Max's Blog

How Pop Culture Leads and Misleads

Tag: Pride

Are We Over the Rainbow Yet?

Well, the good news is we’re winning.

The victory of same-sex marriage in New York was preceded by a poll showing that Americans were more comfortable electing a gay person president than a Mormon (bad news for Mitt Romney and John Huntsman), demonstrating that even our Southern neighbours are rejecting prejudice in favour of the live-and-let-live attitude of young people. Those born after 1980 overwhelmingly support gay rights and, for a generation famous for apathy and texting, it’s one of the things we should be proud of.

Here a shrill voice chimes in, “There’s still a lot of work to do!” To which the eternal answer is, “Of course there is; I never said there wasn’t.” But things have changed and changed for the better.

So why does the approaching Pride weekend fill me with angst? I feel like melancholy Charlie Brown, kicking dirt with his head down: “Good grief, Charlie Brown! Only you could take something joyful like Pride and turn it into something depressing!”

Why do I feel a bit sad? Well, there’s the Valentine’s/New Years thing, namely that I don’t have a date. And while yes, Pride is not usually associated with romance and monogamy, when you spot couples on Yonge or Church Street walking hand in hand, perhaps having come from places where they wouldn’t feel comfortable showing their affection publicly, it gives one a pang of longing.

Pride memory from five years ago: cuddling with the Big Ex, watching a drag queen in a rainbow dress perform Etta James’ ‘At Last’ and thinking that, at last, my love had come along. Didn’t turn out that way.

But Pride isn’t about coupling so much as community. The parade, the various marches, the special events and much of the accompanying literature and photographs all push the idea of a queer community, composed of six-pack Abercrombie hunks, middle-aged lesbian moms and tattooed trans activists who support the Palestinians. ‘Community’ is as important to the modern queer world as ‘coming out’ (where else does one go after coming out?) and we’ve invested heavily in the perception of a diverse and dynamic neighbourhood.

But what of those who feel a bit let down by the community. Christmas can make people with complicated feelings about their families (family being to Christmas what community is to Pride) feel depressed and disconnected. If you have mixed feelings about Church Street and ‘Queer Street West’, if you feel that we have a lot of wasted potential as a community, Pride, with the increased pressure to go out and celebrate, can leave you feeling a little bit blue.

We’re one of the largest queer communities in the world, with members from around the globe, but not that you would be able to tell that from our cliquey and awkward attitude at bars. When I go out, I get the sense that everyone wishes their situation was different: single people long to be coupled, and coupled people use drinking as the excuse to flirt with others. Meanwhile, groups of friends perform a complicated tango of almost-making out with each other, which may make things awkward later, but is preferred to actually meeting new people.

(If you couldn’t tell, these observations are mostly of gay men. In contrast, I know of three lesbian couples who got engaged last year.)

I once had a conversation with Sky Gilbert in which he opined that everybody gets disillusioned with the gay community, that it has a purpose but then you have to move past it. In fact, he has a poem called ‘Coming Out’ in which he describes attending a queer men’s group. During one discussion, the narrator glances out the window and sees a vast, uncharted jungle: “dark and deep, verdant and lush, where a dense green valley plunged precipitously to a cleansing stream, overhung with fragrant, swinging vines. The cries of exotic birds pierced the air as they soared from tree to tree, occasionally lighting to spread their beautiful feathers in an obscene, erotic display.”

Years later, having long since left the group, he returns to the office. All he can find outside the window is a single tree.

Oh well. So sometimes you’re disappointed and a bit sad. Who isn’t? Why, Max, did you think you were special? The fight for gay rights isn’t about making people happy; it’s about fairness and freedom. One of the results of the legal and social changes of the last forty years has been the increased happiness of queer people, but general acceptance, protection from harassment and marriage equality (among other advancements) are not guarantees of a happy ending.

That’s up to us.

There’s still a need for Pride (look no further than our uncomfortable mayor who treats us like lepers), as there is for a queer community. Try as you might, you just can’t dance to Katy Perry in a chat room. I’ll be out there this weekend, trying to meet people and have fun.

If you see me, say Hi.

Advertisements

Pride

“It is Pride, not Halloween!” the Gentleman said to me, not completely under his breath, when he saw a flamboyantly-costumed revellers on Church Street last night. He didn’t seem to mind drag queens (where would Pride be without drag queens?) but people dressed in unrelated guises, vampires or Star Wars characters, irked him. What he doesn’t realize is that everyone’s clothes are costumes, and on the crowded, sweaty streets of the village last night, discernable subcultures of the gay community were on abundant display.

Having not seen the parade, I went downtown to join the Gentleman and his friends for some crowd watching. He has two refugees staying with him at the moment, a couple who had to leave England but cannot return to Iran. They were both tall, handsome and dressed in jean shorts and trendy t-shirts. They strutted in front of us, braceleted hand holding braceleted hand. They looked like a mirror image of each other.

They were a little shy at first, but when we settled in at Starbucks (the Gentleman: “I don’t know what to get! Max, what is that?” “An iced-venti-latte.” The Gentleman: “An Iced. Vente. Latte. Please.”) one of them began entertaining me with animated stories, such as how he met his boyfriend at an underground gay party which he was invited to by a guy who had a crush on him (“He stared so angry at me!”), and how, the time he caught his ex cheating on him with his boss he almost ran over him in his car (“Yeah, I don’t know what I was thinking; it was a new car!”)

They weren’t the only ones who were dressed like each other. All over the strip, and we walked between Wellesley and College about four times, were fashion archetypes, often times grouped together for easy recognition. There were, of course, the Abercrombie/Hollister crowd, with their tight boldly-labelled t-shirts. (The Gentleman was in this category). I have noticed that, while I associate this style with a faux-upperclass-Connecticut-young-Republican-Caucasian-ness, many ethnic minority gay men dress this way. Those clothes are sold all over the world and it’s possible, especially for new Canadians, that they associate those clothes with the North American gay way of life.

 There was a group of stylish black men I wish I had had the confidence to take a picture of. They were all tall, half wore thick horn-rimmed glasses, half were in black and white striped shirts, and they stood there, clustered together, talking. Another subset that I had been aware of, but never seen in such numbers, were the guys dressed like, and I mean this in the best way possible, a 1920’s archaeologist’s butt-boy: mid-century parted hair, brow-line glasses, white button-up shirts and formal grey, black or khaki shorts. Although I am aware that this is the look my current style is closest to, I would never attempt the shorts, and they are the key to the whole thing. There was even a quartet all in the same glasses, all with shorts and suspenders, who had made custom t-shirts with their four names printed in Helvetica.

I will remember this year as the year that Pride began to be threatened by deep political divisions. For better or worse (and by that, I mean ‘for worse’) the Israel-Palestine issue has been brought into Pride and, like an oil spill, will be sticky and dirty and incredibly difficult to clean up. It will be a test of the Pride committee as well as the queer community (queer communities, we should say) to see if we can have find unity through our diversity the same way we can with fashion.