Watching The Defectives
Gentle readers, I'm rerunning my annual Pride rant for the eleventh year. I wrote this post in 2005 a couple of days after attending Pride here in NYC. In the following years I've reposted it in advance of Pride in the hope of encouraging you to attend your local events. Have a wonderful Pride month. Love each other.
Watching The Defectives
Last Sunday at 12:30pm, I was in position on Christopher Street with Terrence, his glamor boys, and touring UK bloggers Dave and Darren. The Pride parade was due to round the corner any minute, but I tore off in search of a bodega, crossing my fingers that my desperate need for a soda wouldn't cause me to miss Dykes On Bikes. Half a block away, I found a little place and ducked in, weaving through the customers clogging the aisles on rushed missions like mine. I was third in line, two bottles of Sprite under my arm, when the man in front of me spotted a friend entering the store.
"David! Sweetie! Where are you watching from? Come hang out with us on Allen's balcony!"
David, a bookish looking middle-aged man, destroyed the festive mood in the little store in an instant. "Absolutely not. Those defectives and freaks?" he spat, indicating the colorful crowd outside the store, "They have nothing to do with MY life, thank you very much. This parade has as much dignity as a carnival freak show. It's no wonder the whole country hates us."
Luckily for David, the Asshole Killer mind ray I've been working on is not yet operational. I settled for pushing him a little, just a tiny bit, just to get by him in that narrow aisle, of course. I returned to my sweaty little group and tried to put what I'd heard out of my mind for the remainder of the day, because I knew that by the next morning, the thousands of Davids of the world, the ones who have media access anyway, would all issue their now familiar day-after-Pride rant. The one where they decry the drag queens on all those newspaper front pages. The one where they beat their chests and lament, "Why don't the papers ever show the NORMAL gay people? Where are the bankers and lawyers? Why must all the coverage be drag queens and leather freaks in assless chaps?"
And every year, the logical answer is that bankers and lawyers are boring to look at and that pictures of marching Gap employees don't sell newspapers. There's no sinister media agenda intent on making gay people look ridiculous, no fag-hating cabal behind the annual front page explosion of sequins and feathers. It's just good copy. Drag queens are interesting. Even the bad ones. Especially the bad ones.
Yet right on cue, the day after Pride, the Davids of the blogosphere dished out their heavy-handed dissections of parades around the country. Only this year, there was a palpably nastier tone to an already traditionally nasty annual debate. Blame the election, blame the recent avalanche of anti-gay legislation, but this year, the usual assimilationist arguments went beyond the hypothetical speculations that maybe our Pride parades were too outlandish, that maybe we weren't doing the movement any favors by showing the country a face that happened to be wearing 6-inch long false eyelashes. This year there was some actual discussion about HOW we were going to "fix" Pride parades. Of how we might go about "discouraging" certain "elements" from taking part in the parades.
This is the part of the story where I have my annual post-Pride apoplectic attack. This is the part of the story where the swelling volume of Nazi analogies overwhelm my ability to speak and all I can do is twitch and bark out little nonsensical bits. This is where I always forget the name given to the Jews who went to work for the Nazis, helping load the trains. "Because that's what you are asking us to do, you assholes!" Then I always ask, "Who are we going to sacrifice to 'save' ourselves? Which child will it be, Sophie?" And this is the part of the story where my friends accuse me of being a hyperbole-laden drama queen, wasting spiritual energy on a non-crisis, and of co-opting the Holocaust as well. More on that later.
These people that want to "fix" Pride don't understand the role that Pride parades have come to play. Initially, the gay parade was about visibility. It was about safety in numbers, and more importantly, "normalcy" in numbers. It was about the idea that if only straight America could see us, could just SEE US, that they'd love us. And accept us. That if we'd mass and march by the righteous millions, the sheer unstoppable force of our collective image would topple bigotry. Would right wrongs. Would stop hate.
Of course, that didn't happen then and it doesn't happen now.
What DOES happen, is that Pride parades, at least in the big cities, have become nothing more significant to straight America than an annual traffic nightmare. As a tool of the gay movement, the Pride parade is now merely a walking photo op for politicians and perhaps not much more. A couple of years ago, the ultimate arbiter of America's cultural zeitgeist, The Simpsons, made note of this:
(The gay pride parade is going past the Simpson house.)
Chanting marchers: "We're here! We're queer! Get used to it!"
Lisa Simpson: "You're here every year. We ARE used to it."
What does all of this mean to the Davids of the world, the gay assimilationists that want to, wish they could, somebody do something, there's gotta be a way we can, Dignify This Parade? The ones begging: "Can't we get our people to at least DRESS respectfully for one lousy day? Is that too much to ask of our people? "
Yes, yes it is.
