I am a traitor to my people

I attended a friend’s wedding last weekend, a lovely ceremony that united two men together for life, and in his remarks, the emcee raised an interesting question: should we be calling this a “gay wedding?”

Even though same-sex marriage has been legal in Canada for years now (and hello, New York!), we still talk about it like something separate, distinct. If sexual orientation is no longer an obstacle to marriage, then referring to it seems archaic. This wasn’t a “gay” wedding, it was a wedding but yes, still a remarkable thing, considering it wasn’t so long ago that the very idea of two men marrying would be regarded as ridiculous—and by many gay people as well as straights, even.

Bitch wore the same shirt to Pride!! Ironically, it's entitled, "Make Love, Not War"

For all our talk of a “gay community,” there isn’t one. Even within each letter of the LGBT groupings, there never is (and really never has been) any agreement on virtually anything. Fighting amongst ourselves is just what we do. Put five queer people together to devise a plan and you’ll end up with eight plans, each one insisted upon. Such family squabbles are common, of course, and we had a doozy this month with that whole “post-gay” business, as writer Paul Aguirre-Livingston asked pretty much the same question as the wedding emcee but The Grid paper dressed it up as some new standard for queer people. Ummm….no.

But why not, asked one friend at the wedding, who went for the full law degree in Devil’s Advocacy and said I was being too hard on Rob Ford. “Isn’t the whole Pride thing about people’s freedom?” he asked, “Doesn’t Rob Ford have the right to go to the cottage?” In a nutshell, my ensuing rant was, “Rob Ford, yes. The Mayor of Toronto, no” (and even some of his supporters agree), but our conservation also morphed into what has become a central gay debate: Why does the Pride parade have be so political anyway? Why can’t it just be a party? And who cares if you go or not?

For decades, the entire appeal of Pride is that it’s been a giant sexy street party with a moral and political protest centre (chocolate and peanut butter!) but increasingly, too many are now insisting it cannot be both. More and more, they see Pride as this vs. this:

It’s a long-standing philosophical split that is now becoming a practical one. Last year, Pride Toronto (in retrospect, wisely) avoided the G20 fiasco and postponed the parade until the Canada Day weekend. Despite poor beer garden sales, I guess they liked it because Pride is again being held this July 1 long weekend.

I’m irritated by this because it means I’ll be missing out. While I’m not going away with Rob Ford, I am sharing his desire to get away on the long weekend which, after a month of beaking about Pride-related matters, is making feel a bit hypocritical. But should it?

In my defense, the trip was booked long ago when I believed that Pride would again be held on the date that holds its entire meaning—its traditional last-Sunday-in-June commemorating the Stonewall riots. Pride Toronto’s shift away from that is, as Marcus McCann wrote today in Xtra, “a symbolic movement away from politics and activism—commemorating Stonewall—and toward a corporate party—which, by contrast, has tourists, the long weekend and maximizing numbers as primary concerns.” Writer and burlesque artist Sasha Van Bon Bon was angry about this too and organized the Stonewall TO street party in response—a great success but still worrying if it gives Pride a pass to continue as it has, dropping any lingering pretense towards history or activism.

Because it’s not just the politics being stripped from Pride, it’s the party as well. In the rush to defend poor mayor Ford, there’s been some interesting comments on what Pride is supposed to be. The National Post‘s Jonathan Kay (the apple resting close to the craggy tree) wrote that Pride defenders like me are “two-faced…slightly dishonest” in that Pride is “described as rallies that express political solidarity with a formerly oppressed minority” but is actually “dominated by people in fun, flamboyant outfits and, in some cases, men who are totally naked….we should stop pretending that gay-pride events are something solemn and politically necessary. They are big racy parties for adults.”

BOTH, Jonathan! They’re BOTH! Why is this so hard to comprehend? Oh right…..the naked dudes:

Now personally, I don’t have that much problem with adult nudity—whether of the gay or straight variety. But I wouldn’t bring my children to see it. And if the event is so raunchy that kids can’t come, why should we expect politicians to come?

BUMS!!! Oh, the humanity!!!

Oh yes, hiding your own distaste behind those tiny straw children again. Who’s being dishonest here? Over the years, I’ve seen lots of kind liberal parents bring their children to Pride and the kids have fun, while tending to laugh at or ignore anything that doesn’t appeal to them. I saw a guy in chaps and a jockstrap pass by a mother and child; the boy laughed and said, “Mom, that guy forgot his underwear!”

And wait…is Kay saying children and politicians think the same? That’s one thing he and I might actually agree on.

But worse is a similar rant in Macleans from an honest-to-goodness lesbian who also insists that no mayor should attend Pride’s celebration of sexuality until it does away with all that icky sexuality. I was actually depressed by Emma Teitel‘s final paragraph, which I print in full:

I like Pride. It’s like Spring Break without frat boys; the only time of year my girlfriend and I can kiss publicly without scandalizing or exciting anyone. But to blindly defend the parade’s more salacious and arguably sophomoric overtones—notwithstanding their context in the history of gay activism—is simply naïve. Rob Ford may be a bigoted jerk after all, but his alleged snub has been positively received by many people who are uncomfortable with the promiscuity that characterizes Pride. If Pride’s mandate is to host an epic party, then it should never change; but if its purpose is to advance gay rights—as many anti-Ford activists maintain—then perhaps it’s time for Pride to evolve with the rights it celebrates. Because until the parade looks more like an affirmation of same-sex freedoms than sex itself, important people will seem justified skipping town.

Yes, the Pride parade looks like sex so no good person should come anywhere near it. To hear that from anyone—much less a queer person afraid to kiss her girlfriend in public for the next 364 days—is heartbreaking to me. Call me naive but I don’t blindly defend the parade’s more salacious and arguably sophomoric overtones—I actively and cheerfully defend and celebrate them. Pride is a political march and a street party, the one time of year when repressed, workaholic Toronto really cuts loose and lets its freak flag fly—sexually, politically, culturally. It’s exhilarating and yes, Rob Ford is an idiot if he doesn’t come to see, naked butts or no.

Besides, I once met a beautiful 20-something guy built like a Greek god but terrified to take his shirt off in public and a 60-something guy who was (ahem) not as hot but merrily willing to doff his clothes in public any chance he was given and freeball. Of the two, I’d say it’s the younger man who’s got a problem, no?

For me, the joke is that I’ll be skipping this huge, contentious, messy Pride weekend for what many gay men would consider an improvement: the party-gay mecca of Provincetown. I won’t be dancing in a tiny Toronto enclave of shirtless men and house music, I’ll be dancing in a tiny US enclave of shirtless men and house music. Viva la difference!

But it’ll be a traitorous weekend without politics, without edge, without creativity and without those delightful pasty-white Toronto asses. Without our fascinating and fabulous Toronto people around, I fear Provincetown will seem as bland and one-dimensional as the Hollywood gay cartoons our pundits seem to wish we were more like:

From the movie gays of the 1970s to the movie gays of today, LOOK HOW FAR WE'VE COME!!!

The great paradox of Pride is that it’s about celebrating your individuality (you are a precious snowflake, goddammit!) while celebrating the enormous, fabulous, fractious communities you belong to. Yesterday, I passed a young straight couple walking through Cabbagetown. They were holding hands, smiling and wearing matching neon-orange Crocs. THAT, my friends Kay and Teitel, is the most perverse, queer thing I’ve seen this month but the message of Pride extends to them as well–be who you are, love who you love. Happy Pride, everybody!


About Scott Dagostino

An arts & culture journalist who's the bastard love child of Van Morrison and Jessica Mitford
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