At the end of the rainbow

Gay Pride was supposed to be simple this year.

I spent much of last summer writing about Pride Toronto’s clumsy decision to ban a perfectly legitimate protest group from the parade and I listened to a surprising number of people complain how all this “politics” was ruining our perfectly good parade day. As Xtra commenter Joe from Montreal said of the protesters:

They do not represent most Gays; nor do they represent most reasonable people period. The Gay Pride Parade is about celebration and joy. It should not be about negativity and hateful emotions….

Many agreed. Many disagreed. Round and round we went, with the contested Queers Against Israeli Apartheid eventually marching anyway, without incident. Nevertheless, gravy-hating new mayor Rob Ford and his rival-turned-toady Giorgio Mammoliti vowed to pull the debt-ridden Pride’s in-kind funding this year at the merest whisper of QuAIA’s presence. In a savvy sacrifice play, the group backed out.

So there you go, Joe — a shiny happy new Pride 2011 with a fine new leader at the helm and no yucky politics to split our community apart. Rainbows for everyone, right?

There’s only one problem: some of us forgot to work out.

Ugh. The ad, apparently produced by Tourism Toronto with Pride Toronto’s blessing, is like Linus from A Charlie Brown Christmas if he were a total douche, reminding us that the true meaning of Pride is being buff and fuckable. In a fit of irritable whimsy (my default state, I admit), I gave the video a remix that would more accurately reflect its smug theme.

The annoying stereotyping and cheap digs at lesbians might be forgivable if any of it were clever or funny but not even the welcome sight of drag artiste Donnarama could save this ad. Toronto Life contributor Kevin Naulls hated it and YouTube commenter aficb sighed:

This is really sad! Why are we reinforcing stereotypes instead of celebrating the beauty of all who under the LGBTQ spectrum. This is a horrible representation of what Pride is, there is little/no representation of ppl of different backgrounds, sizes, abilities.

“No matter how hard I try, I’ll never look like the stereotypically buff, hairless ideal I see in representations of gay men,” writes Elie Chivi in an excellent piece on The Gaily site about this and his frustration with our community’s “basic high school politicking.”

"No more rainbows"???

Chivi got quoted yesterday in The Grid’s instantly infamous piece on “post-mo” gays who have, says writer Paul Aguirre-Livingston, “hated Toronto Pride for its negative stereotypes and its promotion of marginalization and hyper-sexed fools on floats….In fact, most of us have come to resent the stereotypes and the ideals associated with preceding gay generations.”

Post-mos resenting old stereotypes? Join the club — when I came out, I don’t recall signing any waiver insisting I wear PVC and listen to Christina Aguilera — but resenting previous ideals? Them’s fighting words, especially when Aguirre-Livingston says, “the post-mo had a different agenda: no agenda at all. ”

Even Stephen Harper’s latest throne speech couldn’t make my teeth clench harder than Aguirre-Livingston informing me that the out-and-proud queer activism that I’ve been inspired by, learned from and fought to do my small part to continue has now been dismissed by a new and vacant philosophy of bowties, dudes and not giving a shit.

Again, ugh. So I obviously enjoyed this savage takedown from fab magazine’s Matt Thomas and this insightful one from Torontoist’s Jaime Woo but was still depressed by The Grid’s tales of straight-acting “über-masculine gays” having secret sex with ‘little faggots,’ breathlessly written as though invented by these “new gays” and not just being the same dismal ‘sissyphobia’ we’ve seen forever, as in this clip from The Celluloid Closet:

Nope, these arguments are not new (try asking Bert Archer) and, in the wake of the QuAIA conflicts and Pride’s stumbling attempts to recover, they seem too familiar. “Is there even a gay struggle to be had anymore?” asks Aguirre-Livingston. Not only is that a completely asinine question (try asking the 19-year-old New Yorker who wants you imprisoned), it’s the same one asked by Joe and those wanting an end to politics in the Pride parade, as if preventing each other from fighting about Israel or Catholic schools or trans rights will automatically lead to universal harmony and not just factions of ‘post-mos’ and ‘ghetto fags’ choosing instead to fight about bathhouses or twinks or rustic country homes.

Both these “new” hipster gays and the buff, “Pride Pump” guys (who apparently never gave them the love they needed) have the same goal — a Pride month in which they can celebrate our hard-won “freedom and choices” without any responsibility towards, or even mention of, anyone else still struggling. “To be a twentysomething gay man in Toronto in 2011,” says the Grid piece, “is to be free from persecution and social pressures to conform. It’s also, in most ways, not about being gay at all.”

