I’ve been out for seven years now, and have yet to attend any Pride celebrations. It’s not because of want of them; I live close enough to several metropolitan areas that if I really wanted to I could join in. It’s not a question of not having had the time either. I simply have no desire to. In fact, for a few years now, I have been vehemently opposed to the idea.
There are several reasons for this. The first is that I’m a relatively introverted, quiet person ― large parades and parties aren’t really my scene. Along with introversion, I’m also fairly conservative in my comportment. I don’t do glitter, or feather boas, or even rainbows. You won’t catch me screaming “YAS KWEEN” in public anytime soon (although for reasons more than just shyness, but I’m jumping ahead of myself a bit.) I’d much rather curl up with a good book or a documentary than go to a club, so a full multi-hour parade isn’t exactly my cup of tea. The second reason is, as I’ve written about before, I think Pride has lost much of its edge. What once was a space for political resistance and challenges to systems of power has, in my opinion, devolved into a commercialized pinkwashed space where corporations market acceptance and equality while contributing to oppressive structures. Take Bank of America, for example, or any of the other financial heavyweights whose predatory lending procedures led to the 2008 financial crisis ― they can market equality and inclusion all they want, but it doesn’t change the fact that they’re consolidating wealth in the hands of straight, white power brokers and contributing to global income inequality.
But I think the biggest reason for my opposition to Pride is because of the blatant, often aggressive ways in which male sexuality is foregrounded. Before I go further, it’s important to note that I don’t say this out of a sense of self-loathing ― I’m not ashamed to be gay ― nor out of a sense of shaming. What I do mean is that when gay men in particular operate in spaces wherein they perform sexuality in a way which upholds patriarchy and subtly enforces heteromasculinity it becomes less of a subversive action and more of a reinforcing one.
This is particularly apparent in my personal context, as a survivor of sexual violence. Pride has been and continues to be a space of community and sanctuary for my rapist, as it likely is for many others. Any environment which condones sexually aggressive behavior and, moreover, ties it directly to authenticity ― specifically authenticity of an historically oppressed group ― is not one in which victims or survivors will feel particularly welcome.
It is difficult to describe the intense bodily discomfort I feel when looking at pictures of masculine white men in various states of relative undress, displaying their sexuality in an aggressive, loud way, characterized as political resistance. It makes me uncomfortable, not because it’s characterized that way generally, but because the unspoken implication is that domineering acts of sexual violence are protected under the banner of sexual politics. The exhausting combination of alcohol, casual drug use, and sexual promiscuity ― which can be used as tools in predatory sexual behavior or as unhealthy coping mechanisms for survivors ― creates a dynamic in which perpetrators are given carte blanche to behave however they wish. This is not to say that rapists are running around Pride events drugging people, but it is to say that the kind of behavior and power dynamics which enable that kind of behavior are often left unchallenged if not encouraged.
Tyler Oakley and the Human Rights Campaign have unveiled a project highlighting the importance of the “chosen family,” a term often used in the LGBTQ community. What happens when your chosen family chooses your rapist? It is not a question I have an answer to. But for the past six years, by and large I have made the decision to distance myself from my “chosen family,” as they turn towards capitalistic and imperialistic policies and away from who I am as a survivor.
The brazenness of sexual expression ― regardless of whether or not individual perpetrators are present ― is something I think many LGBTQ survivors struggle with. When you place political capital in embodied sexuality, those who have had that stolen from them, or feel as if it has betrayed them, are summarily excluded from the full experience of Pride. Until the LGBTQ community begins to address the systemic issue of sexual violence, both affecting survivors and perpetrated by their own members, this kind of cultural exclusion will continue. Until Pride returns to its radical, political roots, participants will never get the message that behavior which supports violent patriarchal heteromasculinity is not something to celebrate, nor is sexual aggression couched in politics of liberation something to be proud of.
Need help? Visit RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Online Hotline or the National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s website.
This week’s blog is from guest writer Harry Lewis (@halewis_). This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been republished with permission of the author.
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