Pride, and why I’m not sure I have it.
Last weekend was Gay Pride Weekend, and of course the annual Toronto Gay Pride Celebration. I skipped the parade, but did end up going down to Church St. for a few hours in the evening to meet up with some friends. I’m glad that I decided against spending the whole day there, as even a few hours of it was somewhat depressing.
Don’t get me wrong; the weekend is always full of fun events. When I’ve attended Pride celebrations in the past, I’ve always had a pretty good time. But it just seems more and more that Pride has lost touch with its roots, becoming a mass-media fueled circus of stereotypes. And in the places where glimpses of those authentic roots can be seen, they’ve stagnated, not keeping up with the times of a changing world and society.
My biggest problem with Pride, as it exists today, is that I’m no longer sure whether it’s helping with the cause of acceptance and integration. Pride arose out of the oppression of the 1950s and 60s, when there were no laws protecting against sexual discrimination, and being openly gay (and especially cross-dressing) could get you arrested as a “sexual deviant”. One of the driving forces behind the formation of Pride Weekend, in particular, was the Stonewall Riots, when violence erupted following a particularly brutal police raid on a well-known gay establishment. And so in the beginning, Pride was about being confrontational and in-your-face. It had to be. Gay people were facing violence, and were tired of just lying down and taking it — they wanted and needed to fight back, in a very real and physical sense.
It’s that sort of confrontational behaviour, though, that I worry is no longer helping. Laws have changed, and while homophobia is still a definite problem in the world, it’s no longer overtly enforced by the system (in this country, at least — I know there are still places where being openly gay can get you arrested or killed, but I’m talking about Canada at the moment). In the 60s and 70s (even into the 80s), marching nearly naked and screaming “we’re here, we’re queer, get used to it!” involved taking a huge personal risk. You could get arrested. You could lose friends, family — even your job, since anti-discrimination legislation was still being developed, and it was still considered socially acceptable for a parent to disown their gay child. Now the Pride parade is full of those sorts of displays — it’s considered quite acceptable behaviour during the celebrations — and it just comes off as people who’ll take any excuse to get naked and yell things. It’s not a statement, it’s not risky; it’s not even risqué. It’s just public indecency for its own sake. And public indecency for its own sake probably isn’t helping.
One of the greatest challenges facing non-hetereosexual individuals today is the conception that being gay is inextricably linked to promiscuity, STIs (especially HIV/AIDS), and extreme sexual behaviours. Gay people are “abnormal”; they lack values which are common to heterosexual society. This is the gay that is most often seen in the media: party animals who can’t settle down with just one partner, who are obsessed with the superficial (how many fictional gay characters are hairdressers, makeup artists, or designers?), and who are ineffectual, especially when it comes to tasks usually assigned to their biological gender (gay men who can’t play sports; gay women who lack emotion and interpersonal skills). Above all, gay people are different from straight people in very noticeable ways. Pride plays into this stereotype, especially when the participants are waving their junk around, wildly partying, and labeling themselves (often literally, with stickers or buttons or the like that loudly and proudly proclaim “GAY”, “TRANS”, etc; more often in symbolic ways, such as by wearing rainbows or behaving/speaking in stereotypical manners).
I can’t help but feel that in the face of such stereotypical images, non-heterosexuality hasn’t been accepted by the general public … it’s just been shoved into a convenient and comfortable category. Gay people are harmless. Just let them have their parties and their hair gel and they’ll be happy. And so people tolerate gayness … but they don’t accept it. It’s kept separate from them, hermetically sealed off away from their “family values”.
But then we come up against questions like gay marriage, and the right for non-heterosexual couples to adopt children, and whether gay people should be able to become elementary school teachers. These things don’t fit into that comfortable stereotype. These things scare people, because now they have to re-define their definition of what a gay person is — and people hate uprooting their preconceived notions. They’d rather continue to assume that we’re all fun, ineffectual, and sexually depraved: not ideal people for beloved socio-religious institutions like marriage, and definitely not the sort of people who should be raising or teaching children.
In the face of these new challenges, these new steps along the road to normalcy, Pride should be changing as well. Couples should march together, holding hands, dressed professionally. Those gay individuals who have children (adopted or biological) should bring them along. Displays of public indecency should be viewed as indecent, not as an expression of one’s sexuality. Amid the celebrating of who we are, there should also be mention of what we want — petitions circulating in the crowds, and speeches being given on street corners about necessary social change. People shouldn’t label themselves with pins or stickers that say “GAY”; they should blend into the crowd, so that gay and straight people cannot be told apart and mingle freely.
Sometimes, I think, the most radical thing you can do is to defy people’s expectations.
This entry was posted on July 9, 2010 at 2:40 PM and is filed under Ramblings, Rants with tags bigotry, discrimination, gay, homophobia, media, pride, pride parade, pride weekend, sexuality, social change, stereotypes. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.