Toronto
3 min

Control freaks

The decline of the Roman empire has always attracted more attention than the rise. The debauchery, my dear. The delicious debauchery.

So, maybe one day when the histories of Pride are written, this particular chapter will seem hilarious. Because we are certainly in a period of decadence and decline.

For me, it’s the combination of grandiosity and nit-pickiness. On the one hand, Pride seems to have ambitions for imperial overreach, expanding its network of forts (sorry, stages) across the downtown core. This year, even Queen’s Park isn’t exempt. Formerly the one place in the downtown core where you could get away from the frenzy, this year it, too, will be occupied by noise-spewing stages.

At the same time, Pride seems to have evolved a process of bureaucratic micro-management that makes Stephen Harper look free and easy — trying to control not only what people say, but how they say it, right down to the choice of noun and adjective. Until it bowed to pressure and reversed itself on June 23, Pride had decided you couldn’t say “Israeli apartheid” in the parade. Now that, to me, is amazing. Just try to imagine them banning an anti-American protest or a boo-on-Rob-Ford banner. It’s inconceivable.

For 40 years, institutions like The Body Politic and Glad Day bookshop have fought for the right of gays and lesbians to be seen and heard. Glad Day, in particular, has worked tirelessly against the noxious government policy of prior restraint. Now, it seems we’ve adopted the enemy’s policy as our own and decided to stop or seize information before it’s been legally vetted.

The joke is that there are plenty of alternative mechanisms for dealing with hot-headed words. If the protests turn nasty, by all means call in the police and charge people with obscenity or hate or slander. But in the meantime, let people speak. It’s not like QuAIA is asking to carry machetes in the parade.

It’d be different if they were straight hosers from rural Alabama looking to disrupt the parade, but they’re queers with a point to make, and whether you agree with them or not, they have a right to make it.

Just to put my cards on the table, let me say that I have never liked Pride. I didn’t like it when it was a 1,000-person parade and I felt obligated to march just to “show the flag,” and I don’t like it now that it’s a marketing promotion disguised as a cultural festival. And yes, this is more a matter of personality than politics: I don’t like crowds.

But at the moment, Pride seems more blatantly obnoxious than ever, actively reversing decades of gay lib.

Some of this you can blame on Pride’s success. The more funding it’s received, the more bloated and disconnected it’s become. And somewhere along the line, the idea of community just slipped out the door. I used to wander Pride looking for old friends; now I ogle tourists.

The fact that more and more straights attend Pride and that the mass media routinely refer to the event as a really good “party” says it all. “Party” is code for mindless, mind-blowing fun with no repercussions for your politics or sexual identity. What was once a protest, plain and simple, is now a “celebration,” an Oprah-esque  tribute to happy times and positive thinking. Is it any wonder that Pride now wants to quash any dissent, even before it’s happened?

If Pride is to survive and mean something again, it has to get smaller. People  talk as though a loss of funding would be the end of the world, and it might well be for the Pride bureaucracy, but it might also prompt some thinking about what Pride stands for, as opposed to what it can do, given enough money.

Instead of the expansionist ambitions of the current administration, perhaps they’d try something a little more low key. Like the Island picnics that started the whole event back in the 1970s. Or events that target specific communities, like the Queer West arts fest now planned for August.

Who said Pride had to be Canada’s Wonderland transported to the city core? Personally, I’ve had enough of standing around sun-baked parking lots drinking overpriced beer.

With its baffling acronyms and niggling infighting, this whole controversy has often seemed a classic tempest in a teapot. But it wouldn’t have created such turmoil if it hadn’t also touched a nerve, something at the heart of queer identity. Queers have achieved astonishing social and political gains in a very short period of time, but with power and acceptance has come a disquieting sense of dis-ease and anonymity. Who the heck are we? Have we sold our soul for acceptance? Are we a distinct “people” or just mortgage-paying peons like everyone else?

That’s why changes to Pride alarm so many people. It cuts to the heart of who we are. Institutions are a reflection of the individuals they serve, and at the moment this one’s in flux.

While it sorts itself out, I think I’ll take a break. Skip the parade. Maybe borrow a good gay book from the library instead. Not that I’m terribly principled or anything. It’s just that a book is bound to be more entertaining, showing all the words, and not just the PC-approved. Pardon me while I sip my tea.