My eyes!! The burning!!

This weekend, the Better Half and I decided to head into Boston for the annual Gay Pride Parade. We've both marched in both the Boston and New York parades, always with the contingent from the Episcopal church. It doesn't rise to the level of "tradition," but we have something of a history with it, and we thought we'd schlep the Critter along for his first parade (of any sort), trip on the subway, etc.

First of all, while I understand the semantics of calling the whole gay empowerment movement "pride," I don't actually like that word for it. "Pride" is not the same thing as "self-respect" or "dignity." Further, if (as our side so often argues) being homosexual is innate, then it is no more a cause for pride than one's height or hair color. We hold forth (correctly) that it is not a choice, and by that some token neither is it an accomplishment. I understand "Gay Self-respect" just doesn't scan, and am not about to start attacking event posters with a red pen, but I find the word problematic.

One could argue that what we're proud of is the community we've built, and I could be on board with that in theory. It's the practice where that description breaks down. Andrew Sullivan quotes a reader who likens the "new atheists" to gay pride marchers:
Like a gay pride parade the New Atheists overreach.

I cringe when I hear them make blanket dismissals of people with any religious convictions as ignorant, bigoted, or just plain stupid-- just as many of my gay friends cringe when they see... lets say 'breaks of decorum' at gay pride parades that many of us find unacceptable in anyone, gay or straight.
Oh, yes. "Breaks of decorum" is a nice way of putting it. And cringe I do, indeed.

At their inception, gay pride parades served a purpose (as Sullivan's writer says) by confronting mainstream society with our presence and our refusal to be kept quiet and second-class. Over time, they've evolved into more of a celebration than a protest, though there are still plenty of political agendas on display (particularly in areas that lack marriage equality). There are elements that are of a more "supportive" nature (eg. the various religious groups that show up) and others that are more "expressive."

Into the latter category falls a lot that is outlandish. The more mainstream the viewer, the more outlandish the display will seem. From my perspective, the majority is benign, even if it's not to the taste of many. For example, drag queens have been part of gay culture for time out of mind, and it wouldn't be a gay pride parade if they weren't marching along in platform heels of improbable height. Same goes for Dykes on Bikes, etc.

The various go-go boys draped on the floats push the boundaries a bit, and contribute toward the (not entirely undeserved) over-sexed reputation of the gay community. But they're here to stay, I suspect. I wouldn't mind if maybe they reigned in the licentiousness just a titch, but that ship has pretty much sailed.

On the other hand, however, there are some people who show up clearly determined to let their freakiest flags fly. And let's just be clear that, no matter how non-mainstream homosexuality may be, some of these people are waaaaaaay out of our mainstream. To those people of a more... let's say "Mapplethorpian" persuasion, I say this -- I don't judge what you do in private, but none of us need to see you acting that way on the street. You're making the rest of us look bad, and I'd rather you put on more appropriate clothing.

I don't know who's in charge of deciding who's in and who's out (if you will) as far as Pride is concerned. As a community, we're chary of casting judgment, having faced plenty of judgment ourselves. This leads to the occasional epically bad decision, like allowing groups that champion pederasty to march. (For the record, the day NAMBLA shows up in Boston Pride is the day the local gay rights movement loses its moral authority [such as it is], and the day I stop showing up, much less marching along.) Nothing brings out my etiolated inner social conservative quite like some of the characters who gallivant around at these events, and if it freaks me out, then God only knows how it will play in Peoria.

I am all for telling the world that it can stuff its condemnation, and that people who don't like us can go hang. I've been there myself. But neither do we need to be providing the Family Research Council with raw footage for their campaign materials. Is it too much to expect that the parade organizing committee showed a little common sense?


  1. This reminds me of something my husband said recently, which was along the lines of, "I have no problem with gay. It's pride I'm not so hot on."

  2. Yup. Extreme "breaks in decorum" hurt the campaign for equality, slow progress - no doubt in this camp. Perhaps the parade organizing committee will take a look, will see some need for some change midst changing times.

  3. Okay, I need to put on the Devil's Advocate hat here for a moment...

    "To *those* people [edited for effect] -- I don't judge what you do in private, but none of us need to see you acting that way on the street."

    That sounds remarkably like the sort of thing I hear homophobes (and, of course, just prudish straight people) say when they talk about gay people kissing in public.

    Also, the Mapplethorpians would probably argue that their right to express their love is just as important (if not more so) than anyone's right not to be offended by seeing it. Which is remarkably like the arguments I hear the LGBT community (or their supporters, self included) offer to the more prudish straight community.

    Now, I personally agree with the sentiment that certain displays of affection ought to be for private consumption only, but I know a couple of people who are less mainstream than I and the "why can't we be ourselves" argument generalizes just fine. My feelings that some things aren't for public consumption are to the left of the mainstream, presumably like yours, but probably not as far out as the persons who triggered this post.

    In the greater sense, the question we are asking ourselves as a society is, "What is the proper role of sexual expression of any kind, and to what extent is the freedom of the individual to participate in these expressions constraint by the right of the public not to be exposed to them?"

    I'm not so sure that any person's individual sense of propriety (or any collective sense of propriety) ought to be the yardstick used to measure.

