Watching The Defectives

Gentle readers, I’m rerunning my
annual Pride rant for the eleventh year. I wrote this post in 2005 a
couple of days after attending Pride here in NYC. In the following
years I’ve reposted it in advance of Pride in the hope of
encouraging you to attend your local events. Have a wonderful
Pride month. Love each other.

Watching The Defectives

Last Sunday at 12:30pm, I was in position on Christopher Street with
Terrence, his glamor boys, and touring UK bloggers Dave and Darren.
The Pride parade was due to round the corner any minute, but I tore
off in search of a bodega, crossing my fingers that my desperate need
for a soda wouldn’t cause me to miss Dykes On Bikes. Half a block
away, I found a little place and ducked in, weaving through the
customers clogging the aisles on rushed missions like mine. I was
third in line, two bottles of Sprite under my arm, when the man in
front of me spotted a friend entering the store.

“David! Sweetie! Where are you watching from? Come hang out with us on Allen’s balcony!”

David, a bookish looking middle-aged man, destroyed the festive mood
in the little store in an instant. “Absolutely not. Those defectives
and freaks?” he spat, indicating the colorful crowd outside the
store, “They have nothing to do with MY life, thank you very much.
This parade has as much dignity as a carnival freak show. It’s no
wonder the whole country hates us.”

Luckily for David, the Asshole Killer mind ray I’ve been working on
is not yet operational. I settled for pushing him a little, just a
tiny bit, just to get by him in that narrow aisle, of course. I
returned to my sweaty little group and tried to put what I’d heard
out of my mind for the remainder of the day, because I knew that by
the next morning, the thousands of Davids of the world, the ones
who have media access anyway, would all issue their now familiar
day-after-Pride rant. The one where they decry the drag queens on
all those newspaper front pages. The one where they beat their
chests and lament, “Why don’t the papers ever show the NORMAL gay
people? Where are the bankers and lawyers? Why must all the coverage
be drag queens and leather freaks in assless chaps?”

And every year, the logical answer is that bankers and lawyers are boring
to look at and that pictures of marching Gap employees don’t sell
newspapers. There’s no sinister media agenda intent on making gay
people look ridiculous, no fag-hating cabal behind the annual front
page explosion of sequins and feathers. It’s just good copy. Drag
queens are interesting. Even the bad ones. Especially the bad ones.

Yet right on cue, the day after Pride, the Davids of the blogosphere
dished out their heavy-handed dissections of parades around the
country. Only this year, there was a palpably nastier tone to an
already traditionally nasty annual debate. Blame the election, blame
the recent avalanche of anti-gay legislation, but this year, the
usual assimilationist arguments went beyond the hypothetical
speculations that maybe our Pride parades were too outlandish, that
maybe we weren’t doing the movement any favors by showing the
country a face that happened to be wearing 6-inch long false
eyelashes. This year there was some actual discussion about HOW we
were going to “fix” Pride parades. Of how we might go about
“discouraging” certain “elements” from taking part in the parades.

This is the part of the story where I have my annual post-Pride
apoplectic attack. This is the part of the story where the swelling
volume of Nazi analogies overwhelm my ability to speak and all I
can do is twitch and bark out little nonsensical bits. This is
where I always forget the name given to the Jews who went to work
for the Nazis, helping load the trains. “Because that’s what you
are asking us to do, you assholes!” Then I always ask, “Who are we
going to sacrifice to ‘save’ ourselves? Which child will it be,
Sophie?” And this is the part of the story where my friends accuse
me of being a hyperbole-laden drama queen, wasting spiritual energy
on a non-crisis, and of co-opting the Holocaust as well. More on
that later.

These people that want to “fix” Pride don’t understand the role that
Pride parades have come to play. Initially, the gay parade was
about visibility. It was about safety in numbers, and more
importantly, “normalcy” in numbers. It was about the idea that if
only straight America could see us, could just SEE US, that they’d
love us. And accept us. That if we’d mass and march by the righteous
millions, the sheer unstoppable force of our collective image
would topple bigotry. Would right wrongs. Would stop hate.

Of course, that didn’t happen then and it doesn’t happen now.

What DOES happen, is that Pride parades, at least in the big cities,
have become nothing more significant to straight America than an
annual traffic nightmare. As a tool of the gay movement, the Pride
parade is now merely a walking photo op for politicians and perhaps
not much more. A couple of years ago, the ultimate arbiter of
America’s cultural zeitgeist, The Simpsons, made note of this:

(The gay pride parade is going past the Simpson house.)

Chanting marchers: “We’re here! We’re queer! Get used to it!”

Lisa Simpson: “You’re here every year. We ARE used to it.”

What does all of this mean to the Davids of the world, the gay
assimilationists that want to, wish they could, somebody do something,
there’s gotta be a way we can, Dignify This Parade? The ones
begging: “Can’t we get our people to at least DRESS respectfully for
one lousy day? Is that too much to ask of our people? “

Yes, yes it is.

