I had a blast yesterday working at After Stonewall during Pride, and it was a real joy to see our wee gay village full of people. The parade was rerouted this year and the new path is fantastic – it begins on one end of the gay village, loops around, and ends at the other end – leading everyone into the village thereafter. It was a fantastic route, and I liked the notion very much: it started and ended in just the right place.
Capital Pride has had a rough road these past few years, and I was so relieved to enjoy so very much the day’s activities (and a Pride party at The Gilmour Inn, which was awesome). After many years of working retail for a chain, I often missed pride. In fact, I usually missed pride, since I had to work weekends.
This year? I happily worked through Pride because I was working right in the middle of pride at a gay business in the gay village. And it was so much fun.
That’s not to say it was perfect – I had to raise an eyebrow at some of the wee booths in the community fair. I’m not sure what Directbuy has to do with queer folk, but okay. You pays your money, you gets your booth, no?
As the day progressed, a lot of fellow queerfolk stepped into the store (and to all who did so, thank you, you totally made our day and it was so awesome to see you) but a few times over, a conversation happened that gave me pause. The conversation was varied, but the notion was the same: I don’t like what the Pride Parade has become. I remember when it began, and it wasn’t so commercial, or sex-centric, or alcohol related, or… There were many “or” statements. You get the idea.
Now, on one hand, I can understand this notion. I think in some way, the time period in which I came out puts me in a middle ground. I saw enough HIV/AIDS death to remember with honest pain the loss of those who left the world darker and sadder for their passing. I was queer at a time where we were considered illegal, or mentally ill. I took part in marches were I did not feel safe, in rallies where I wondered if I was about to get hurt. Being queer thrust me out of my family, left me flying completely solo, cost me on a visceral level and left me bleeding. The community I found, first alone, then through the university queer community, and after that through a bear group and a book club and other organizations, was huge in my recovery. I became who I am because of the idea of the “chosen family.” My logical — rather than biological — family, were everything I had. That little gay village was a refuge. The original After Stonewall was where I found my first few gay books, saw that I wasn’t alone. It was huge, and amazing.
And it’s not the same these days.
That nostalgia over the sense of community and strength that so many of my generation (and even more potently, those from years even earlier than mine) is what I understand. I can indeed see the point of those who point out our villages are fading with time, that our Pride Parades are more about showing flesh than fighting for rights.
But here’s the thing: I wouldn’t go back for the world. Not that it matters. Because that parade? It does so many things. When we walk in that parade, there is so much we can do.
But we can’t lead the dead from the camps, or the ditches, or the fences where they were tied and left to die. We can’t walk with the ones who chose to leave everyone, forever, when those who raised them decided they could not love a child who didn’t fit the definitions of what they’d thought a child could be. We can’t march beside those who never said a word and lived lies of silent loneliness, lest everyone they knew deemed them as living a sort of sin.
We can’t walk back in time and fix any of those injustices. We just can’t.
But every time we walk, we walk a little further into the future. Every victory has freed us to fight for the next thing. Our signs used to have to say “Gay is Not a Crime.” Corporate sponsorship was never going happen in those days. In yesterday’s Pride Parade, Amnesty International was walking, and individuals wore the flags of countries where LGBTQ people are still persecuted, and bore banners saying things like, “Jamaica, Amnesty International Stands With You.” We can widen our nets, and – yes – celebrate our victories.
We’ve won so many of these victories, but it’s not like the job is done. Trans* people are especially at risk. Intersectionality needs to come more front and centre. Those other countries need the kind of pressure put on them that organizations like Amnesty International can do. Marriage Equality was a huge focus – and post-victory, it’s time to shift that energy and effort to something else. Bullying. Suicide. LGBTQ Homelessness. Inclusive Sex Education.
We’re not done. And though it can be hard to see some of the benefits of the hard fight wane, I don’t want the world that had us fighting the hard fights back. Not at all.
