Friday, June 10, 2005

Happy Pride?

This weekend is Gay Pride Weekend in DC.

Thing is, I'm trying to get all excited about it. But for some reason, I can't.

I came out in or around 1996. Back then, it was new for me. It was exciting. I bought all kinds of pride t-shirts and baseball caps (none of which I ever dared to wear then and which are certainly too passe to wear now). I attended pride every year, and even went to NYC's Pride. (I tried to check out Honolulu's pride festivities one year -- I just happened to be visiting during the celebration week -- only to find that it appeared rather woefully pathetic, so I just went to the beach instead.)

Now, nine years after my first tentative steps from the closet, I don't find Pride festivals as relevant anymore. The street festival just tends to be overpriced food vendors hawking $8 plates of mediocre chow mein; the same tired organizations show up year after year, and I just find myself bored.

Don't get me wrong, I still manage to go, if for no other reason than to be counted. I used to hoard the cute little tchotchkes (I'm impressed I spelled that correctly on the first try), but now I'd just as soon decline yet another free gay.com pen or frisbee. But more often than not, I'll see old friends of mine with whom I've lost contact, which is a good thing (I suppose).

But in Washington, DC, does Pride even really matter? There's a lot of gay people here, and we function pretty darn well in society. Is there really so much of a need for us to reaffirm our existence in a city that doesn't seem all that terribly hostile to us?

(Okay, I know life isn't a cakewalk for gay people and I certainly don't mean to imply that there are no hate crimes or anti-gay discrimination in the city. All I'm saying is it could be a lot worse -- and it IS a lot worse in other parts of the country.)

And -- excuse me while I don my bitter hat -- Pride Parades lately seem much more about see-and-be-seen than an actual expression of individual or group pride. Sometimes I think it's really just a huge cruise-fest, where generally attractive men remove their shirts in their bids for attention while less "attractive" men are all too happy to lavish such attention on them. (I use "attractive" in a community standards sense of the word, which is horrible, because gay community standards are ridiculous.) Sure, gay men are proud of being gay men... but many still secretly wish the less attractive of us would either remain in the closet or go straight.

To me, the best contingent of the Parade has always been PFLAG. That's because those involved with PFLAG tend to be about nothing more than the love and support for their family members despite the social stigma of being gay. But that's pretty much the only contingent that has, as its core theme, love, support and affirmation. Compare PFLAG's message with what comes across from the Results float: shirtless, muscled men. What exactly are those men proud of? Are they proud to be gay, or are they just totally stoked about how their hot bods can get them laid on demand?

True, there are more events than just the parade and festival which comprise gay pride. All week long, events have been taking place. But I think I'll pass on the JR's bachelor auction, though -- the guys who "sell" themselves usually are the ones who least need still more people clamoring for their attention. The HRC open house tends to bring out the angry radicals on both sides, who feel HRC is either doing too little or too much. Then there's always the contingent that hates HRC in general yet crashes their parties anyway.

This year I'll probably check out the parade and wander through just a bit of the festival. I'd like to recapture the sense of what it was like when I first came out... the mystery, the wonder, the excitement. I'll probably go to Apex with my friend Amy and dance part of the night away, hoping she'll score a date.

Once upon a time, I went to Pride because I wanted to be among people who didn't make me feel like a freak, an outsider, a pariah. I no longer feel like an outcast every day, so I don't need a Pride Festival or Parade to remind me that I'm worthy of everyday decency and respect. Sometimes, though, one comes to miss the affirmation -- the kind that comes only to the insecure -- when one has truly become comfortable with the skin he's in.

11 comments:

bullie76 said...

I see what you're saying, Dennis!, but I think Pride festivals have an even greater relevance today, even here in DC. The right is taking increasingly bold steps, cloaked in religious rhetoric, to eliminate gay folk from participating in the public agenda, trotting out such old chestnuts as the "special rights" arguments. (www.americablog.org has been great reporting on this trend)

In many ways, homosexuality is increasingly accepted, especially in large metropolitan areas, but many of the difficulties of coming out are still the same as they always were. Acceptance of gay people in minority communities is still not where it needs to be. Pride parades/festivals allows us a yearly opportunity to reflect on where we've been and where we're going (which, I hope, is a somewhat less body conscious place -- I totally agree that the gay community has ridiculously high standards).

Being new to DC (and I can't speak with authority about the DC gay community since I've only been here about two months, so these comments are just a general impression), I'm going to check the parade out, and I'll probably stop by sunday's events as well -- just to compare the fest to that of my former home, St. Louis. Beyond that, I think it's important to turn out in a show of solidarity with other GLBT folks (being "counted," like you said). I've always thought of Pride as a homecoming of sorts that reinforces the ties in the extended network of "family" friends.

The crass commercialization cheapens things ($8 chow mein!!), but the overriding message of gay pride -- having gay folks from all backgrounds in one large show of force sends a simple yet powerful message to those who are just coming out that gay folks come in all shapes and sizes.

p.p. said...

hey! We have a former St. Louisian! OK, I'm so sad.

Dennis, go and have a good time.

Dennis! said...

Bullie: Welcome to DC, and to my blog! Thanks for stopping by. I hope you have/had fun at Pride this weekend, and I hope it wasn't as crappy for you as I've talked it down to be.

I know what you're saying in your last paragraph... but my sense, and the reason for this post, is that the whole feeling of "unity" etc. is missing from Pride events as gay people become more vocal and visible in America. We increasingly DON'T accept people who don't meet "the mold" as "one of us," and that saddens me.

Peter: I'm just looking to dance a little tonight. Oh, and a colleague of mine is moving back to St. L. by the end of the summer. I'm sad. We'll call it even.

bullie76 said...