Because you are kidding yourself if you think Pride parades, in any form, will EVER change the minds of homophobes. The straight people who show up to see Pride parades are already largely convinced. We're parading to the choir, Jesse. Those straight people love our freaks, bless them.
Oh, you could test run a "defective" free parade. You could form urban anti-drag squads and go around to all the gayborhoods on the morning of the parade and give all the drag queens 50% off coupons for Loehmann's, offer good during the parade only. And they'd GO, of course, cuz hey, those girls love a bargain. But the resultant bland, humorless, "normal" gay parade wouldn't change the course of the gay movement one bit. The part of straight America that is repulsed by drag queens is quite possibly even more terrified by the so-called "normal" gays, because "those clever calculating creatures look JUST LIKE US, and can infiltrate and get access to our precious children. And that's been their disgusting plan all along, of course."
So where does that leave us? Are we post-Pride? Is the parade just a colossally long waste of a miserably hot summer day? Is the Pride parade just an event that does a better job of moving chicken-on-a-stick than it does of moving hearts? I'd say that, yes, as an effective tool of the gay movement, Pride's usefulness has largely waned in many U.S. cities. So do we even need to keep having these parades, since they no longer seem to have much of an impact on the state of the movement? No, we don't.
But...YES, WE DO.
Because even if Pride doesn't change many minds in the outside world, it's our PARTY, darlings. It's our Christmas, our New Year's, our Carnival. It's the one day of the year that all the crazy contingents of the gay world actually come face to face on the street and blow each other air kisses. And wish each other "Happy Pride!" Saying "Happy Pride!" is really just a shorter, easier way of saying "Congratulations on not being driven completely batshit insane! Well done, being YOURSELF!"
I'm not worried what the outside world thinks about the drag queens, the topless bulldaggers, or the nearly naked leatherfolk. It's OUR party, bitches. If you think that straight America would finally pull its homokinder to its star-spangled bosom once we put down that glitter gun, then you are seriously deluding yourself. Next year, if one of the Christian camera crews that show up to film our "debauched" celebrations happen to train their cameras on you, stop dancing. And start PRANCING.
If you're out there wringing your hands and worrying that Pride ruins YOUR personal rep, listen up. Do you think that straight Americans worry that Mardi Gras damages international perception of American culture? America, land of the free, home of "Show Us Your Tits!"? They don't and neither should we. Our Pride celebrations are just our own unique version of Mardi Gras, only instead of throwing beads, we throw shade. No one has to ask US to show our tits. We've already got 'em out there, baby. And some of them are real.
A co-worker of mine heard me discussing my Pride plans last weekend and said, "I really don't understand what it is you are proud about. I mean, you all say that you are born that way, so it's not like you accomplished anything." She wasn't being mean, just genuinely curious, and I think that a lot of gay people probably feel the same way. On this subject, I can only speak for myself.
I'm proud because I'm a middle-aged gay man who has more dead friends than living ones and yet I'm not completely insane. I've lived through a personal Holocaust (here we go again) in which my friends and lovers have been mowed down as thoroughly and randomly as the S.S guards moved down the line of Jews. You, dead. You, to the factory. And you, you, you, and you, dead. I am inexplicably alive and I am proud that I keep the memories of my friends alive. I am proud of my people, the ACT UPers, the Quilt makers, the Larry Kramers, the Harvey Fiersteins. I'm proud that I'm not constantly curled up into a ball on my bed, clutching photo albums and sobbing. And that happens sometimes, believe it.
And outside of my personal experiences, I am proud of my tribe as a group. Sometimes I think that gay people are more creative, more empathic, more intuitive, more generous, and more selfless than anybody else on the planet. Sometimes I think that if an alien culture were surveying our planet from light years away, they might classify gay people as an entirely separate species of humans. It's easy to spot us because of our better haircuts.
But sometimes I think we are the worst people in the entire world when it comes to standing up for each other. The gay people who'd like to soothe their personal image problems by selectively culling some of our children from Pride events? They disgust me. They appall me. They embarrass me. To them I say: The very road that YOU now have the privilege of swaggering upon was paved by those queens and leather freaks that you complain about as you practice your "masculine" and give us butch face. If you want to live in the house that THEY BUILT, you better act like you fucking know it. United we stand, you snide bitches. America's kulturkampf ain't gonna be solved by making flamboyant people go away.
I'll end this by making one final Jewish reference. Possibly you've heard the Jewish in-joke that sums up the meaning of all Jewish holidays? "They tried to kill us. We won. Let's eat." My Pride version?
They wish we were invisible.