Things haven’t been the same since… well, you know.
Most of us are living scared, avoiding other human beings like one avoids doing taxes (some of us are more avoidant than others). Like a dystopian young adult novel, we’ve formed little pods of people with the goal of keeping ourselves safe together, like a survival squad in a real-life Hunger Games.
It’s been tough, and we’re all feeling it deep in our marrow.
The pandemic has had an incredible impact on the queer community. For better or for worse, queer bars have historically been a huge part of our community; fundraisers, celebrations, and memorials have been held in them. The pandemic forced us all out, and it destabilized us in many ways.
In addition to the lack of consistent socializing in queer bars or cafes, most Pride events were canceled in 2020 for the same safety reasons. With a possible vaccination only a pipe dream at the time, folks were understandably too scared to organize in groups. So we did what we could: held Pride events online, gathered with our small bubbles in the park or in our homes, and remained grateful for what little social contact we were allowing ourselves.
Large cultural groups, much like our social skills, atrophied.
“Hot vaxxed queer summer” was definitely the theme for many this Pride season, and not just because of the outfits.
It’s an incredibly hot August afternoon. I can’t remember the last time I was surrounded by so many people. I can practically smell the sweat beading off the person next to me, with a trans flag proudly on their back, but instead of feeling repulsed by the side-effects of extreme heat on a human being, I’m grateful.
I’m grateful to be back with the communities I’ve missed so deeply. I’m grateful to see smiles on people’s faces, after more than a year of clothed maws. I’m grateful for the queers who came out in our best-ripped jeans and glitter, holding signs above our heads that declare “Black trans lives matter!” and “Sex work is real work!”
I’m in a sea of people, chanting and clapping and cheering. We’re a parade with no use for gaudy floats, only fantastic outfits. We’re all here, most of us are queer, and our social anxiety is likely severe. We’ll get used to it.
Walking Instead of Cheering
There is something incredibly symbolic to participate in the march, instead of watching by the sidelines.
“I’ve never walked in Pride before!” I overhear one person say, “I like this so much better than being in the audience.”
That wasn’t the only person I heard say that. All throughout the day, both online and off, people are echoing exactly what I feel: that this year’s Pride March seemed to be so much richer and fuller than years prior.
The Pride March was unmistakably large this year, although that could be my many months in relative social isolation. (I mean, walking into a crowded grocery store feels overwhelming at times, never mind thousands of people in every direction for miles.)
In years past, only a few organizations chosen to represent the entire rainbow were allowed to walk in the Parade, with everyone else watching on the sidelines. The Parade might include non-profit community organizations and those working for them, but it largely meant seeing float after float from political parties and companies and even the military.
Insurance providers, banks, and airlines danced through the streets, finally singing the praises of the same queer communities they used to find ways to exempt. Their out and proud employees could be seen frolicking or handing out free rainbow loot, but without a connection to the companies themselves, most queer folks were relegated to being spectators. Once major companies took the stage, your everyday queer person was only allowed to participate in this new social holiday if it meant as an audience or consumer.
This year, however, was different.
We weren’t just watching an “us” themed parade… we were the parade! People sang, danced, and clapped as we walked, carrying the sounds of queer joy and liberation everywhere. In my city alone, over 15 000 people attended the march with some estimates as high as 30 000!
An organizer for my city’s Pride Festival said the theme this year was for “communities to be their own spokespeople”, which uh… is what we wanted? Personally, I’m not sure who said that we wanted companies to fly the banner for us when we have exceptionally good spokespeople of our own.
This year, Pride wasn’t a parade. It was a march, one that echoed the roots of how Pride began years ago, as a riot.
From Riots to Pink Washing, What’s Next?
Am I proposing that we remove large floats from Pride, and instead rebrand as a march once more?
It can be a magic trick to distract for when companies rebrand themselves as supportive of the LGBTQIA+ community in order to increase profits during the summer months, all the while doing little to help forge a sense of justice in our society at large.
Yes, I love being able to buy my Pride merchandise… but I love it even more when it goes to small independent artists or creators in my city. I want to enrich my communities so they can escape the drudgery and torture that is working under their capitalistic overlords, not so H&M can increase their profit margin during Pride.
“But if we remove the corporate sponsors from the parade and make it a march, companies wouldn’t want to participate!”
If large corporations are only participating in Pride celebrations in order to get a lead role in the parade, then they’re not actually doing it for the right reasons. If they’re true to their support of the queer community, they will continue to contribute financially without making themselves the main attraction. This isn’t a “pay to play” experience, folks.
We’re the main attraction, and I’m tired of pretending that we need to be grateful… or else.
The Future is Queer
Do I miss the pageantry of the commercial Parade? Sure, it’s nice to have the indulgence of a thousand rainbow balloons but queer people don’t need big corporate sponsors to have glittery costumes or dancing in the streets!
We’re queer, goddamnit, have you seen our regular “going out” outfits?
On episode 181 of The Multiamory Podcast, I heard professor and author of The Critical Polyamorist Dr. Kim Tallbear use a definition for queer that fits how I view myself and my relationship to it perfectly:
“Well, you know the way that I would use the word queer is the way that my friend and colleague, Angie Willey, would use the word queer. She wrote the book Undoing Monogamy. She says to be queer is to be against the state. I don’t think probably just because one is not straight, that one is queer.”
I want us to push for more than satisfaction at being capitalism’s flavor of the month. There is so much more joy to life and our identities than to be assimilated into the mainstream, with all its issues and neuroses.
Who cares if the CEOs are queer when there are children making our technology, or trans people not being hired purely for being trans, or black queers told to cut their locs because of “professionalism”.
Pride is about more than just reframing the shame cisgender heterosexual society has offloaded onto us, it’s about abolishing the framework entirely.
We need to keep fighting for queer liberation, not queer assimilation.
Happy hot queer and hopefully vaxxed summer. Here’s to more marches, and a lot less parades.