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My Problem with Pride

#pride
#yassss

Pride is an amazing month when people across the LGBTQ+ spectrum (and their many allies) have the privilege of celebrating who they are as a community. I love so many things about Pride, and am conflicted about many others. While I recognize that it is my American privilege to be able to rant about how Pride impacts and troubles me, I think it is important to have open conversations around these topics. I know that if I feel some type of way – others may as well. Again, this is not me being ungrateful for Pride – this is me wondering how it impacts the perception of our community.

On the one hand, I see Pride as a beautiful celebration. There are countless events, parades, and parties across the country (sometimes in states and cities that deal with significant LGBTQ+ opposition). Despite the adversity our community constantly faces, thousands of people come together in an authentic way and literally let their rainbow flags fly. It’s as if the inhibitions and repressions deeply entrenched in so many of us are suddenly non-existent, and we can just be in a crowd of friends and perfect strangers. I love that – and there is something to say for how the images, videos, and firsthand experiences of Pride build a cohesion in our community and publicizes that cohesion to the world.

On the other hand, I personally feel very detached from Pride celebrations. What I see and have experienced over the years during Pride often makes me feel like even more of an outcast in my own community. Certainly, I can appreciate that there are specific hallmarks of the modern queer experience that unite us. For instance, a rainbow flag is as significant to commemorate a Pride event as an American flag is to a Fourth of July event. But why, I wonder, is everyone seemingly competing over how naked they can be? Yes – I can get on board with body positivity and perhaps how nudity is symbolic of a queer liberation or defiance of the years of repression many of us have tolerated. But also, let’s keep it real, most people are doing it for the attention.

It’s this, and so many other things, that I feel detract from what could be a more uniting time for our community. I wonder – do I need to be voguing down a street in rainbow booty shorts screaming “yassss” with 150 strangers? Must I homogenize myself to celebrate my community? What if I really like being gay but don’t feel represented by the dozens of (admittedly lovely) drag queens hired as figures during these events? What if I don’t like the 8 artists they keep hiring to perform at these things – many of whom are straight and teeter on the line of appropriating and profiting off of a community they aren’t a part of? Again, I understand that there is significance to different aspects of these generalizations. For instance, voguing evolving from the queer-driven Harlem ballroom scene and mainstream artists bringing an even wider exposure to gay causes. I get it.

I guess my trouble with Pride is I feel like it is very one note. At work, I was part of a committee that was asked to generate content around Pride month. Again, a blessing that I work somewhere so supportive. But we start talking about pride – the Stonewall Riots, a handful of LGBTQ+ organizations, and the cultural force of Ru Paul’s Drag Race. These things are all important to know, and they all accomplish(ed) amazing things. But I end up feeling so detached. These things feel so distant from what it’s like for me to be an out gay man in my daily life. I know many will say – Lex – this is just your internalized shame. You don’t like “gay things” because of your internalized shame, and you are an asshole and elitist for distancing yourself from what unites so many of us.

But genuinely, I don’t think it’s internalized shame that makes me feel distant. I appreciate a lot of what is happening during Pride. Even if so much of it is not for me, I can respect that it makes so many others happy and brings them together. What makes me feel distant is simply the fact that what the community and businesses have generalized as ways to express Pride are not inclusive of what I personally feel represent me. I’m not mad at a beer company selling to us with rainbow-fied logos and Meghan Trainor entertaining us in a rainbow skirt, but at the end of the day, that’s just business. As these events go more and more in the direction of commercialization and homogeneity, I worry that our community will also be perceived as one thing from the outside – which continually boxes us in.

These are issues I’ve discussed many times before. Gay people are assumed to be so many things. In an extreme and single-sentence example, one popular stereotype is that we are all well-dressed, well-groomed, energetic, pop-culture obsessed, voguing therapists to straight women with first world problems. I worry that Pride drives so many of those stereotypes home, without providing an opportunity to showcase the different (namely, boring) lifestyles of the majority of us out there. Again, no shade to drag queens and performers, you are very much an important part of the story.

But I wonder, where’s the keynote speech at Pride delivered by the LGBTQ+ CEO of a Fortune 500 company? Where are the scientists working every day toward a cure for HIV? Where are the journalists bringing our issues to the forefront in the media? Where are the lawmakers and lawyers fighting every day for our rights? Sure, I bet many of them are at Pride, in a boring float or at a booth. And sure, Pride is a celebration, so I guess the drag queens and performers are better suited than a CEO giving a speech. But in the ruckus of Pride, I feel like so many LGBTQ+ stories get lost. It becomes all about the party, and what you wore (or didn’t), and how much you drank, and who you hooked up with. I don’t have a solution here, and maybe Pride is just the “party” moment for a year full of constant LBGTQ+ progress. I just think it’s important to also use the time to highlight the extreme variety of people and lifestyles that make up our community. Perhaps if we do so, more people will feel a part of it.