Peter: Take care of the Lou for me. I miss the city (more so my friends there), but the move's been great. Except for the walk-two-blocks-and-you're-dripping weather of late. I'm not a big fan of that. I also miss my old favorite brunch spot in St. L. It had the unprecedented ability to put me in a great mood no matter what. I've not found its equal here. . . yet.

Dennis: I love what you've done with the place. Nice blog!

I see what you're saying about the lack of unity (I'll report back on my impressions). I wonder how did this come to be? Can we blame TV? As much good as Will & Grace, Queer Eye, etc., have done for acceptance of gay folk in general, have they fed into the stereotyping of the gay man? Or can we blame polarizing politics (moment of candor: although I don't like to admit it, I don't think I could date a gay republican. But maybe not because he doesn't "fit the mold," so much as what I think might be self-acceptance issues.)?

Or is it just that we're the victims of our own success -- having largely overcome social opposition to being gay and not drawn together by the immediacy of the early AIDS crisis, do we now feel comfortable further subdividing based on looks, socioeconomic status, age, race, etc.?
Sorry, now I'm rambling.

Have a blast tonight, and dance it up!

bullie76 said...

Ok, so DC Pride came and went. Hot. Humid. Lesbian guitar bands, my love of which goes back to Kim Deal and the Breeders. Lots of guys with their shirts off, showing off their countless hours of work in the gym.

You're right, Dennis!, there was a lot of cruisiness at the parade and today's festival. And the "attractive" crowd was showered with attention. But the thing that suprised me most was all of the kids (other than the fact that the DC gay community is ginormous compared to St. Louis (big surprise there, huh?)). There were youngins everywhere, which I think was a good thing.

But, overall, I can't say I was filled with an overwhelming sense of being a part of the greater gay community. If anything, it was more of a reinforcement of why I like the community in which I live, which happens to be very gay. The highlight of my day today was getting to know some of my dog park friends better. I had brunch with a few people I've come to know from walking my dog in the neighborhood. Then, at the festival, I ran into another dog park guy, who I didn't think would be there. We talk from time to time about dogs, current events and life in general, and he's one of my favorites in the cast of characters. We ended up talking for hours. Afterward, we walked with the pups to a fancy dog park in Kalorama that put our little DuPont park to shame (it was F. Scott nice -- I expected to round a hill to find men in suits and women in long dresses fanning themselves while playing croquet). So, I guess you could say that the pride fest helped make a nice day happen, but that might be a stretch. Maybe it was just a convenient excuse to get to know a few folks better.

Dennis! said...

Well, I'm glad you had a good weekend, Bullie. :) Let me know if you want to hang out sometime.

bullie76 said...

How fun! We'll have to Dennis!

Anonymous said...

Well said Dennis. It does seem, by whatever measure of attractiveness (bears vs. gym boys), there's a focus on display rather than connection. I'm feeling the same way about Pride. To respond to Bullie, is empowerment and activism what Pride celebrations are even TRYING to accomplish anymore? Bravo showed Sydney's Pride parade and half of the contingents had a really clear political message. One was sweeties for a treaty (with Aboringial tribes) another was for supporting the rights of Queer Palestinians. I've noticed in the parades that a lot of advocacy groups no longer march. There used to be contingents for NOW and People for the American Way and now it seems primarily queer specific groups, politicians, gym boys and drag queens. - TC

Anonymous said...

Well said Dennis. It does seem, by whatever measure of attractiveness (bears vs. gym boys), there's a focus on display rather than connection. I'm feeling the same way about Pride. To respond to Bullie, is empowerment and activism what Pride celebrations are even TRYING to accomplish anymore? Bravo showed Sydney's Pride parade and half of the contingents had a really clear political message. One was sweeties for a treaty (with Aboringial tribes) another was for supporting the rights of Queer Palestinians. I've noticed in the parades that a lot of advocacy groups no longer march. There used to be contingents for NOW and People for the American Way and now it seems primarily queer specific groups, politicians, gym boys and drag queens. - TC

Dennis! said...

TC: Unfortunatly, you're pretty much spot on in terms of what I'm (inartfully) trying to convey. We're a lot more about "we're gay and fabulous" than about working toward any common goals we as a minority group might have. It seemed to me that many of the groups which marched in the parade were random interest groups with "gay" strapped on to them. "The Lambda Classic Car Club"? We need a special club for gay people who like old cars?

"Display vs. connection" is a great way of phrasing it. As Bullie puts it, you don't come away from Pride with a feeling of belonging anymore... you just kind of come away from it. There's no affirming group identity.

Like I said in the original, the PFLAG contingent is one of a precious few groups at Pride anymore which carries with it a message that is about nothing but love and acceptance of ALL our gay brothers and sisters. They bring a tear to my eye as they go by. I wish some other sub-groups in our community could be as open. There's some strange irony to the fact that a mostly-straight group is the one that is most accepting of the broadest swatch of our community.

bullie76 said...

One of the things I find most fascinating about Pride is its potential for collective action. Maybe it's a remnant of youthful naivete or just my peculiar brand of relentless optimism. In our atomized modern lives, there aren't many things anymore that draw us all together. In a fleeting moment in June, Pride has the potential to do just that. But, sadly, the potential energy that is Pride just isn't actualized.

I like that description, TC -- display vs. connection. And to answer your question, no. I don't think that empowerment and activism are what Pride is about anymore. Sure there were some HRC folks trying to sign people up for their funding/email list, but there wasn't much activism other than the type that requires a cash contribution. I'm not really sure what it's all about anymore. Networking? Providing opportunities for personal growth/interests? Maybe it's just a chance to look at guys without shirts. (Please, please don't let it be just that.)