I think when we march, we march with a beat. That noise, that sound, needs to be as joyous as it is righteous, and needs to be about the stories of all the ones who walked before, and died before, and that we make sure those stories echo for as long as they can. That’s a huge thing for me, and I know I’ve said it so often you’re probably sick to death of it – but here it is again: we don’t inherit our history. Queer people aren’t (usually) born to other queer people. It’s not like my gay parents told me about what life was like for them as queer people in their generation, and that gave me perspective before I came out. It didn’t work like that, it doesn’t work like that. We have to seek out our own stories if we want to know them, and often we don’t even know where to look. That’s a fight I think worth our attention.
I want to tell the next generation what it was like to – finally – see marriage equality pass, and how I got to propose to my husband on Canada day. I want to see their faces cloud with confusion when I talk about queer people being disowned, and hear their shock that people would think that way. I want to tell them about Stonewall, or Emma Golden, and the pink and black triangles. I want them to know that the things they have that they didn’t have to fight for did come at a cost, but that they should enjoy them, and that I don’t begrudge them. They are the whole point. I want to tell them about the days where I gathered with my queer community and we had to be careful about when we were loud, but that every time we were loud, it was worth it and it was so damn wonderful.
I don’t want to to back to those days – as much as I treasure that time and that version of queer community, for me it came just as much from being excluded as it did from feeling included. My in-laws are wonderful. My co-workers, even before I moved to a gay business, are brilliant. My neighbours are friendly. When I walk down the street, there are times I hold my husband’s hand. I have the right to have a husband at all. No one can put me in a cell for being gay, or a mental hospital. I would not give any of those things up for nostalgia.
Nor do I think the queer community is gone. I don’t think it will ever be, but I certainly don’t hope for some sort of eventual assimilation. I want to be a freak – without being treated as freakish – and find my fellow freaks and laugh. I want all the same rights and equalities, including the right not to choose to do any of those things fought for. I want queer couples to have no extra hurdles to jump through for adoptions or child-rearing, and I never want to have a kid, ever. I want my poly friends to be respected, my trans* friends to be whoever the hell they are, and I want it now.
It won’t happen now, but I want it.
So when the parade goes by, and I hear the criticism, I try to look again. Because when I see the half-naked go-go boys and the leatherfolk and the corporate sponsors, I smile. I’m happy no one has to carry a sign saying “decriminalize gay people!” here in Canada any more. Believe me, we have different signs we can carry. I doubt we’ll run out of things to fight for before I die, and that’s okay as long as we keep moving forward. And in the meantime, how awesome is it that topless lesbians drive by on motorcycles and no one thinks the world is going to end because of it?
I hear people say “this isn’t what I fought for,” and I can’t help but want to say: “yes, yes it is. You fought for all of us to be whoever the fuck we wanted to be, no matter whether or not anyone – and that includes you yourself – would choose to be the same thing. If you were only fighting for the right for queer people to be as ‘normal’ as possible, and don’t want to include the leather guys or the drag kings or the kink community or the poly families… then I think you might have missed the point.” I’m way too self conscious to groove in my underwear on a stage float, and I love that someone else can. My kink level is pretty tame, but I will toss bones to the puppy players as they crawl by. Bisexual dads fighting for better paternal leave? Hand me the petition. Beer float actively creating ads that include queer folk that the rest of the world will see? Fantastic, I can’t wait to see it, and I still don’t want to drink a microbrew.
Between my then and this now, though, I see so much that’s different. Teens come out. Hell, tweens come out. There are gay YA books, people. When I think back to my time in grade school or high school, this astounds me. And while I know full well that some of these kids have it as rough as (or worse than) I did, the fact of the matter is things are changing, and these kids often at least have the language to discuss what’s going on in their heads and hearts and bodies. They have a good chance of having friends who will love them – even teachers – and, yes, even families.
It’s not perfect. But it’s better.
And despite the logos, the gyrating, the condom-flinging, the wonderfully perverted and freakish everything all hanging out, I think that’s still what we march for: the better.
And I wouldn’t have it any other way.