A personal, reflective essay.
So June has begun. The traditional month of all things queer is upon us, and there are parades to attend, celebrations to host and parties to throw! But as we go out and show some Pride, it can be important to take a step back and reflect on why we celebrate Pride and what Pride means to each of us. Naturally, this is deeply personal and different for each queer person. So in this blog post, I’d like to explore what Pride means to me.
June 2019 hasn’t been the best month for queer people. Since the month began, we have seen a lesbian couple viciously attacked on a London bus for refusing to kiss for the entertainment of (straight) men. We have discovered the body of another trans woman in a lake in Dallas, Texas. We have had neo-Nazi’s disrupt Detroit Pride in the US – bringing their interesting flavor of homophobia, racism and anti-Semitism. We have had a gay man from Georgia, USA robbed and murdered as homophobic slurs were hurled at him.
Naturally, we condemn, in the strongest terms, these acts of violence and harm to our community; to our brother, our sisters and our siblings. These acts of violence just go to show, how important Pride remains.
In the beginning, there were trans women of colour
Many of us know that Pride originated from the original 1969 Stonewall Riots. Not so many (although this is increasingly changing) will know that the start of the riots have been attributed to two trans women of colour: Marsha P Johnson and Sylvia Rivera – who will be immortalized forever in a new New York City Monument.
Last year, Amsterdam Pride’s theme was Heroes. The one of the very first floats to sail down the canals of the city featured was emblazoned with banners bearing the names of these two activists – a moment that made me tear up in gratitude and reverence to these amazing women. This leads to my first impression of Pride.
Pride is a Remembrance
Keeping the joyous notions of Pride aside, to me, first and foremost, Pride is a memorial service to all the queers that have gone before us. Not all of them were martyrs, but many of them were. Whether they lost their lives to hateful and violent actions, or took their own lives due to hateful words or policies, or were tragic victims of a disease other’s thought our ‘’divine punishment’’; Pride is the moment to remember them, to honour them with life, love and laughter.
Pride is a Celebration
Honouring the dead doesn’t have to be a morbid affair. Celebrating lives that were and lives that are and lives that are to come is a key element of Pride. During Pride, we celebrate that we are alive, that we have made it through one more year, that we (mostly) live in a society where things like Pride can happen and can take place (this is a very western-centric idea; if you live in a place where Pride is forbidden, I am sorry and I hope that you are safe).
Pride is a Reminder
This celebration aspect is evident in the colours, the sights, the sounds and the parties of Pride. It is a moment when we take to the street and proudly claim ‘’WE ARE HERE’’. We remind ourselves of everything mentioned before, but we remind society at large that we exist and deserve to be treated with respect and equal rights. We remind the world that being gay, queer, non-binary, lesbian, trans, intersex, different, unique or any other label you identify with is a beautiful thing; it doesn’t need to be feared and it doesn’t deserve to be hidden in the closet.
Pride is being yourself
And talking about the closet, I want to take this opportunity to tell you about my first Pride experience.
I came out in 2003, but I didn’t attend my first Pride event until Amsterdam 2017. Part of the reason why was that I didn’t understand Pride. I was stuck in a heteronormative way of thinking and believed that Pride ‘’damaged’’ queer points or voices; that straight people wouldn’t take us seriously if all they saw was Pride. To an extent, this might be true, but I was hiding behind the fact that even though I was ‘’out’’ – I still hadn’t accepted myself as a gay man.
The heteronormative image of a gay man is one that is loud, fun and fit (for more on fat-shaming and misogyny in the gay community, come see my TEDtalks*). While I think I am fun, I might not necessarily fit in to this stereotype – I am out of shape and do not like being the center of attention. I felt like an imposter. I believed that the other gays wouldn’t accept me as one of them, that my community would reject me.
None of that happened.
I spent my very first pride with my best friends and had an amazing time. I made new friends and had new experiences and for the first time ever, I felt like I belonged. I wasn’t the party-type, but I didn’t have to be. I could enjoy Pride on my own terms, in my own way. And it struck me, that there, on the side of an Amsterdam Canal, 14 years after I first came out, I was comfortable with my own sexuality; I was me.
Pride is for All.
And just as I was accepted at my first Pride, it is important to remember that Pride is for the entire spectrum of sexual identities, gender identities, gender expressions and more. The history of the Stonewall Riots showed us that, despite it being kicked off by trans women of colour, gays and lesbians (and predominately white ones) took control of the narrative.
Sylvia River, in ‘”Queens in Exile, The Forgotten Ones”, published in 2002 wrote that ‘’they died in 1973’’ because of a gay liberationist movement which had increasingly come to exclude queens and gender nonconforming individuals.
So, in 2019, it is important to remember that Pride is for everyone; that it should be accessible to everyone; that it doesn’t matter how one identifies within the community, they are welcome; that they don’t need to be out to be welcomes; that they don’t need to conform to stereotypes. Pride is for All.
The End of this Post, but Not the End of Pride
So that concludes what I feel Pride represents to me. What do you think? Do you share my sentiments, or do you have a different interpretation that you would wish to share? Lets us know in the comments below or on Facebook.
And don’t forget, Pride isn’t over. Amsterdam Pride is in August and Rotterdam Pride Walk follows in September.
* I don’t do TEDtalks, but I have talked and given workshops on this topic at Symposia in and around Leiden.