Because you are kidding yourself if you think Pride parades, in any
form, will EVER change the minds of homophobes. The straight people
who show up to see Pride parades are already largely convinced.
We’re parading to the choir, Jesse. Those straight people love our
freaks, bless them.

Oh, you could test run a “defective” free parade. You could form
urban anti-drag squads and go around to all the gayborhoods on the
morning of the parade and give all the drag queens 50% off coupons
for Loehmann’s, offer good during the parade only. And they’d GO, of
course, cuz hey, those girls love a bargain. But the resultant
bland, humorless, “normal” gay parade wouldn’t change the course of
the gay movement one bit. The part of straight America that is
repulsed by drag queens is quite possibly even more terrified by the
so-called “normal” gays, because “those clever calculating creatures
look JUST LIKE US, and can infiltrate and get access to our
precious children. And that’s been their disgusting plan all along, of course.”

So where does that leave us? Are we post-Pride? Is the parade just a
colossally long waste of a miserably hot summer day? Is the Pride
parade just an event that does a better job of moving
chicken-on-a-stick than it does of moving hearts? I’d say that, yes, as
an effective tool of the gay movement, Pride’s usefulness has
largely waned in many U.S. cities. So do we even need to keep having
these parades, since they no longer seem to have much of an impact
on the state of the movement? No, we don’t.


Because even if Pride doesn’t change many minds in the outside
world, it’s our PARTY, darlings. It’s our Christmas, our New Year’s,
our Carnival. It’s the one day of the year that all the crazy
contingents of the gay world actually come face to face on the street
and blow each other air kisses. And wish each other “Happy Pride!”
Saying “Happy Pride!” is really just a shorter, easier way of
saying “Congratulations on not being driven completely batshit
insane! Well done, being YOURSELF!”

I’m not worried what the outside world thinks about the drag queens,
the topless bulldaggers, or the nearly naked leatherfolk. It’s OUR
party, bitches. If you think that straight America would finally
pull its homokinder to its star-spangled bosom once we put down that
glitter gun, then you are seriously deluding yourself. Next year,
if one of the Christian camera crews that show up to film our
“debauched” celebrations happen to train their cameras on you, stop
dancing. And start PRANCING.

If you’re out there wringing your hands and worrying
that Pride ruins YOUR personal rep, listen up. Do you think that
straight Americans worry that Mardi Gras damages international
perception of American culture? America, land of the free, home of
“Show Us Your Tits!”? They don’t and neither should we. Our Pride
celebrations are just our own unique version of Mardi Gras, only
instead of throwing beads, we throw shade. No one has to ask US to
show our tits. We’ve already got ’em out there, baby. And some of
them are real.

A co-worker of mine heard me discussing my Pride plans last weekend
and said, “I really don’t understand what it is you are proud
about. I mean, you all say that you are born that way, so it’s not
like you accomplished anything.” She wasn’t being mean, just
genuinely curious, and I think that a lot of gay people probably
feel the same way. On this subject, I can only speak for myself.

I’m proud because I’m a middle-aged gay man who has more dead
friends than living ones and yet I’m not completely insane. I’ve
lived through a personal Holocaust (here we go again) in which my
friends and lovers have been mowed down as thoroughly and randomly
as the S.S guards moved down the line of Jews. You, dead. You, to
the factory. And you, you, you, and you, dead. I am inexplicably
alive and I am proud that I keep the memories of my friends alive. I
am proud of my people, the ACT UPers, the Quilt makers, the Larry
Kramers, the Harvey Fiersteins. I’m proud that I’m not constantly
curled up into a ball on my bed, clutching photo albums and sobbing.
And that happens sometimes, believe it.

And outside of my personal experiences, I am proud of my tribe as a
group. Sometimes I think that gay people are more creative, more
empathic, more intuitive, more generous, and more selfless than
anybody else on the planet. Sometimes I think that if an alien
culture were surveying our planet from light years away, they might
classify gay people as an entirely separate species of humans. It’s
easy to spot us because of our better haircuts.

But sometimes I think we are the worst people in the entire
world when it comes to standing up for each other. The gay people
who’d like to soothe their personal image problems by selectively
culling some of our children from Pride events? They disgust me.
They appall me. They embarrass me. To them I say: The very road that
YOU now have the privilege of swaggering upon was paved by
those queens and leather freaks that you complain about as you
practice your “masculine” and give us butch face. If you want to live
in the house that THEY BUILT, you better act like you fucking know it. United we stand, you snide bitches. America’s kulturkampf ain’t gonna be solved by making flamboyant people go away.

I’ll end this by making one final Jewish reference. Possibly you’ve
heard the Jewish in-joke that sums up the meaning of all Jewish
holidays? “They tried to kill us. We won. Let’s eat.” My Pride version?

They wish we were invisible.

We’re not.

Let’s dance.