The Changing Spirit of Pride

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¶     The tradition of pride has changed a lot over time. From the legendary days of stonewall to present things in the overall gay experience (and by extension gay culture itself) have changed. There are many well thought out critiques right now on socially aware blogs critiquing this change. With an academic background of studying gay culture as it is today I am inclined to see the virtue in many of these critiques. In many ways capitalism is taking over the tradition of pride, banks and big businesses do not care about us or our rights, they care about gaining capital from us. Aspects of gay culture that are objectifying and comodifying are the center of attention and privilege the perspective of the white cisgendered gay male over others. But I think there are also other things going on that are not commonly talked about. I agree that the more analytical critiques have merit that we have to pay attention to, but there is an under-addressed zeitgeist (or spirit of the times) of our time that has also changed what the focus of internal gay socialization is about.

Seeing the Queer Community Sub-divide and the Necessity of that

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¶      I start this by saying I am a cisgendered gay male, I write catering to other cisgendered gay men. Not because I want to erase other queers and their perspective, but simply because I can only represent the nuances of my identified experience. The “G” experience is different to the “L” and different to the “B” and the “T” and all the many letters of the LGBTQIAP community. One changing spirit of our time is that we are starting to conceptualize the uniqueness of queer identities and in understanding what makes a Trans experience unique and different to that of a cisgendered asexual one (and all the many, many others). Which is helpful in understanding what makes each of our needs and issues different. Some would say these excessive “labels” are destroying the queer community. But I say understanding how people define the uniqueness of their “identities” are actually helping each of us conceptualize our unique needs and issues in practical ways that pretending like those differences do not exist don’t. That said it is subdividing our community but perhaps for the better. I as a cisgendered gay male cannot write nearly as deeply nor as intimately about having a Transgendered experience and the social experiences and the relationships that come out of it. I can however write about what it’s like to be a homosexual and navigating the experience of having homosexual relationships and what challenges and issues one encounters in that process. To try and write about the trans experience as a cisgendered homosexual would erase the nuances of that perspective and not truly capture what it is like.

¶     On the other hand if you had a bisexual or pansexual claiming we are all universally bisexual/pansexual, would that truly capture the nuances of my experience as a Kinsey 6? Many classical theorist of sexuality like Kinsey (and Freud even) work from a basis that all are in essence bisexual, but with modern times we are seeing biological evidence emerge that exclusively heterosexual and homosexual feelings are a product of biological make up (I would be willing to bet bisexuality and pansexuality and even asexuality have unique genetic markers too). There is a reason to have an exclusively “gay” identity that defines itself as different to a bisexual one, while also leaving room for grey areas, maybe some own a gay identity as a Kinsey 5. Practically defining themselves as gay because they ultimately want and prefer a homosexual experience, but sometimes have had variations from that experience and that’s okay. We ultimately are all different. Using analytical tools like the Kinsey scale and biological research on human sexual diversity are helpful in challenging us to realize how uniquely different everyone’s sexual experiences, desires, and needs really are. Respecting how we each choose to define our identities differently is ultimately respecting the social experiences each individual desires to navigate and the unique needs that arise out of that. I desire to navigate homosexuality exclusively and always have, never once desired a sexual interaction with a female and have never had one, even when I was in denial of my homosexuality and in the closet. A bisexual would have a different experience to that, and that’s perfectly wonderful, but recognizing that those experiences are indeed different is important.

