I recently went to my very first Pride festival. Spending a relatively quiet, calm afternoon on a small square in my small-on-international-level city with my close friend amidst rainbows and pink was a big step for me mostly in a symbolic way. Partially because I’m not the kind of person who really enjoys themselves in parties and crowds and so it took some personal strength to seek that sort of thing out willingly, but mostly because it served as an unofficial initiation of me as a queer person.
I didn’t start calling myself queer until earlier this year, and even then it was a gradual decision. I’ve known I wasn’t heterosexual and cisgender for a very long time, but it wasn’t until about two and a half years ago that I started meeting people who felt a similar way and I began feeling like part of a group and not just like myself. But I’m still cautious. When discussing nonbinary people, or asexual people, or queer people in general, I avoid pronouns like “we” and “us”. My reasoning is that I don’t want to fall into the dreaded ‘Us-versus-them’ dichotomy, but perhaps it’s also due to my being wary of identifying as part of a group – any group. I’ve never been much for that, and I’m still not quite sure how to feel about it. But getting more involved with the local queer community might help me figure it out.
That said, not everyone agrees on whether these Pride festivals are even necessary, especially not outside the queer community. This recent festival was only the second annual one in the city I live in, and I suppose all new things are bound to be met with reservation. Even ones that are already well-established elsewhere, like Pride festivals. Around here however, a common argument against the Prides, and the general concept of queer pride, is holding it to be needless exhibitionism. We are all people. And usually we aren’t so interested in the sex lives of strangers that we need entire festivals to show them off. These statements are simultaneously true and missing the point. So I want to cover two things in this essay. One; my interpretation of what it means to be out and proud. And two; why it’s necessary.
In all honesty, I don’t like using the word ‘proud’. I suppose once again it’s related to my general aversion to identifying with groups, but concepts like ‘proud to be gay’, ‘proud to be American’, ‘proud to be a 90’s kid’ have too many unfortunate implications for me. In my extremely subjective opinion, ‘proud’ is a word better used in relation to personal achievements. And inborn traits hardly count as achievements.
But as anyone will tell you, accepting and being happy about those inborn traits is the key to a healthy amount of self-esteem and a feeling of general fulfilment. Likewise, no one can deny that throughout history, queer people have not been encouraged to accept and be happy about their ‘alternative’ sexualities and gender identities. While things have improved, this is still the case today. Here’s a few statistics for kicks:
- 42% of queer youth say the community in which they live is not accepting of LGBT people.
- Queer youth are twice as likely as their peers to say they have been physically assaulted, kicked or shoved at school.
- 15%-43% of queer workers have experienced some form of discrimination on the job.
And so on. So in order to really understand what it means to be ‘out and proud’, it might help to tweak the wording a bit. Instead of wondering why it’s necessary to be proud of being queer, think of it this way: Being out as queer means accepting and acknowledging who you are and knowing nothing is wrong with that, despite constantly being told otherwise. This requires strength and effort – which is certainly something to be proud of.
You might still argue that having entire festivals centred around pride is a bit over the top. While most people agree that being at peace with who you are is a good thing, many still prefer if you kept that pride to yourself. As a heterosexual cisgender person, it’s easy to feel intimidated by the Pride festivals. After all, queer people have entirely different experiences about sexuality and gender than others do, and unknown things are always confusing and somewhat frightening at first – and here’s an entire festival devoted to making these strange experiences seem entirely normal and understandable. It’s like a big inside joke that you’re excluded from. Apparently it’s so common that the Pride I went to had to note on their website that heterosexual people were more than welcome to come celebrate along with everyone else. “Besides”, many people argue, “Why do they need to shove it in our faces? We’re not interested in what turns them on – keep that in the bedroom.”
Congratulations, friend. You have caught a glimpse of what it feels like to be non-heteronormative in a very heteronormative society.
There was nothing lewd going on at that festival. Even counting the woman in the rope harness, you’d see more nude skin by going to the beach – considering I live in a country were topless sunbathing is a completely normal occurrence, frankly I’m surprised that I didn’t see any exposed breasts at that festival. There were info stands for various communities and the like – like there should be at any topical festival – but, believe it or not, no orgies, no aggression, no exclusion or ‘heterophobia’, no frenzied shouts of ‘Go gay or go away’*. There was only a bunch of people enjoying themselves and celebrating diversity.
“But why,” I hear you argue, “Why do queer people feel the need to celebrate their sexualities and/or gender identities? Heterosexual cisgender people aren’t making a big deal out of theirs.” That’s true, and heterosexual cisgender people have no need to. Every single day is Straight Pride day. Please think back to the last movie or TV-show not specifically marketed to a queer audience that you saw. If there was a romantic (sub)plot, I’m willing to bet that it was about a man and a woman falling in love. Heck, even if there wasn’t, the main character was probably straight and cis anyway. It’s not just in media. Children are told that a day will come when they start noticing the opposite sex in an entirely different way. They are told that, depending on what parts they have between their legs, they will grow up to be either women or men. Any homosexual, bisexual, pansexual, asexual, transgender, or genderqueer child is considered an exception, their identities hidden away and erased from the universal narrative. Heteronormative people show off their sexualities and gender identities all the time. The only reason it seems exhibitionistic when other people do it is because our identities are not as integrated in the cultural consciousness.
I guess that might also be why I’ve been so hesitant to get involved in the queer community, and to identify as queer in the first place. Sometimes it feels like calling attention to myself. People ask why we need labels – can’t we all just be humans instead, humans who love humans? Sure. That would be great. Thing is, without the labels, people tend to assume that everyone is one specific kind of human who only loves another specific kind of human. And until they don’t – until we normalize queer identities to such an extent that gay action heroes and transgender main characters in sitcoms and children growing up to notice people of their own gender in a new and special way and children growing up to be a gender that isn’t normally associated with the anatomy they have become a completely regular and insignificant part of life – we need those Pride festivals. If nothing else, then to remind everyone that we exist.
(I guess I got the ‘we’ thing down after all, huh?)
* Ironic slogan courtesy of my extremely funny friend