A story about my own failure will explain why I take that odious idea so personally. In 1994, I was attending York University and just starting to tiptoe out of the closet while living in residence. While Winters was informally “the gay college,” due to its number of arts students, I was in jocky McLaughlin, where fag jokes were common. Still figuring myself out, I kept my head down but there was one time the mere sight of a goth-eyeliner-wearing overnight guest in my dorm room made my next-door neighbour smear my door with eggs. Typical frat-boy crap and not in a fun porn-flick way.

Yet one of our own in the dorms was a Muslim guy named Naseer, who was well-liked, terrifically funny and more than a bit flaming. The guys would argue about him — sure, he was obsessed with Madonna and flowery shirts but he was joined at the hip with that hot girl, right? I was friendly with Naseer but kept a bit of distance, for fear of association and perhaps a wee hint of a crush.

One night, near the end of term, I poked my head in Naseer’s door and said hey. He hadn’t been around much lately. There was a Muslim community paper on his desk, open to an article on Islam and homosexuality, which was predictably vicious. “Do they really hate it that much?” I naively asked and Naseer shrugged sadly and said sure, leading me into some bland platitudes about liberal tolerance. My own now-certain homosexuality and the likelihood of his felt heavy in the air between us but I wasn’t ready to come out and it would be rude to flat out ask him to, right? I said good night and shuffled off.

That was the last conversation I had with Naseer that term. A couple weeks later, during exams, he was found dead in his room, overdosed on pills. At the funeral, Naseer’s friends and family spoke of his troubled adolescence and privately, his girlfriend assured me that Naseer loved being gay. Whatever drove him to kill himself was deeper than Muslim homophobia.

But while I was assured that nothing I’d ever said could’ve harmed Naseer, I knew that nothing I’d ever said helped him either. Thinking of the timely phrase SILENCE = DEATH, I began to speak up. At a formal later that year, one of the McLaughlin guys told me how much he admired me for my bravery. I mumbled a thanks and shuffled away. Coming out wasn’t brave, it’s what I should’ve done much, much earlier. I began to talk about being gay and haven’t shut up since.

So forgive me, “post-mos,” if I disagree when you say, “who we sleep with…isn’t even much of a topic of conversation anymore.” It should be. These conversations matter, even now, even to these kids raised on Glee and Lady Gaga.

You say you hate the village? Yes, we have lots of other places to go. You hate bathhouses and park sex? Stick to Grindr. You hate vapid muscle queens? Try finding some common ground with them — they might surprise you.

There's room for everyone under that thing

But hating rainbows? Well, that I can’t forgive. They’re pretty, they’re fun, they appear to terrify Catholics and, best of all, they’re hopeful. Naseer liked them too. And whether you like it or not, admit it or not, you’re one of the colours. So are the village queens, so are the QuAIA people, so are the leathermen, and so on. Politics is just deciding how big a stripe each colour gets.

But if you won’t listen to me, listen to Harvey — even with that voice, he always says it best:

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About Scott Dagostino

An arts & culture journalist who's the bastard love child of Van Morrison and Jessica Mitford
This entry was posted in Culture, Diary, Newspapers & Magazines, Politics and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to At the end of the rainbow

  1. Erika says:

    Hi Scott,

    Thank you for this. Even we at The Gaily were very disappointed by this article which was touted as a profile on “fluidity” and something more closely related to the piece you quote about from Elie about stereotypes in the gay community. Obviously the reaction has been stunning and rightly so. I also loved Fab’s response and we are looking forward to responding as well because it is very offensive to our vision of anti-opression and our stance against homophobia in the gay community and the racist, privileged, misogynistic tone that we often see in gay media sources. We can be sure of course that that article is not representative of many of us, and many are justifiably upset, including Elie for having been involved with the project. Thanks for this great post and commentary on the issue.

  2. Kenn says:

    Well done, Scott. The stereotypes of the buffed and brawn are crowd-pleasers (and, occasionally, cock-teasers) for mere moments in the grand scheme of things when so much more needs to be done to lift our collective self-esteem.

  3. martin says:

    great post and certainly more composed, as someone whose face appeared in the grid article I have never been more excited about pride than I have about this years. thank you for your insight. It is a shame I was not associated with such a composed writer.

  4. Good points. I really enjoyed this. Barry posted this on his FB, which is how I got here. At the very least, The Grid definitely created a provoking piece…not sure they meant it to be that provoking, though. I think it was the whole ‘I’m queer, I’m here, get used to it,” that got taken a little too seriously in that article. It had some points, namely, that maybe Gen Y and Gen X deal with activism or view their sexuality differently, but I think it was expressed awkwardly.

