare its sexual independence. The straight community has the mainstream media to do that every day of the year.
Here’s a challenge for everyone: take one day and notice every sexual thing that you see. Look at the ads in magazines, the billboards, the tv commercials. Look at the books and the movies, and the sitcoms you watch. Consider what’s on the news, and how many people you hear talking about the date they went on last night. And consider how many of those things are presented in a heterosexual way, whether overtly or not.
It’s enough to make just about anyone want to put on assless chaps and dance in the street.
Thanks for the questions, my dears.