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.”
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.
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: