As Pride Month kicks off in the US and many cities are gearing up to organise their various celebrations, the very concept of Pride is under threat not only from the same conservative anti-lgbtq groups of decades past and present, but in a roundabout way, from queer activist and queer people who more and more want nothing to do with pride.
This is because for years now Pride has less and less centred the supposed celebrants and centred mostly brands, the state, the police, and bizarrely, straight performers.
Take for instance what happened in Manchester pride, which for some reason takes place in March. Where Ariana Grande, a musician loved by the gays but who has never publicly come out as anything but straight was slated to be the main performer, and her and Pride were ready to charge attendants 70 GBP (almost 100 USD and 40 pounds more than previous years). I don’t mean to reignite the arguments from those days, and Ariana’s history notwithstanding, this left many queer people with a sour taste in the mouth.
Or more recent Edmonton Pride in Alberta deciding to cancel Pride altogether after lgbt activist called for a ban of uniform police marching in the parade.
So when I was commiserating with my friend, as one does, about the state of the world today and she told me that maybe we should get rid of pride altogether, my first instinct was to say, “yeah, maybe that’s for the best”, my second instinct was to panic.
Panic because, at the same time as brands as tripping over themselves to get money from lgbtq folks by showing how progressive and gay friendly they are to people who’ll already receive that message well. We’re probably living through the greatest backslash against queer people this side of the millennium divide.
With gender and sexuality protections under fire by several lawmaking bodies, country leaders promising to kill or jail lgbt people around the world, nazis being nazis, and major news outlets in the US and UK fighting an all out campaign to vilify trans people and paint trans women as enemies of women (never mind the inherent contradiction). Pride is needed now perhaps more than ever.
The attack now is coming from both sides, if you can call the far right and the centre right sides. On the one hand the traditional conservatives are pushing for an eradication of lgbtq lifestyles longing to push us back in the closet. On the other, brands are not trying to eradicate our spaces, they’re trying to make them their own. And in doing so sucking all the colour and diversity out of pride. A straightification of pride not even the most adamant Mattachine could have wished for back in the 60s.
Because it is these same corporations that want to sell us their product, and have us on our websites as long as we’re not too ourselves. Youtube turns their logo rainbow in June, but demonetised videos that contain the world lesbian on the title. Patreon made it’s whole business on the work of adult artists, both queer and not, but now that it’s successful these artist are finding themselves booted of their platform. Many a queer person has been driven to suicide after debts could not be paid when a world that asks us to give them our rainbow dollars is not willing to employ us, pay us or keep us from getting fired. And then banks want to march in the parade alongside us. It is insulting.
The truth is, none of what we’re dealing with now could have been predicted on the day of the first pride parade. The world has become an entangled mess of complex allegiances, promotions and denunciations. It’s usually those with less scruples who would take advantage of such chaos. This leads to a chilling new trend of homophobes and transphobes getting queer people to spread their message for them by masking it in the trappings of modern queer discourse, for instance, as a call-out post.
This lead to a situation we saw recently on twitter. I could go find the tweets, but individual tweets aren’t as important as the trend. In short, the message was put out that leather should be banned from Pride, because it’s a kink and there are children at pride parades and they shouldn’t be exposed to kink. This message was amplified by a lot of ill meaning people who are happy with pride being primarily a show for straight people and corporations, ill meaning people who want to get rid of pride altogether, and well meaning people who think they’re looking out for queer children and asexual people. After a few cycles through the discourse machine, people are arguing that queer people should queer up be having sex at pride, right on the parade, and people saying well that’s obviously wrong.
Meanwhile the question of whether we should have cops and corporations and pride has been superseded by the conversation of which kinds of queer people we should have a pride. An imaginary argument between asexuals, allosexuals, victims of child abuse,and somehow communists. It’s part of a meta problem of people fighting fights for people who don’t want that fight fought and doing a terrible job of it. Are there asexuals who don’t want kink at pride? Probably, but I think, as an outsider, that most just want a seat at the table they rightfully deserve. No one’s having sex at Pride, because that’s illegal. If you want there to be no acknowledgement of the existence of sex at Pride or anywhere, you’d do well to question that instinct
Pride has become toxic. The whole point of pride is that people find us disgusting, so we turn around and say “fuck you, we’re proud to be disgusting then.” but as certain flavours of queer become mainstream, and develop a fuck you got mine attitude. The rest of us are still fighting the same fight as centuries ago, but now we can’t be proud. Cause proud means rainbow coloured beer bottles we can’t drink, rainbow chequebooks we can’t write, rainbow flags we can’t burn. We turn instead to that second most queer of deadly sins Wrath.
And Wrath parades do take place. Alongside pride and sometimes in protest of it. Alternative Pride Marches, Dyke Marches, events that are more true to us begin to pop up in most major cities. However, other smaller cities remain with a subpar experience.
I find myself incapable of choosing what the proper course of action is for times like these. Abandoning pride altogether and disappearing into the shadows whilst the straights, the brands and the straight friendly gays keep our pride, seems unacceptable. An alternative pride seems like a solution, but I think the best course of action is to follow in the example of our elders. Miss Major who’s still with us, and Sylvia Rivera who is not.
I am thinking, as I often am, of that famous 1973 video wherein Rivera got up on the stage amongst boos from the crowd and started screaming, on behalf of our queer siblings in jail, in prison, in shelters, in poverty. Almost 50 years ago, and we’re still fighting those fights. Some people wish to believe that things have gotten better and maybe they have. But trans people, are still in prison, demanding and being denied their right to transition. Queer people are still at much greater risk of homelessness than the general population. Trans people still have a much higher rate of suicide. Black trans women still face a much higher rate of violence both from police and civilians.
Maybe the best thing to do is to wrest those mics, and to scream.