I remember it like it was yesterday - I was 19 years old, waiting tables at an Irish pub in Midtown Memphis when the traffic stopped all of a sudden. The patio I was working slowly got gayer and gayer, and a few minutes later a Pride parade began! I'd never seen or been to one, but it left me so excited that I knew I had to be off work for the next one. Fast forward a year, and I was there, in short shorts and angel wings - it was a great time! I'd been out since middle school, but being out and about while being "out" was really affirming. When I think back to those days now long gone, I think about how misguided I was in many ways.
Hear me out - I think Pride festivities are really important. There are tons of teens and young adults in rural areas that need to see and experience other people on the LGBT+ spectrum, but the festivals just feel different to me now. Looking back to my late teens/early twenties, it seems like there was only one acceptable way to be gay - the way we were taught by Will and Grace, Queer Eye, etc. Granted, I'm probably MORE forward about my sexuality now than I was back then, but in retrospect, my WHOLE identity wasn't affirmed at those festivities.
Two or three years after going to my first Pride in Memphis, I discovered that the city had a (separate but equal) Black Pride festival! This is where I found myself. I saw people, engaged conversations, and heard music that addressed my experiences as a black queer man way more directly than "regular" Pride did, as me and my friends called it. One summer, there was a push to combine the two Prides, and it didn't go so well. As far as I know, Pride and Black Pride are still two separate festivals in Memphis.
It's really interesting for me to go into Target or ride the bus and see the Pride colors everywhere. I'm just old enough to remember when Pride wasn't so mainstream, so public affirmation (that's really capitalism targeted at the gays) is new for me. When I think about the commercialization of Pride, the lack of historical perspective much of Pride perpetuates, and the white-centricity of it all, it makes me just want to stay home. We so quickly forget the meaning behind the Pride flag. It's colored as a rainbow to represent people from the entire spectrum of humanity coming together to celebrate what we all have in common - LOVE. Is the spectrum of humanity's love showcased in Pride festivals these days, or is it just a Ke$ha concert sans Ke$ha?
I'm going to Twin Cities Pride this weekend (if it doesn't rain), but reluctantly so. My boyfriend hasn't been out as bi for very long, so it still feels pretty fresh for him, and I think that's fair. For me, it just feels like something I barely recognize anymore. I guess I'm old.
Tamika Mallory said it best: if the most marginalized of a community isn't the focus, the movement is false. She was referring to the Womens' March when she said that, but I think it applies very well to Pride as well. A black trans woman is why the movement began - whitewashing it with unicorn horns and rainbow-colored T-shirts seems to be the contemporary part of the movement, and a part of the movement I may have to dismiss myself from in the future.