6 thoughts on “My Problem with Pride

  1. You certainly make an argument for the “I’m gay, but not like those gays,” trope: a “dont lump me in with those fags” moment. We all do it, have done it, or will do it in the future.

    There are a few perspectives in academia surrounding gay culture vs. gay sexuality and the latter seems easier to accept for most gay men. There is, in my opinion, a strong case for a true gay culture, though.

    Your most valid point is the heteronormative, female acts that appropriate gayness and the headline these festivals. For example, Paula Abdul performed at L.A. Pride this year. Why? She hasn’t been an extremely outspoken ally let alone any of the letters LGBTQ+. There is also a case to be made for women entering gay spaces and making them less safe. Ask a drag queen; they’ll tell you about bachelorette party nightmares.

    Overall, it’s very important to celebrate gay culture, not just sexuality. Did you attend a parade, by chance?

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    • Gay culture & gay lived experience is more diverse than what is usually portrayed in many of these Pride events, where focus is usually given to what is “colorful” and “spectacular”. These aspects have prevailed mostly because that’s what most sponsors and the media want to see.

      Some of us cannot help but feel a little patronized by this overwhelming sense of “positivity”, not because we don’t like “colorful” things like pop culture/music (I personally am a huge Madonna fan) – but mainly because we’ve spent all our lives rejecting the need to act/ think/ behave/ feel a certain way.

      As part of such celebrations, one is expected to join the “fun” – where the definition of “fun” is usually a bit… ahem… narrow. That dicourages people from participating -especially people like me, who get tired of parties 30 minutes after they begin (yep, I cannot be called a club kid by no means).

      I am thinking that, as “queer” is a verb and not just an adjective, I think we ought to “queer things up” by thinking how such events can be even more inclusive, political and potent than what they are now!

      in any case, thank you for the discussion! 🙂

      Chrys from Greece :* 🙂

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  2. I also feel very detached from Pride. Furthermore I demonstrate my pride 365 days a year not just in the summer. I show my pride by being an advocate for change and inclusion and by being unapologetically myself, but also carrying myself in a dignified way so people realize LGBTQ individuals are just like them. I demonstrate(d) my pride by being the first openly gay man in my military reserve unit and (having joined when DADT was still the law of the land) and paving a path for new queer men and women to enter into a space that has already been established as safe because of the time and effort I’ve put in. I think that pride is still a very necessary celebration and demonstration, especially since the stats are showing an increase in LGBTQ hate crimes, but not in the overly sexualized way they are conducted now. And don’t even get me started about the lack of inclusion within our own circle! How many white, male, cis, twinks and muscle heads can fit on a pride float anyway? What about our POC that are statistically at such a greater disadvantage? Or our trans brothers and sisters that don’t share the same freedoms the rest of the spectrum does? Pride needs an overhaul, and return to the grass roots of the event.

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  3. Thank you, Lex, I’m glad I’m not the only one. Pride has lost its meaning, Drag queens and half naked guys vogueing down the streets (for attention, mainly) do not define our community as a whole, but sadly that’s the image we are putting out there. I am gay from a conservative Asian family and these are the images my parents see when they learn about LGBTQ+ on the news, that’s their (and most) perceptions on our community. There’s a fine line between showcasing who you are fearlessly and just being inappropriate – most people at Pride have crossed that line. What is the message we are trying to deliver? I don’t know anymore. All I know is that there are children on the streets, your so called “sexual liberation” – keep it in the bedroom, doing it on the streets is just purely public indecency. Before we come together for pride, why don’t we focus on the real problems within our community? Racial discrimination, unhealthy obsessions over appearance, or fitting into gay stereotypes… just to name a few. These are the issues distancing me from my own community, most of us in the Western world is already on the right track and direction to equality, but we focus so much on the privileges we already have, we lost track on what really matters out there.

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  4. Thank you! I’ve felt this way for years. I’ll never forget standing on Santa Monica Blvd watching a BDSM group walking in formation down the street. At one point a man on a leash got down on “all fours” and licked the boots of the man standing on the other end of the leash. I asked myself, “What has this got to do with me simply loving another man?” Above and beyond the preponderance of drag queens, which subset within the gay community has more and more been conflated with a kind of gay essentialism, and the various states of undress I saw everywhere, this above all forced me question what Pride was really about – and also why I was there. I am not anti-drag nor am I anti-BDSM. If some folks like to express their body positivity by walking about in the nude or nearly nude, that’s fine by me. What I don’t feel is that my pride and my acceptance of my sexual identity and orientation is a catch-all for every non-normative variety of same sex possibilities. I have felt detached from the event ever since that day. I’d like to feel differently.

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