Brandon Ambrosino is a freelance writer based in Delaware.
My husband and I have a running gag this month. If we’re waiting in line for something, we whisper to each other, “Out of my way, it’s Pride!” If we’re stuck at a red light, we tell the light to turn green because we’re gay and it’s Pride. When our server brings us the bill, we exchange confused looks. “But it’s Pride. Why are we being charged for our dinner!” You get it.
These are all obviously jokes (even though they’re not terribly funny), and we certainly don’t expect any preferential treatment. But even jokes communicate a truth, and truth here is something not very funny: LGBTQ people deserve something nice for a change because, well, we still have it tough sometimes.
I don’t mean to shore up the false narrative that things haven’t improved for LGBTQ people. But when I remember that my country’s highest court recently ruled that a baker could legally refuse to serve a gay couple because of their sexuality; or that conversion therapy is still legally practised in many places in the United States; or that the leaders of a local television station, furious over a story line on a cartoon featuring a gay wedding, would refuse to air the episode; or that the White House, reversing an Obama-era practice, refused to allow embassies to fly Pride flags in support of LGBTQ rights; when I remember all of these things – and add them to the list of other instances of quiet homophobia that my husband and I receive daily (hostile glances at church, double takes when holding hands walking down the street) – I’m reminded that Pride is important, even necessary.
I didn’t always feel this way. My relationship to Pride, as well as to my own sexuality, has long been complicated – a fact I’ve slowly come to accept given the years I spent in conversion therapy. Growing into my gayness was and still is a process. In the early years of that process, I announced that my gayness would be only a very tiny part of me. I would be publicly just like straight people. And if they didn’t need parades, neither did I. I was resilient. I was strong. I was – gulp – normal.
I wrote an essay that, to this day, makes me cringe: I took aim at the “outlandish” and “hypersexual antics” of Pride parades. I argued that my goal was to convince people such as my parents – who, at the time, were not supportive of gay marriage – that gay people were no different than straight people, and that gay people have difficulty convincing their political opponents of their normalcy when they take to the streets in “buttless chaps and high heels.”
Pride, in short, was something that embarrassed me.
Well, I certainly don’t feel that way now. Pride is something that I look forward to. My husband and I attend events when we can, and we love seeing all of our favourite brands and businesses celebrating with us.
And those outlandish antics? Yas, kween. The heels, the wigs, I love it all – every glitter-splattered, rainbow-speckled costume, float and prop. Yes, all of this stuff might seem obnoxious to onlookers, but for gay people who had to grow up hiding their effeminate mannerisms and trying desperately to make their voice sound less gay, it is freeing to be able to buck norms and be as gay as you want as the whole city watches.
Will conservatives point to our behaviour as reasons to deny us full equality? Perhaps. But their bigger problem seems to be with homosexuality in general, with or without the high heels. Even when I’m at my most “respectable” – say, at mass – people taking issue with my sexuality still find plenty of reasons to frown in my direction.
Of course, a lot of serious work goes on at Pride events, including education, protest, outreach and networking. But there’s only so much seriousness that one can take during Pride, which is what makes the high heels so important. Pride, at least as I’ve come to appreciate it, is all about camping it up.
That means learning to “dethrone the serious,” to borrow a formula from Susan Sontag, camp’s most quoted authority. It’s not that during Pride events we deny any of the pain and discrimination we sometimes receive; it’s that we turn that pain into something else, something more bearable. The world constantly reminds us of how different we are from normal folks, so each June, we decide to agree with the world, and highlight our differences.
For some LGBTQ people, this is an extremely serious, political statement. To me, self-serious politics are the antithesis of campy gay culture. But what I’ve learned is that there is room for all of us at Pride. Understanding and appreciating the diversity that exists among LGBTQ people was a huge step in coming to take my place in these communities.
This month, I will camp it up. I will make gay jokes with my husband. And if I could find high heels big enough for his size-14 feet, we’d go out to dinner in matching hers-and-hers drag.
I’ll celebrate Pride in my own way, knowing that my way is different than other ways. I’ll remind myself that that’s one of the most beautiful things about our diverse, so-not-normal LGBTQ communities.
Keep your Opinions sharp and informed. Get the Opinion newsletter. Sign up today.