    (Not to mention, did everyone in that article need to be hipsters? Isn’t that just another stereotype?)

  5. Joseph W says:

    I’ve read both articles and I just can’t agree with the level of rhetoric I’ve noted from you and supporters on here and on twitter and it really feels like the first sentence of this post says it all about the thought process here: “It was supposed to be simple” really is code for “We’d all better agree or else”. I didn’t get that from the Grid TO article and I appreciate it.

    I’m 31 (nearly 32), I’m old enough to remember “GRID”, Ryan White, Matthew Shepard, etc. However, I’m young enough that I’ve never had a friend die from AIDS before; I just knew it was something one really didn’t want to get and it was preventable. I grew up in a major city, I’m a racial minority, gay, and mid-middle class. I never really had to fight my family as they were accepting, although I’ve vocally supported those who have by giving time, money and voice to those who haven’t been as fortunate because I do believe there is a greater GLBTQQIA community – increasingly diasporic as it may be.

    I think what troubles me the most is the obvious desire to shut down these young guys for vocalizing their experience as gay men so far. I hardly think they are outliers. I’m most concerned that Elie’s change is more due to the perception of a backlash than anything else. Sure, the tone of the article and the interviewees is bombastic, self-aggrandizing, almost naive in spots. But..that’s what being in your 20s is usually about until you find that groove as an adult man and begin to calm down. They are positively rebellious in their lack thereof.

    You sound like your over 30 but under 35 so we are of the same group. I think what is showing and needs to be recognized is a generational gap between Gen X and Gen Y. We have laws that protect us, when common respect between different groups fails. However, I agree that silence in certain respects can and does still equal death (or damage) but, I find it hard to agree that shouting down those with a different opinion or life experience is really equal to liberation.

  6. Thanks for bringing some debate, Joseph, even as your note depressed me with, “‘It was supposed to be simple’ really is code for ‘We’d all better agree or else.’” If you follow me on Twitter or have read any of my work, you’ll see that I don’t speak in code. “Simple,” as I explained in the next paragraphs, referred to the new lack of infighting over Israel. Yes, for a moment, it looked like we might all get along…and not “or else.”

    I’m sad my intentions for this piece appear to be misjudged when they seem plain to me: Paul wrote a piece he knew would be controversial (writer/activist Justin Stayshyn was approached for an interview for the piece and was told, “You’re going to hate [it]!”), I read it and was appalled by both his arguments AND his tone and now, here on my own blog, I have said so. By saying I’m out to “shut down these young guys,” you make me sound like some mean old man picking on helpless children and not a citizen critiquing grown adults with different opinions. As I tweeted to Paul, “Glad you wrote it, hope you take the coming shots with grace, but I violently disagree. ‘Post-Mo’ is an excuse for apathy.”

    You and I, however, appear to agree quite a bit. “I hardly think they are outliers,” you say and yes, fear of exactly that spurred me to comment. Paul is not the first young man I’ve heard say things like, “I’ve still managed to forget the condom once or twice without freaking out. My parents have never actually heard me say the words “I am gay” because I don’t need to,” and him throwing all that out there with a tone that not only validates but CHAMPIONS such attitudes seems irresponsble to the point of actual malice. I’m fond of the old maxim that they are very few Bad People but there are a LOT of Bad Ideas.

    So if you think I’m being too hard on the “post-mos,” I’d suggest you avoid reading tonight’s Tony-winner Larry Kramer but I’ll admit there are a couple young men I’ve shouted down, like the Facebook friend who announced he’d like to physically harm Paul and the activist on Twitter who wanted all copies of The Grid destroyed. I violently disagreed with them too but I won’t just lob the whole debate off as a “generation gap.” I don’t expect “kids today” to like Madonna, dance at fly, have park sex or avoid bow-ties but I do expect them to show a minimum of respect to those of who have fought and worked to make the culture more tolerant for us all (Paul writes that it just “evolved” on its own, which is infuriating) and, more importantly, I do expect them to lift a goddamned finger to help the next generation after them. “We’re the lucky ones,” he says but luck had NOTHING to do with it.

  7. Zahah says:

    What a great article Scott. Naseer was my cousin and I’m so proud, yet saddened at the same time (I guess bittersweet), at the fact that he was able to be apart of your life. I miss him everyday and am so happy to have known him. I remember you from his funeral. Thank you for sharing your memories of how Naseer impacted your life…he would have been honoured.

  8. tayyaba islam says:

    thankyou scott for this article,i am naseers mother and would be honoured if i could know you as well. .still hurting

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