“You going to the parade?”
It was Pride weekend last year in Chicago, and my friend Jen and I were sitting on my front porch. I was trying to figure out where my people would be the next morning.
Hungover and sleeping it off? At brunch? Dancing with shirtless, oiled-up men in booty shorts under the burning sun?
Jen lazily reached for a lighter, lit the cigarette in her mouth and blew a cloud of smoke into the air.
“Baby,” she said. “Do I look straight?”
That answered that. I didn’t go to the Pride parade last year. Neither did anyone else in my immediate queer friend group. Wait, that’s not true; one of my friends did, but only because her (straight) friends were in town and really wanted to go.
Ask your friendly local queer if they’re going to the parade, and you might get a “yes.” But you’ll just as likely get a “nope,” followed by an “it’s too corporate” or “it’s too white” or “it’s too cis.” Not radical enough, too hot, parking is terrible.
Here we are, after nearly 50 years of organized queer struggle, able to sit on a porch and dismiss Pride with a casual puff of cigarette smoke.
The first Pride was the Stonewall rebellion on June 28, 1969. It was an uprising of furious queers, led by trans women of color, against police harassment. The protests continued for several nights, and the butch dykes and drag queens won.
Within weeks, activist groups formed, and from the activist groups came the protests and lobbying and laws that help protect my lil’ half-shaved lesbian head.
You don’t hear much about Stonewall at Pride events. At my first Pride, in 2003, there wasn’t a hint of anger that I could see. Righteous fury had been replaced by corporate-sponsored floats; nearly naked gay men threw glitter sunscreen into the crowd while Nelly’s “Hot in Herre” blared. Small children with rainbows painted on their cheeks shrieked with sticky cotton candy pleasure. Everywhere I looked: gay people holding hands, kissing.
Drag queens waved from vintage cars, their sequins glinting in the sun and their hair heroically refusing to fall flat in the heat. Dykes on Bikes roared past. The riders were topless, and I was thrilled on my deepest, gayest level. Pride was a party, a huge gay party, and I had never been so excited to be invited, or felt so instantly welcome, anywhere.
That’s where Pride succeeds. It gets more inclusive and welcoming every year, and as the queers become less threatening, more straight people come, and more minds are opened to the possibility that we gays might just be regular people, after all. (Albeit with better decorating sense and the sass to pull off chaps that leave little to the imagination.)
This inclusiveness is also where Pride fails, for lots of us. Who is Pride really for these days? Queers who are proud to be queers, of course. But it’s yet another place that straight white people now feel 100 percent welcome, even though they feel perfectly at home in any public space.
Having allies is wonderful, but sometimes I wish they could be allies every other day of the year, and let us have a party as gay and naked and radical and un-family-friendly as we queers might like.
Pride is clearly also for corporations who want to milk as much money as possible from a previously ignored demographic. In the past decade or so, companies have scrambled to prove how O.K. they are with L.G.B.T.Q.I.A.+ folks, and well, it’s embarrassing how transparent the scramble for our money is.
I’m not immune. The first time I walked into a Target and saw a whole gay pride display with T-shirts, hats and other rainbow stuff, I got tears in my eyes and just stood there, blocking the aisle, while people pushed their carts around me. I cried in a Target, y’all.
Look, I was around when “The L Word” first aired. I remember how exciting it was to feel seen by Big Media, to be noticed or mentioned by anyone at all in straight culture. We queers were so hungry to see anything having to do with gayness represented, no matter how clumsily. We were, collectively, the kid with the weird name, desperately searching for a keychain with our name on it in a gift store. We would buy anything with rainbows on it, watch any show with a gay character. We were easy.
But that was years ago. Now it feels like Pride is one long advertisement for which company is the most woke, and this blatant “We, too, are so accepting, give us your dollars” messaging is off-putting.
We see you, Miller Lite, with your oddly wholesome, rainbow-spattered ads. Where were you before it was in your best financial interest to be accepting of queers?
Where were any of these companies when a single corporation standing up for queer rights would have stood out like a lit “Golden Girls” prayer candle in an endless night of straight missionary sex?
Pride is a big gay holiday with my chosen family, and like every holiday with my family, I have incredibly complicated feelings about it.
I love the endless parade of queers with hilarious homemade T-shirts; I hate the drunk college bros yelling “No homo!” jokingly to their friends, their biceps covered in temporary Wells Fargo rainbow tattoos. I love the radical protests and the Dyke March and the Trans March; I hate that white, gay, cis men are the only kind of gays with real activist funding behind them.
Above all, I love the families of Pflag, the nation’s largest family and ally organization. They hold up signs all weekend that say, “We love you the way you are!” and offer free hugs to queers who would give anything, anything at all, to hear those words from their own parents.
There has not been a year since I came out when I didn’t get one of those hugs. And for that alone, I still go to some Pride events every year, problematic and lovely as it is.
Photos of the Rainbow Parade on 17 June 2017 in Vienna, Austria, by Fausto Giudice, Tlaxcala