¶     The best I can do as an ally to transgendered people is empower them to have their own voice and an internal forum amongst themselves to empower each other so they can voice their issues as a separate community and support them when they do so. So yes queer culture is not really a generalized community any more, but I think that this is ultimately leading to a social phenomena that is creating split communities based on common needs that they don’t practically get when they are a part of a way to over generalized “queer” community that can’t provide for so many diverse and different perspectives. That is why I support trans people, bisexual and pansexual people, asexual people, and so on and give them a big thumbs up when they create their unique space and forum to express their own uniqueness (because it is so needed), I will even advocate for them if I see ignorance being perpetuated about them, but ultimately I personally focus on my own experience as a gay male amongst other gay males when it comes to simply living my life and trying to explore the uniqueness of the relationships and social experiences I need. There are things in that experience that are unique to us and we need our own exclusive social space to figure out what that is, and navigate that social experience of homosexuality with each other. Indeed when I am a cisgendered gay male in a room full of lesbians or Transgendered folk I am ultimately there as an ally or a visitor to a different space, one which I support and will gladly attempt to keep my privilege in check. But the point is as a cisgendered gay male, I need others that identify with my experience in my life too. From personal experience I can say that when I have a bunch of gay boys over to my house for a social event or when I am hanging out with other gays at the bar I get something from that experience that feeds my soul, that I don’t get when I am just an ally to a different group of queers. Not that I don’t want to be an ally or that I think any queer is better or worse to another, I simply think I need access to a social experience with other cisgendered gay men to fulfill some of my personal needs as a cisgendered gay man. I imagine it’s similar for other queers; they need communities of their own identities to fulfill some of their needs. So in modern times we have to address this, our internal socialization needs and how like identities tend to facilitate that.

¶     Some queers might have a fluid experience starting out as a gay man, but then going through a transition and becoming a straight trans women. There could be thousands (and quite often are) variations of how fluid identities can be, yet many do stay constant too. Ultimately when you define your identity in a certain way that is the experience you want others to respect and recognize. I define my identity as a gay male because I want to be respected and recognized as a homosexual that seeks out homosexual relationships. Which I believe to be strongly rooted in my biology as a Kinsey 6. I don’t want people to erase that or demean what that means to me, nor would I wish to demean or erase identities that are different to mine. Even for a Kinsey 5, if they are wanting to define their experience as a gay one, that should be respected too. Or perhaps someone wants to stay fluid and be pansexual that ought to be respected too. It’s ultimately all about respecting the things that make us different and empowering each other to have the social experiences we uniquely need to have. Just because a bisexual person is in a homosexual relationship doesn’t make them less bisexual, they will still appreciate the opposite sex. Yet a gay male and a bisexual one can easily get into conflict when trying to conceptualize the differences in their experience. A gay male doesn’t have the privilege of fitting into a visible heterosexual image, a bisexual can talk about liking girls with the guys, an out gay male cannot. Yet a bisexual is under pressure to assimilate into a monosexual identity when that is not their desired experience and a gay person enjoys that monosexual privilege.

¶     When we see the segregation and sub-divisions of modern queer culture, it’s ultimately leading to a social phenomena that is creating different movements that are addressing different social needs of people that ultimately truly are different. We all have common roots in stonewall which is why we have a common community identity, but with changing times that is making more political and social progress we are splitting off to address the different needs of different people. Would the trans community be nearly as visible as it is now if they didn’t define themselves as different from cisgendered gay and lesbian culture? Perhaps not, because cisgendered gay and lesbian folk, even when they have the best of intentions, ultimately do not have the same personal experience to adequately create the space needed to address trans issues, only trans people can do that amongst each other and we cisgendered gay and lesbian folk can only be good allies by giving them the moral support they need to have their own unique movement separate from ours that can address their ultimately different needs.