  4. There should be no yardstick of propriety? Sort of like no yardsticks for anything?

  5. > There should be no yardstick of propriety?

    That's not precisely what I said. :)

    Put another way, what's a reasonable standard? Given that societal norms change, what's a reasonable rate to update the standard?

    Is "propriety" something that ought to be legislated, or can we all agree that it should be its own problem domain?

    This isn't a perfect solution fallacy, it's an honest question. Where do you draw the line, and how often do you re-draw it? Since Dan (IMO, justifiably) wants the line moved, why is his location better than the one we currently have (aside from the fact that it helps him out)? Given that he wants to move it, is it fair for him to move it just far enough to include him and exclude the more provocative types? On what grounds?

    I worry about the "doesn't help the cause" line of thinking, whoever it's coming from, as it presupposes that "the cause" is well defined.

    Generally, why do you have a right not to be offended? Okay, pass on that... I'll grant the collective that they have *some* right not to be offended. What right do you have not to be offended, at all, ever?

    If someone wants to throw a Nudist Pride parade or a BDSM parade, how is this "less" a freedom of speech issue than the St. Paddy's Day parade? If you're going to pull out a nature vs. nurture card, how is a Nudist Pride parade (pride in an activity) less a freedom of speech issue than a Boy Scout troop participating in a Fourth of July parade (or a National Day of Prayer - in fairness, there's an obvious objection to this one)? It's certainly the case that scheduling the thing properly gives those who would be offended plenty of time to plan to avoid the parade path, thus giving them a nice opt-out for the whole experience.

  6. I don't agree with the analogy of being gay to being tall, more like being Irish. You are not proud of the innate aspects but the culture of gayness (however you choose to define it). There is no culture of being tall (as far as I know). So yea, Gay pride is fine for me. When the day comes that there exists no gay subculture than we can do away with the term gay pride.

    And I agree with padraig as well. As long as there are no overtly sexual acts it is all just costumes and play acting, so lets just chill out on what is proper or not, it ain't a church, its a parade.

  7. Well, I suppose it goes without saying that I disagree.

    We gay folk are in rather a pickle, since what defines us as a group is to a great extent predicated on our private behavior. Our public face is informed by our private lives.

    That we love members of our same gender is the obvious basis for our existence as a community at all. As such, it is both foolish and needlessly prudish to avert our eyes from the fact that this involves actual physical intimacy. Because, like it or not, sex is an inescapable backdrop to our cultural presence, it will always be close to the surface.

    However, I don't really think anyone needs to see how we love each other, if you will. If you're really into hard-core kink, I wish you nothing but the best, but I don't think that's an aspect of yourself that cries out to be publicly displayed. If one is really, really into [redacted], is that so very central to one's self-conception that it is an unacceptable constraint to keep it private? I would argue "no."

    That I was not, am not, and will never be capable of living happily as a heterosexual man is absolutely central to my identity, though there is a great deal more to me than my sexual orientation. I would argue that I am incapable of living quietly in denial of that aspect of myself, and the kind of person I would love and share my life and home with is necessarily a part of my everyday life and public persona. But just as I would find it unsettling and unseemly if my heterosexual friends and colleagues were to discuss over lunch the sexual acrobatics they got up to last night, so I also think confronting the public with the outre aspects of gay fetishes is unnecessary and counter-productive.

  8. That's a fair rejoinder, Dan. Just keepin' you honest. It's certainly the case that outre aspects of fetishes (gay or not) shoved in the public eye is probably unnecessary to advance gay rights at this stage, and it's certainly counterproductive towards moving gay into the mainstream of acceptable behavior.

    To be clear, I wasn't trying to make this into a "do" vs. "be" question.

    I think it's reasonably supported at this point that there a biological factors to people being gay. The "choice" stance is clearly unsupported.

    I don't think there's an easy answer to this question, though, and I expect that shifting struggle to go on even well past the time when Dan & his aren't considered abnormal by the majority any more.

  9. padraig,

    We can agree on a reasonable rate to update a standard, to make a standard reasonable, but no, we cannot reasonably speak of, desire, yardsticks that measure propriety?

    We definitely do not want to legislate propriety; therefore, propriety must be a concept that must be dealt with in isolation from all other socio-political matters? I'm not overly fond of the either/or construct, so on to the question: Is it fair for Dan to move the line a little, but not a lot, or not at all? Fairness precedes propriety in problem resolution?

    "Doesn't help the cause" line of thinking presupposes that "the cause" is well-defined. If this worry refers to the stated belief, or position, that "'Extreme breaks in decorum' hurt the campaign for equality," then I think, padraig, that what you may be looking for is a documented, proved cause-effect relationship between behavioral extremes and equal rights - civic equality/inequality?

    oh,I feel a dissertation coming, so I will simply say that I think that legislation to end civic inequality ought not to be delayed by philosophical argument or by denial of observational and other experiential evidence that a fair number of (usually) fairminded people who would vote to end civic inequality are turned off and away by extreme breaks in decorum. I think it is time now for some folks to stop acting-out in the extreme and to start shifting attention directly to where the hurts really are.