Monday, 9 January 2012

In Celebration of Pride Celebrations

[In his introductory post last week, "A Dissenting Queer View: Cardinal George, Gay Pride ",  Advocatus Diaboli expressed essentially two distinct concerns. One was about the overreaction by some gay activists/ gay Catholics to the Cardinal's words, and one was about the nature of gay pride itself.  The piece he wrote was not originally intended for publication, but was for my personal consideration. As it was at my request that he posted it for public scrutiny, I promised to provide a full response, here. It was my intention to do this in two posts, for the two different concerns, but Cardinal George's apology last week has largely removed the point of that one. Here is my response to AD, on the issue of gay pride specifically].

AD's concern over Pride Parade appears to spring from the feelings of self-disgust that he experienced on seeing the displays of scantily - clad men, and his fear that he might be secretly “one of them”. Oddly enough, this is precisely the reason why Pride is important. Let's take a closer look at his words:

......every time I saw depictions of scantily clad men parading down the street in some obnoxious display I was filled with self-disgust that I was secretly 'one of them'. I thought that if I accepted who I was that I would immediately become a sex obsessed 'queen' who dressed like a prostitute-fairy. I was not able to accept myself as gay until after I found out that there were 'normal' gay people.

“Every time I saw “depictions” of.... I wonder: is this a response to real gay pride parades, or to the presentation of them in the media?

Yes, of course there are some unusual sights to be seen, expanses of naked or near - naked man-flesh, flamboyant drag queens, and perhaps leather men and their slaves/ boys – but these get into the papers precisely because they are exceptional. In my experience of London Pride, the “freaks” (as some may think of them), are vastly outnumbered by the others: those who are what AD describes as "normal gay people”.

When I think of the mental images that I take away from the London Pride parades I have participated in, I see a few of the extremes that upset AD and others, but I also see far, far more.

I see squads of military men and women, from the army, air force and navy, marching in uniform. I see groups from the police, fire brigades, and ambulance services.

I see charities and public service groups: Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, Age Concern, the National Health Service, and Terence Higgins Trust. There are groups from all three major political parties, as well as some smaller ones and lobbying groups. I see community, social and recreational groups, sports clubs and the like. Above all, (and this is why I participate mmyself) I also see hundreds of people from religious groups: Catholics, other Christians, Jews, Muslims and more.

And I see the commercially sponsored floats, promoting dance clubs and the like, or gym chains. And – note carefully – many of the hunky men in skimpy speedos are there as walking ads, promoting those gyms and clubs.

Why don't straight people have pride parades, or African-Americans, or Jewish people? Because they don't need to. Straight people don't need to, because they are everywhere, and everyone you meet is automatically assumed to be straight. So, the whole of society is structured towards the needs and interests of the straights. Young people grow up learning how to be straight – and when they begin to realise that they are somehow different, they think there is something wrong with them. At best, they simply have a problem learning to fit in, in a society that is not designed for them. At worst, they end up suicidal. We need pride parades, not only to show that there are gay people who are “normal”, that is just like everybody else, but also to show that straight is not “normal” (it's just common). Jews, African-Americans and the like don't need parades, because they don't need to make a point to be visible. They are that anyway, but still have some parades. AD says that at theirs, the main theme is not sex and glitter – but that is also not the case at gay pride. That's just one part of it, just as it is at London's Notting Hill Carnival, or Rio de Janeiro's Mardi Gras.

I'm not going to labour this point any further, but I really do think that before rejecting Pride because it is all about sex and glitter, people should ignore the press coverage, attend a real-world parade, and look closely at the full diversity that is there. They may even find that there are very many people there that they can identify with, the kind of people that AD says led him to a measure of self-acceptance in the first place.

AD asks, how can Pride help us to gain acceptance from La Salette and the like? The short answer, is that it won't. Nothing will, and there's no point in fretting about it. Let them deal with the problem of their bigotry and hatred, themselves. I am far more concerned with encouraging and assisting self-acceptance by gay and lesbian people themselves. To see that this happens, try joining a parade some time. To walk down the street, and to see the responses of the people in the crowd, gives me a huge emotional lift every time. I guarantee that it's worth the fatigue, sore feet and possible sunburn.

AD asks, “How much money is spend on the organization of such a parade?” The answer, quite clearly, is “A lot”. What is the point of the question? One could equally ask, how much money is spent on Christmas? Or on the Rio Mardi Gras? Or on making a movie? People spend money on it because they want to, because for some of them it will make money in return – and because some of the proceeds go to charity.

AD  states that

"Not a single solitary person alive today in the United States knows one iota of true discrimination, having their rights as a human-being violated, or anything approaching real suffering".

This is simply not true. Discrimination is real, in the US, in the UK, in South Africa and elsewhere. Every year, gay men, lesbians and (especially) transmen and women are murdered, tortured or beaten in all these countries. In the UK and South Africa, gay bars have been bombed, and in the US, customers of the Upstairs Lounge Bar died in an arson attack. In South Africa, many black lesbians are subjected to "corrective rape", in attempts by some homophobic men to "cure" them of their orientation. Discrimination in employment, housing and public services is real in many countries – and should not be dismissed simply because it is not direct physical harm. I also find it odd that in his comparison of  what he sees as the privileged lives of the  LGBT community and "real suffering", AD appears to be assuming that pride is unique to the rich Western countries, and suffering to the impoverished third world. However, Pride parades and smaller scale pride events are now a world -wide phenomenon, and take place on all continents. (The biggest Pride Parade in the world takes place in Sao Paulo, which regularly has over 3 million participants)

AD, I now address myself directly to you. It was at my request that you places this publicly, knowing full well that you could be facing some risk of personal attack for your views. I made the request because  although I disagree with you, I also know that you are not by any means alone in thinking this way. I wanted to bring this into the open, so that I could respond openly. I hope you will feel that I have done so constructively, and thank you for your co-operation and courage.  I close with some parting advice, for yourself, and other gay man or lesbian who is equally disturbed by the unsavoury "depictions" of gay pride.

I began this post by referring to your own account of your self-loathing, which you began to set aside when you were able to see that there existed "normal" gay people. I would like to suggest two ideas for you to reflect on, and do so deeply.

First, consider the key point I have tried to hammer above: that there is far more celebration of the "normal" in Pride parades than you appear to be aware of. The sex and the glitter are peripheral, not normal.

Second, please consider that what you see as "normal" is not necessarily better. "Normal" means only what is common. Just as there is diversity of orientation in the wider population, and diversity needs to be accepted and celebrated, inside the GLBT community, there is a range of ways in which we experience and express our sexuality and gender identity. You have made progress along your journey to self-acceptance, but that journey is never done. Coming out is a never-ending process. I would like to suggest, respectfully, that you could make more progress on that journey by opening your mind to the value of pride,  by attending a pride parade - or even by participating.

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