The Shift from Oppression to Celebration

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¶     I have been attending several prides in the past year, after nearly a decade of being an out gay male. I have gone through many shifts in how I perceive and interact with the gay community. In my pre-out years I experienced being intensely bullied because I never fit the masculine mold well enough to pass as a heterosexual male that could socialize as “one of the guys.” So I was bullied for being queer long before I owned that in myself. Then I came out and str8 girls treated me like their trophy “GBF.” Watch the movie GBF on Netflix, I lived that life after coming out at 16 in high school and experienced the issues involved in that story. I switched from being bullied for being a closeted gay, to being objectified and comodified as a fabulous outed gay. I experienced the oppression that comes with the bullying involved with being the visible queer kid (who was in denial and ashamed of who he truly was), to the opposite. The problem with both of those experiences was the isolation from other gay people. For years after coming out I think the wounds of being so bullied for something I tried to deny in myself, made me construct a gay identity with internalized homophobia. I needed to separate myself from what str8s disapproved of “those gay people” and play up the parts that would earn me social protection with the clique queens in high school. Do I like being fabulous? YAAASSS honey I love it! It’s a partial part of who I am, but I am not entirely effeminate as the essence of my being, I have masculine features too. It would be more accurate to say I am androgynous. The box categories of what we call “masculine” and “feminine” are more fluid then black and white for me. Yes having to come out to the heteronormaitive gender binary politics of a heterosexual world, before I could come out to the gay one, isolated me from other gay people and by necessity made me construct a gay identity that made me feel safe in that world after being so bullied in it. But the homophobia and heteronormativity I internalized ultimately served to isolate me from gay relationships and social experiences that I desperately needed and wanted.

¶     Then I shifted after spending lots of time and energy in college trying to study gender and sexuality from different perspectives. Sociological ones, psychological ones, even a few biological ones. Then applying those tools in a senior thesis and doing lots of field work interviewing and interacting with other gay men of different generations and life perspectives. I slowly started deconstructing the issues that made us all feel disconnected from each other that became a mirror that reflected back on myself. Then one of the men I interviewed, who in fact read the final product of my senior thesis said something to me that gave me something to think about. “Your thesis was great and the introduction talking about deconstructing your own bias as you underwent the research brought a depth it would of lacked with out it…but one thing I ask you…you talk a lot about how you discovered solidarity with the gay community through our shared problems and experience of common issues…but how about celebration? You didn’t talk about that much. Could that also be an important part of finding unity in the gay experience?” At first I responded analytically, fresh to the academic mind I was use to identifying the issues and deconstructing them. That was indeed how I identified some of my own internalized homophobia and the internalized homophobia common amongst gay men, how I identified the body objectification issues and the insecurities that create in gay men that interact with gay culture. The issues of coming out and the psychological/sociological impact that has on us that lasts long beyond the immediate experience of it. How I identified the racism, the gender politics, internalized heteronormaitivity…etc. But he was right, that’s the one thing I was missing I would soon discover in my post-college experience of taking everything I learned and reintegrating myself back into gay culture when I returned to my hometown Asheville, NC.

¶     After the experience of my thesis, all I wanted to do was create sacred gay spaces (as my thesis was called Sacred Queer Spaces). I had just taken such a close looking glass at myself, at gay culture, and gay relationships that I wanted to apply all I learned and greater depth, and find meaningful connections to other gay men exclusively. I wanted to shed off the internalized homophobia, being the acceptable queer to straight people that always enjoyed power over me, as bullies, as people who defined what made me a “cool gay” versus not to their heteronormative privilege. I am not saying that str8 people are inherently bad. But like a feminist that awakens to her power for the first time, she finally realized how a world of men has stifled her and kept her from her own sovereign power. I did so as a queer. I finally realized the power in my gay identity and needed to separate myself from the straight world for awhile. I needed to figure out who I was with other gay men exclusively, and shed all the things that stifled me and kept me from valuing and having that experience. That required focusing all my free time on trying to seek out gay social experiences.

