So, Isn't Pride a Sin?
Stonewall Week is here again, gang, time to haul out those rainbow-colored tchotchkes. You know, the plastic shit manufactured in that bastion of queer rights, the People's Republic of China. And sold to you by street vendors whose major contribution to the movement is turning a profit on overpriced light sabers that stop working as soon as you get them home.
Back in the day, though (Oh, Jesus fuck, here the old fool goes again), San Francisco's parade in commemoration of the Stonewall Riots wasn't called "Pride" at all. It was "Gay Freedom Day," then "Lesbian/Gay Freedom Day," and then, as the alphabet soup of inclusiveness took hold, "LGBT Freedom Day." And maybe "Q."
As the 1980s dawned, the biggest struggle on the Parade Committee was between the Trotskyists (talk about nostalgia!) who believed the struggle for queer rights was part of a larger struggle of the oppressed, whatever their orientations, and the non-Trots, who thought it wasn't. Hard to believe, but whether to accept corporate sponsorship was a thorny issue back then. Those were, perhaps, the days.
Of course, none of the wranglers could see AIDS coming, could foresee same-sex marriage being legal in their lifetimes, could predict the massive successes of the LGBTQ-whatever movement. They were more concerned whether to give Bud exclusive rights to sell beer.
Somewhere along the line, though, the notion of "Gay Pride" took hold—I blame it on outside agitators, or at least L.A.—and now "Pride" equals "Queer," as thoroughly and perhaps as fatally as "Silence" equaled "Death."
Call me a throwback if you want, as stupidly purist as those Trotskyists who expected world revolution any day now, but pride seems to me a stupid concept on which to hang a mass movement. Sure, if you're just coming out, trying to get past an upbringing that taught you cocksucking was worse than murder, then pride—getting beyond shame, learning to respect your queer self—is a great thing. And sure, if homophobes keep telling you to stay in the closet, ashamed of who you are, then pride can be a tonic slap-back. But after that?
Pride-as-savior is like some relic of the touchy-feely days of the late 20th century, back when transforming yourself was deemed to be the one true path to changing the world. But, well….
Back in 1968, let's not forget, the great James Brown recorded "Say it Loud—I'm Black and I'm Proud." But the Godfather of Soul also campaigned for Nixon and counted Strom Thurmond and Reagan among his heroes. Pride, it would seem, is not a viable substitute for decent politics.
But it's cheap and easy (kinda like me, comes to that) to be proud without actually doing anything. Except being proud. Proud to be a pumped-up gym bunny. Proud to be a fabulous drag queen lip-synching to Cher. Proud to be a Log Cabin Republican supporting anti-immigrant laws. Proud, proud, proud. Uh, with your bad self.
So if, as we mostly can agree, being queer is not a matter of choice, then why be proud of something we have no control over? And if you can be proud of being gay, then why not, as homophobes snarkily suggest, have a Straight Pride Day? A White Pride Day? I mean, why not?
Sure, there are many of us queer people with a lot to be proud of. We've stood up against abuse, oppression, threats. We've struggled for equality, fought against the epidemic, provided succor to the suffering, stood up to bullies, and built good, loving, and sometimes sleazy lives, often against great odds. We've even done a great job lip-synching to Cher. And kudos to us. Really.
Making a good queer film is, yes, a reason to be proud. Dancing around in a jockstrap on top of a bathhouse float, less so.
We have, in most all the developed world and parts of the developing one, made great, important strides. When I was growing up in the closet, I could never have envisioned what would come to be, and pardon me if I tear up. I'm not suggesting, gosh knows, a return to some freeze-dried notion of Gay Liberation. As the I Ching says, "Times change, and with them their demands." And I am not, Senator, nor have I ever been a Trotskyist. But pride is one short step away from smugness, and let's not get too smug. We're none of us free until all of us are free. I have at least as much in common with Ellen Chademana and Ignatius Muhambi, the gay activists sent to jail in Zimbabwe, as I do with some rightwing, millionaire Palm Springs homo luxuriating by the pool as little Miguelito brings him a mojito, proud as he may be.
Those guys in Malawi who were sentenced to fourteen years at hard labor for being queer—do you think they needed pride? Nope, what they needed was freedom.
Not rainbow-colored pride rings.
And only concerted international action got them a pardon. Politics, not pride.
None of the Seven Deadly Sins is intrinsically fatal, of course, though maybe gluttony comes close. But pride does have a pretty bad rep; it goeth, they say, before a fall. And it's just so damn static. Pride should be an appetizer, not the whole damn enchilada.
Okay, right, "LGBT Self-Empowerment Day" isn't likely to appeal to corporate sponsors, and anyway, by the end of day, a lot of fellows will be so blotto they'll forget where they put their poppers, much less what the damn parade was called.
But, sorry, I just don’t, in my heart of perhaps-too-pissed-off hearts, think that being a cocksucker is intrinsically something to be proud of.
But sucking cock well? That's quite a different matter.