|Former Pride executives Teddy Witherington and Lindsey Jones. SOURCE: TEDDY WITHERINGTON
There is no such thing as â€śbad tasteâ€ť at Pride. People wear ridiculous outfits and insignia that at any other time would be cause for derision, much less pride. They Indian wrestle down their gullets the kind of things that can only be eaten after a bout of sunstroke and/or copious quantities of mood-altering chemicals. Pride day in San Francisco remains the only occasion on which I have eaten funnel cake (Google it).
So whatâ€™s it all about? When asked that question, my fatuous answer was often â€śporta potties.â€ť This had the dual benefit of, a) shutting people up (or making them laugh); b) helping me not to think too hard.
Not that there is any shortage of sincerely earnest thinkers telling us what they think. Articles written by the small and the silly, drenched with clichĂ©s, bemoaning the state of pride and questioning its relevance, will infest our media.
The savage truth is that not one of the articles is worth squat unless you know what Pride means to you.
So, letâ€™s pause and think about that for a moment.
The avid-activists will remind us that Stonewall was a riot, which is undeniably the truth. It was a riot in 1969 and will remain so throughout history. Stonewall was, indeed, one of several phenomena and the single most recognizable catalyst that ignited the collective marches, parades, diversity days, celebrations, book-readings, workshops, parties, protests and pageants that today bask under the rainbow parasol we refer to as â€śpride.â€ť
The roots of Pride actually go back thousands of years.
Public gatherings in those days were usually religious, judicial (there was nothing like a good hanging in those days) or tied to the military. They brought together scattered populations, were utilized as opportunities for commerce (buyers and sellers). Permits were granted. So far, I have pretty much described the basic architecture of the modern LGBT Pride event. So, the next time you knock a Renaissance fair, think again.
But why do we gather? We gather to fulfill a basic human instinct â€“ to belong. Assembling with those of a common interest around a system of rituals is as old as humanity. These festivals are days for symbolic-inversion. Authority is ridiculed (just ask a Parade Safety Monitor) and the world is turned upside down. All the demons are on the loose, subject, of course, to local restrictions.
In Harare, Zimbabwe, where restrictions are acute, the local LGBT community awaits a cue from nature. As the lavender petals fell from the Jacaranda trees and carpet the ground, nature provides what the law prohibits. The Miss Jacaranda contestants are all gay men.
In a city like San Francisco those restrictions are relatively lax even on â€śnormalâ€ť days. On Pride day, itâ€™s even more festive. I learned my favorite Pride acronym in the broadcast truck of KRON4 during the live broadcast of the Parade in 2003, where spotters would yell â€śCOCâ€ť (=cock on camera) so that the offending (and many of them were) appendages could be edited out in the live-delay-loop, and the prudes at the FCC would be thoroughly thwarted.
So, having gathered, what do we do? Well, that rather depends on you, Iâ€™m afraid, and whatâ€™s in your heart. Is it shame, dignity, self-respect, pomp, self-congratulation, vanity, vainglory, or arrogance that you find?
If youâ€™re having problems, take a look at the outfit youâ€™ve chosen for the day. That will be a big clue.
Pride is â€śall of the above.â€ť Embrace it, and enjoy the parts that appeal to you. Or, put another way and as weâ€™re all so fond of posting on Facebook, â€śif you donâ€™t want a gay marriage, donâ€™t get one.â€ť When seen in its full implication this sentiment can just as easily be, â€śif you donâ€™t want wear a harness, donâ€™t wear one.â€ť Yes, itâ€™s easy to single out a group of folks as the â€śunacceptable face of Prideâ€ť and the clincher for the they-give us-a-bad-name brigade is always, â€śitâ€™s illegal!â€ť However, if a future government raised the age of consent to 21, would we be so eager to restrict the participation of youth organizations? What comes first, law or conscience? In Texas, men were routinely buggering one another in vast numbers prior to getting the permission of the Supreme Court in 2003, but I do not recall that illegal behavior being touted as a reason to restrict participation.
When in 1995, Londonâ€™s LGBT Pride Festival moved to Victoria Park, the local media headline was, â€śGay Mud-Wrestling Comes to East-End.â€ť So, where did we stand on that? Not in the ring, exactly, but rather than take the bait of co-opting negative perceptions of our community and getting down into the real muck, we chose to move beyond fear, beyond the need to confront or degrade. Globally, and as a community, weâ€™ve done a pretty good job of that, but lest we congratulate ourselves too quickly, itâ€™s worth also acknowledging that we are an injured community and the injuries that have been inflicted on us many never truly heal. So, if our neighbors choose to participate in Pride in ways that we may not, we can respect their right to do so and opt for more compassion and less judgment, perhaps recalling our own first steps out of the closet.
Actually, itâ€™s not about pride at all. Itâ€™s about freedom. Freedom cannot be bought at the expense of others. Forget the word and embrace the spirit. The only real constraints on our day of liberation are of the insidious kind we place on ourselves.
To experience freedom in its gorgeous reality, for me, comes from a core belief that difference truly makes for a better world. I donâ€™t just mean people who look different, but people who have a very different set of values, beliefs, practices, experiences and, yes, wardrobe to my own. For me, that awakening transformed an awesome gay pride day into an awesome life.
Congratulations! Itâ€™s Your Pride. Now, go express yourself.