¶     One thing though that made me different to a lot of other gay men that walk away from gay experiences feeling disconnected was the analytical tools that gave me a deeper awareness of the issues encountered in that experience. I knew that most people in the common space were putting on a mask to look confident or feel legitimate or feel visible, but I saw past the surface of that. I also was good at defining my boundaries which helped me navigate the terrain of gay culture and find the right people and make connections that lead to friendships of better quality. Because of my insights gleaned from an analytical understanding of gay consciousness, I wasn’t just playing a game of chasing after a body image, objectifying and filled with power politics. I wasn’t going to perpetuate gender politics of boxing guys into preconceptions because of their masculine or feminine expressions. I even attempted to cross age barriers and bridge the gap between generations challenge older men that were agist against the young and the young that were agist against the old. I just showed up to connect to other gay people and explore the experience of homosexual relationships, and I started finding more depth in them beyond what was apparent on the surface because of my intimate awareness and reflective process of the issues. Challenging anything that created barriers between gay solidarity with a sharp analytical critique, I was creating a cisgendered gay male version of feminism. Calling out the oppression, identifying the objectification, and dismantling the heteronormaitive and internalized homophobic bullshit. But to what end? Tearing down barriers is only a small step to establishing connections not a complete journey.

¶     The more experiential and the less analytical my socialization with gays became the more tearing down barriers became raw. Experiencing people’s emotions past the surface, and reflecting back on my own. The experience of friendships and other relationships of all kinds. Identifying the issues brought a fresh perspective, it basically boiled down to why we feel so disconnected, and why that feeling of disconnection is a problem we should all care about. But what do we do about it? So many people are holding on to an older version of the gay community. The only conceivable purpose gays had to come together in earlier times was because oppression made us come together. With no options to live openly in a straight world, the gay community was the only place to go. There was more necessity forcing us to come together to respond to oppression. Sure, there are still hate crimes, there is still discrimination, there is still a social persecution of gays that needs the response of activists and legal advocates. But it’s not to the same degree it use to be. Gays are finding more and more options to live an openly gay life in heteronormative society. Now there is still oppression motivating the organization of support and advocacy, but the more progress we make, the less that becomes a motivator to come together as a community.

¶     With the changing times pride true spirit is becoming less and less a political statement (though that is certainly present and should be) but rather a celebration of gay people being “together.” I have seen many memes in media that compare a political rally of gays to boys dancing around in Andrew Christians with rainbow flags all around them stating “this is pride (political rally pic)….This is bullshit (AC boys dancing).” I want us to consider the implication of this with the concept of changing times in mind. Did we just imply the gay community is only a political statement, as opposed to a social space? A social space is not always about politics, it’s a place for people to come together and connect to each other. With this sole focus on seeing the gay community as only a political movement at its basis what happens to us when political action is not nearly as required? Its erased as the need for political action dissolves due to the progress. So while I appreciate the radical social justice warrior queers that want to fight oppression and wear that identity myself from time to time…I would ask us to back up and consider the future we are working for. Are we fighting to fit into heteronormative society? Or are we fighting to end our persecution? If we are fighting to “fit in” I see a future much like my high school experience of being a “GBF.” Where we are toy poodles in a dominantly straight (by sheer number of population) society and struggle to make connections to other gay people who have the capability of giving us access to gay relationships. Straight guys are straight; they define themselves in having sexual and romantic relationships with girls, not us. That doesn’t make them “bad” and it certainly doesn’t mean we can’t have meaningful friendships with them. But it does mean without an accessible gay community where other homosexual men are accessible to us there will always be limitations on the kind of intimacy we can have with the men in our lives. So I think a gay community that is a party, that is a celebration of us coming together is not “bullshit,” in fact I think it’s vital to us all.

¶     Everyone that critiques modern gay culture is right, but I think these critiques are missing the notion of the spirit of times. Where the needs we have as gay people are becoming less and less about being a political movement and more and more being a community that comes together to celebrate who we are. If you can’t value and celebrate the simple beauty of people coming together and being together, what kind of community does that create? The reason it has to be a gay community is because gay people don’t get that opportunity when their presence is deluded in a dominantly heterosexual society. So we need to define spaces, media, and social experiences that gives us access to that opportunity and that does mean making it exclusive sometimes. Over the past year when I have made gay socialization my main focus and priority. When I have created exclusive gay spaces (social events at my house, outings, etc) there was an experience that came of it that was unique. Sharing stories, laughing about things only other gays understand about each other, celebrating the things we have in common, feeling good about being gay with other gay people. A heterosexual presence would change that experience, we’d feel judged for sharing our grindr stories and gossip, we’d not be able to focus the social experience on celebrating what it is to have a gay experience with each other. Everyone should have pride in who they are and feel good about being themselves…but sometimes when your trying to create a social experience between people that share the same experience (and in this case NEED to have a social experience with each other), that involves creating exclusive spaces so that can happen. Pride is a celebration of who we are, and it’s a good thing, and I challenge all of us to see the value in that.

