On Pride: Keep the Kink, Lose the Cops

Let the puppies play.

Apologies for the disruption in delivery. We made the rash decision to enjoy a total work stoppage over the holiday weekend, largely because it felt like the first true holiday in years, but also because we don’t really get to take days off from work and decided to grant ourselves some. It always sounds like an interesting concept in theory so we figured we’d give it a shot. It turns out, there’s a minor down side because trying to rev up the writing engines took longer than we thought it would. Evidently, fifteen years of blogging continuously means our gears get gummy almost instantly if we don’t keep things in motion. But since we’re going the dog-ate-my-homework route, we may as well be honest and admit this newsletter took a minute longer than normal because we really hate the topic and find the discussion of it tiresome and stale. Said topic? LGBTQIA+ Pride – and we’re using the extended initialism here deliberately.

You would think two gays who made whatever name they have by being opinionated and wrote a book on queer history wouldn’t find the topic of Pride too tiresome to discuss. That would be true if we were talking about the history of it or the need for it or our own experiences with it. But no, this year, the Pride Discourse has returned to some old favorites because even now, as lockdown is ending and summer stands wide and deep before us, we’re still just looking for reasons to bicker. Once again, the queers are arguing about respectability politics.

In one corner, there’s a vigorous discussion about queer self expression and sexuality and whether a public event is the appropriate place for say, nipple clamps or puppy play. This is a discussion pretty much as old as Pride itself, which is why we find it so dull and boring. Everything that’s been said on the topic has been said and for most queers over a certain age, we would suggest that this question has been long settled. But new generations arise constantly and we would never suggest they can’t have their say. Some of this discussion is being led by younger queers, many of whom find it inappropriate for adults to be engaging in sexual expression around minors. But the heart of the argument is still coming from adults (some in the community, some not) who feel that it behooves the gays to clean up their act, lest they rile the angry straights, who might just decide to take away their hard-fought rights because someone waved a dildo around near a baby stroller or a speedo spanking was witnessed by tweenagers.

In the other corner is perhaps a more directly important argument about the presence of cops in Pride parades, which has been something of a sticking point for years, since the Stonewall Riots were in direct response to police harassment. The entire documented history of the queer community is one of a group of people sometimes entirely at the mercy of the police, who also, for most of their documented history, have shown an indifference at best toward us, but often a dangerous and even deadly hatred of us. For over twenty years it has been common for local law enforcement to march as a group in Pride events, usually to highlight and support the queer members on the force. It’s easy (especially as a cis white gay) to see such a thing as evidence of how far we’ve come. It’s a lot less easy to see it that way if you’re Black or a sex worker or gender nonconforming. It’s super-great that cops don’t harass gay bar patrons anymore, but this country just went through an enormous anti-police demonstration period fueled by Black Lives Matter and the country is going through a very scary period of heightened racist attacks, which many trans people and people of color do not perceive as a high priority for law enforcement.

Heritage of Pride, the New York Pride organization, announced earlier this year that they were banning cops from marching in the parade. Several cities followed suit, the New York Times got up in arms over it, and a national discussion on just how mainstream Pride should be is once again off and running. Since this is a newsletter and not a newspaper, we’re going to suggest you read Alex Abad-Santos’ piece at Vox, outlining both of these controversies and their current origins. For our purposes, it doesn’t matter who’s making the arguments or even the particulars of them this time around. Like we said, it’s all been said.

We stopped going to Pride events right about the time we became very domesticated and married, which was about ten years into our relationship. Looking around at our peers, we don’t think our unintentional migration away from yearly Pride events was all that unusual. As cisgender gay men, the Pride that we tended to know was based around socializing, self-expression, and partying. When you settle in for the long haul with one person and the years start ticking by, finding the ultimate social experience plummets down your list of must-dos without you even thinking about it much. Call us cheugy, call us bougie, but somewhere in the back of our well-settled minds, we decided Pride wasn’t much of a priority for us anymore.  

A few things of note that have to be stated in order to provide some context. First, we have to be blunt here and note that Philly, despite blessing the world with hoagies and Wawa, rounded Os and a bad attitude to outsiders, does not have a good track record when it comes to pulling off public civic events or parades. Sorry, phellow Philly peeps. There’s a lot to recommend about this town, but our parades just aren’t very good. Like a lot of east coast gays, we made the pilgrimage to New York for Pride once every few years, but even that went from being a thing we do to a thing we once did without us thinking about it much.

