RM Vaughan is a Canadian writer and video artist based in Montreal.
Less than a month before the annual Pride parade – an especially poignant parade, one that marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots – a small posse of evangelical Christians descended on Toronto’s Gay Village. Evangelicals have been harassing queer spaces for as long as I can remember. Perhaps this time, they felt emboldened, ironically, by an Ontario Premier who until recently appeared afraid to attend Pride celebrations?
But the counterprotest that followed is what caught my eye. As usual, far more people showed up to say no thank you to the smaller gang’s Bronze Age style of Christianity. The news cameras caught the faces of a couple of young counterprotesters. They were full of tears.
In my 54-year-old head, I held two conflicting thoughts. First, again? We have to do this again? When will it stop? Second, and I am not proud of this perspective, when will we queers toughen up and stop taking the bait?
The debatable merits of assembling against a handful of religious bigots are many, and I understand all of them. Complacency in the face of overt hostility is never an option for a minority of any kind. At the same time, the entire event, from the arrival of the evangelicals to the sobbing conclusion (and victory – the evangelicals were escorted away by police, finally doing their jobs, and protecting the queer public, too) is a microcosm of queer progress and problems today.
Queer people are so used to being harassed, attacked and, yes, sometimes killed that we have become, and perhaps will always have to be, very trigger happy. Provocations of any sort set our bonfires alight, and we gather quickly to rally and rage. It’s almost Pavlovian. I have never lived in a time when I was not aware that a straight person might lash out at me just because they can. I have never not been ready to fight back. I’m not paranoid; I’m well trained.
But as we move into the next era of struggles – and, to be fair, what I hope will be further progress – I wonder whether within our own ranks we’re forgetting how to pick our battles. Conversely, are we sometimes so busy policing each other that we notice how much the world outside our various bubbles hates us only when we are confronted with the evidence in raw, tangible form?
From the outside, the LGBTQ2 community looks very solid and unified. A lot of us are in theatre and the arts, so we know how to dress a stage. But, at the risk of speaking outside the family, and extending a metaphor, behind the curtains the community is coming apart.
Trans people don’t trust cisgender queers. Older gay men (including, at times, me) feel as if we are being targeted and subjected to more scrutiny by younger queers than by straight people. Contentious works of art by queers are met with intracommunity fury first, discussions later. Queer people busy themselves cancelling other queer people they disagree with instead of talking to them. And every time we do this, we become a little less powerful, because we are saying that our other identities – class, race, body size, gender presentation, age – are more important than our shared queerness. And that’s exactly what our enemies want.
As one friend put it recently, with a weary sigh: Why worry about Doug Ford or Andrew Scheer when we’ll wreck each other’s lives before they get to us? Brazenly anti-queer politicians are now in office and more might be coming. Meanwhile, queers hold panel discussions over whether drag queens should be censored. Freud had a word for this willing act of not looking at the real problems: displacement. Freud gets a lot of bad press, but if the neurosis fits …
I’m white, male, oldish, and I have a shabby little career on the go. I understand and acknowledge that within the queer rainbow, I’m closer to the pot of gold than many other queers. The patriarchy is no friend of mine. It’s more like an absent parent. Absent and abusive, but mostly neglectful. For other queers, the patriarchy is a violent, nearly Satanic beast that never stops winning. I recognize that I cannot have the same experience of power, or under power, that queers who are not like me have had and continue to have, daily. I am in complete agreement with their frustration.
But rather than seeing this reality as a problem that forces us to part ways, I see it as an opportunity to engage in a hard but ultimately healing dialogue. We can and must start listening to each other again, lest we replicate the very same power structures that hold us down and become authoritarian and controlling. That’s the “toughening up” part: finding the strength to engage with difference.
Many in the LGBTQ2 world would argue it’s too late. Queer people of colour, two-spirited queers and trans citizens are rightfully fed up with and offended by queer men and women (mostly, and predictably, white and cis) who contend that everything is fixed now and anyone who says otherwise is just a complainer. The latter, folks who look like me, are either stupid or lazy and I have no patience for them, either. My argument, rather, is with the methods too many of us, of all stripes, currently employ to state our cases. No community has ever been made more equitable, beautiful or loving by constant bickering.
We have to stop fighting in front of straight people. Full stop. Because the dominant majority is always watching, always waiting for us to break ranks. And they don’t care if, among ourselves, the conceit of ranks, of queer unity, is considered at best questionable, at worst an illusion. Rather, they love our family squabbles because the fighting makes us distrustful and afraid of one another, and thus easy targets. If that sounds alarmist, you need only look at the growing number of queer right-wingers. The right doesn’t seek out disaffected queers to help them or accept them but to use them as political cover.
I used to live in Berlin. The last year I lived there, I saw this game played up close. Neo-Nazi groups openly courted queer white voters, telling them that refugees from “Islamic countries” were violent homophobes. Sadly, it worked. Nazis got elected, partly by gaslighting queers. Queers who took the bait.
This Pride, this very special anniversary Pride, can we please commit to putting our dysfunctional family first? No matter how tiring the housekeeping, we have to work harder to live together, in order to live at all. And to my queer brothers and sisters who feel threatened by the simple, but hardly easy, truth that being queer is more complicated than before (and, to me, far more interesting and fun), I beg you: Please don’t take the easy way out and align yourselves with forces that sell simple answers while pretending to care about you.
Storms are coming, and the cutting rain does not give a damn which umbrella you’re carrying.
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