¶     I think the spirit of the times with gay culture is becoming more about celebrating our common together experience, and less about political statements. Shifting one’s perspective from fighting a political battle to simply celebrating the fact we are coming together and celebrating our connection to each other changes the kind of experience you have with gay people. I would gladly show up to a rally still, fight against social discrimination, and support our community’s social justice warriors. But I also think it’s important to step back from the fight long enough to have some fun, and celebrate our togetherness as a community. Should we ever progress to a point that political action is rare if at all required…we’ll need to keep a value on being together to keep our community spirit alive. I for one have fallen in love with the gay community the deeper I have explored it. Seeing moments of being connected and things beyond the shallow critique of what most see on the surface. There is a lot more to gay culture and pride then Andrew Christian underwear, topless boys, and partying it up. There is the simple fact that people are coming together and having a together experience. If you learn how to navigate that experience the right way, it becomes a very positive thing, and you meet the right people and celebrate the fact you are connected as a community.

Conclusion: Unity is Celebration

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¶      So to conclude between discussing our diversity in the queer experience and the need to celebrate our experience with like identified people. I think the true purpose of pride these days is celebration. Defining a common space for queers to come together and actually be a community. Being isolated in your gay experience is a huge price to pay. A gay identity is defined by a desire to have relationships. What good does such an identity do you if you isolate yourself from the opportunities to have those relationships? After I have gone through deconstructing all the issues, all the things that make us different, that present issues to our experiences etc. I’ve come to a different place. When I see the gay community come together I think, how awesome it is that we are in fact coming together. That I know other people and get to hear their stories and what is going on in their lives. That I see other couples finding each other and navigating the ups and downs of their relationships. That I can be around other gay people and celebrate being who we are as a good thing, instead of having to qualify it. How great that the Trans community is developing its own community in our common queer space and becoming more visible. How great it is that people are celebrating themselves in leather and living an unashamed and sex positive lifestyle. How great it is to see drag queens creating characters that bring us together as a community. I see all the problems, and I support a good mature discussion about them. But I also feel like seeing the problems is just a surface and shallow assessment of what gay culture is. When you learn how to be a part of it on a deeper level then what we see on the shallow surface, and navigate the right way, celebrating the fact we are coming together does become a reason to keep showing up.

¶     My personal experiences at prides and common gay space has in retrospect been a process of learning and growing from relationships I never had in a heteronormative world, even when I was the out “GBF” in it. It’s been some drama, but not so unmanageable that the costs outweigh the benefits, if anything any drama I have encountered has helped me learn and grow as a person in navigating interpersonal relationships, knowing where my boundaries are, and the nuances of relationships of all kinds be they lovers or friends, or something in between. It’s been a community experience, developing connections with people that have been mutually supportive and positive. Seeing people come together, keep up with each other, and celebrating the fact they do indeed come “together.” Every pride I go to, I feel more and more connected, seeing people I know, laughing about common memories and creating new ones, building networks of connections. That’s what is good about celebrating pride, its not simply a political statement to the world (though again, that certainly has its place and importance), it’s a community experience, one that is of value. If we feel like there are issues in our common social experience, then we consider the perspectives, discuss them try to find a way that we can celebrate our diversity and explore our uniqueness while still being connected. We do that by celebrating our togetherness and respecting our diversity.

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