We also feel a deep responsibility to acknowledge that our status as middle-class white cis gay men made it very easy for us to see Pride solely as a social event that had an ever-reduced meaning and significance to us as we got older. This doesn’t speak particularly well of us, but our privilege, relative comfort, and the vastly reduced sense of second-class citizenship that came with the right to marry left us unconsciously deciding that Pride as a social concept had little to offer us anymore.

Several years back, however, as we were knee deep in queer history research for our book and had gained a renewed understanding of the continuum of that history and the struggles queer people unlike us were still facing, we decided it was time for us to show our faces again at the local Pride parade. What struck us immediately, having not really engaged with Pride as a social event for more than a decade, was how little of it was for us or about us anymore. Fifteen or twenty years ago, if you were a white, cis gay man under 40, ninety-five percent of all Pride events, marketing and imagery centered you as the face of queer Pride. Today, Pride is a much more colorful event – in every sense of the word. You still have your drag queens and your muscle boys in skimpy outfits; you can still catch the local Dykes on Bikes, not to mention PFLAG and other family-oriented queer groups. Every gay bar still has a float, as does every AIDS organization. But the vibe is way more diverse; not just in race and gender, but in age and body type, gender expression and personal style.

By returning to Pride, we realized that Pride needed us perhaps a bit more than we needed Pride – not in an egotistical sense; as if our presence was somehow enriching or vital to the experience. But if Pride was just a place for us to dance, pose and maybe hook up, we weren’t really showing a true understanding of it or the need for it. Pride is for all queer people, but it is and should be most focused on those queer people most in need of community support. There’s a real sense of family that comes during a Pride event and isn’t experienced in as broad a manner at any other time of the year; sort of like Queer Thanksgiving. By avoiding Pride for so many years, we were making the same mistake so many white cis gays have made in the last half-century: We got ours and tapped out. Seeya, Fam. Good luck with that.

To go to an urban Pride parade now is to go to a place that celebrates family, women, nonbinary people, children, femmes, butches, Black people, LatinX people, Asian people, middle class politics, religion, anarchy, corporate America, socialism, healthcare, kink, and destruction of the patriarchy. It has become all things to all people because queerness is all people. This can only be seen as a good thing, even if it means that the group itself feels unsustainable because of the abundance of competing points of view and differing agendas. On the other hand, the entire history of the Queer Liberation movement is rife with examples of competing agendas. All we’ve done for the last fifty years as a community is radically change the world and argue with each other constantly. As Alex Abad-Santos pointed out in his Vox piece, the current vogue for arguing respectability politics is on the same continuum of Sylvia Rivera’s absolutely legendary fuck-you of a speech at the 1973 Pride Rally in New York, when she tore into complacent gays for abandoning their trans siblings and the sex care workers being jailed through entrapment. This has always been the struggle; to gain equality while not losing cohesion as a community – and the people most devoted to keeping the entire community under the same umbrella of protection have always been people of color and transgender people; not respectable white gays like ourselves. They, along with sex workers, femmes, and butches, were the first ones to throw the bricks and they’ve been the only ones consistently reminding us for a half-century to not break up the family.

Which is why, as much as we embrace all of us coming together and letting Pride be a place for as many points of view as possible; as much as we believe it should be a place where families can gather and where people can feel safe, we can’t support the argument that cops belong there but nipple clamps don’t. Pride is about family, but it’s always been first and foremost about challenging social norms and celebrating the freedom to be that which society has told you you can’t be. Because of the nature of our community, that expression is going to take sexual forms or explore ideas of gender presentation. To deny that is to deny the things that make us queer. If we start limiting ourselves in service to the idea of broader acceptance, if we ignore the fears and concerns of the most vulnerable in our community, then what is the point of our queerness? Let the puppies play. The cops can stand on the sidewalk and watch.

I Was Told There Would Be Cat Pictures

This is just how Daisy likes to sit. And what of it?

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[Picture Credit: Frank Busch and Tom & Lorenzo]