This past weekend was LA’s Gay Pride celebration, three days of drinking and debauchery in honor of our Community. As is always the case, I noticed a lot of haters this year, bagging on Gay Pride from a number of different viewpoints. The most obvious protestors are the uber-religious zealots holding “God Hates Fags” signs along the parade route. And then there’s the classic self-hating gays who think the festival makes us all look like freaks. But this year was the first year I noticed so many progressive, Gay-positive people who were totally alienated from the entire weekend of Pride activities. The first year I heard so many people joke it should be called “Shame” instead of “Pride.”
For the first time, I noticed a lot of my friends forgoing the parade, the parties, and the poppers and just staying in. Just kidding. I don’t know anyone that does poppers. I just wanted another “P” word. Watching so many people say no to Gay Pride caused me to question my own feelings about the whole thing. Sure, I’ve always loved community festivals, bright colors, and people wearing outlandish costumes, but did I feel like this festival represented me and my interests? Not really.
A few of my friends brought up the fact that Gay Pride seems to be catering to the lowest common denominator. The floats and all the advertising for parties and events uses cheesy pictures of shirtless men to grab your attention and sell products and get people to drink more. And it makes sense because sex sells. We are a community united by our sexual preference after all. But being simplified in such a way can be alienating to some people. Yes, it’s nice to be acknowledged, but maybe it would be nice to be acknowledged as something more than culturally maligned hedonists.
It’s really easy to be judgmental about Pride. Regardless of how it is organized, there will always be critics. But I am curious why a lot of my friends felt it wasn’t for them. It’s supposed to be something that makes people feel included and represented, so why do all my disaffected hipster friends think it’s just for the mainstream Gay party boys and drama freaks?
One thing I think is missing from LA’s Pride celebration is the collaboration with the straight/ally community that happens in other cities like San Francisco and New York. I’ve been going to Pride celebrations since I was 18 and San Francisco’s has always been my favorite because the whole city comes alive and celebrates together. In Los Angeles, our Gay Pride takes place in West Hollywood and is, for the most part, filled with Gays from Los Angeles and the Inland Empire. In San Francisco, you get this sense of “Hey, the city all came together to celebrate what Gay people have contributed to our culture.” In LA, it’s more like “Your Gay festival is over there in Gay West Hollywood, shirtless Gay dudes only.”
When I told a writer friend of mine I was planning on writing about Gay Pride he practically barfed all over the place. “Your perspective tends to lean toward gay self-hate,” he told me. But I’m not really who I’m talking about here. I went to Pride. And I liked it. But it worries me that so many of my friends, friends who I know are intelligent, complex people, think Pride is a joke, a stain on our community.
One of my friends described his displeasure that the most cartoonish and outlandish participants in Pride tend to be the ones that get the most attention from news reporters covering the event. “Perhaps there’s some resentment as [the most outrageous/scandalously dressed people] want to be the face of a community that we may or may not agree with.” Another friend expressed his displeasure at the overtly sexual nature of Pride events, feeling that all anyone wants to do is hook up. “I mean, Pride is ultimately a meat market,” he told me. These concerns are legitimate ones, but one could make the same argument about any large festival or party, Gay or Straight (see also: Coachella).
Yesterday morning, with all these conflicted thoughts about Pride rattling around in my head, I walked down Crescent Heights Boulevard with some friends, heading to “watch” the parade from the top of the Palihouse. “Watch” is in quotes because what we were really watching up there on that hotel rooftop was each other, ogling a sea of men in tank tops and no-tops. Once we hit the parade, I started to remember what Pride was all about. It’s just fun. It’s just frivolous. And it’s meant to make people feel good. It’s not rocket science. And it didn’t come easy, those who fought for Gay rights made Gay Pride events possible. So that we could come along 30 years later and be like “Gross, that’s tacky.”
With the recent stream of totally unfathomable gay bashings across the country, now more than ever is a time to come together as a community and demonstrate our strength. Maybe the aesthetics of Gay Pride are gaudy, but the spirit behind them is genuine and admirable. “Let’s get together as a community, show people that we exist, show people that we celebrate difference, and express the joy that comes with being happy with who you are.”
As I find myself agreeing with those who don’t feel wholly represented by the cheesier, tackier aspects of Gay Pride, I also find that the best thing you can do as someone who feels that Gay Pride doesn’t represent you is to show up. The committees and volunteers who organize an event as large as Pride can’t possibly be responsible for representing every type of Gay that exists. But showing up shows that you, too, are a member of our diverse, complex community. In short, the easy way out is joking about calling it “Shame,” but perhaps the more productive thing to do is to show up wearing a tasteful outfit (or a festive tank top if that’s your thing).
In the end, what really helped me enjoy Pride was watching my boyfriend react to it. He just came out a few years ago. One reason many people cite as why they remain in the closet is that they don’t want to be associated with “those people” (meaning “weird” non-conventional gays). But he was able to relax, able to enjoy the guys in dresses, the people wearing bondage gear and face paint. That made me super proud of him. And that is what everyone should do at Pride. You may not want to wear a dress and a clown wig whilst riding a unicycle down Santa Monica Boulevard, but the fact that we welcome people who do that is what makes our community strong. We are not afraid to be different and Pride is the best reminder of that.
PS: What are your thoughts on Pride? Which city do you think has the best one? What do you like about Pride? What do you wish was different?