Every year, after Pride Week, gays and lesbians take part in a popular pastime — dissecting representations of the parade in the media.
Xtra catches a little of the flak. After Pride in Ottawa, one commenter, for instance, counted the number of men and women in a photo gallery on xtra.ca. Or, that is, she counted the number of solo shots of women and found that there were more men and trans people than dykes — and complained.
(Never mind that a good number of the photos were of groups, people in fur suits and props. The author of the post also presumed to know the gender identity of the photos’ subjects based on how they present, which is itself problematic.)
Still, I understand the sentiment. People crave representations of themselves. Gay people want to read gay novels, lesbians want to see lesbian politicians, trans people want to read stories about trans identity. Folks want to see queer people of colour, older people and kinky people represented. I understand. At Xtra, I’ve spent the last five years telling queer stories for queer readers.
What I don’t understand is people who want to suppress images they don’t identify with. Folks — privately and publicly, nominally and anonymously — gripe about recurrent pictures of drag queens, especially in mainstream coverage of the parade.
Why are there so many pictures of people wearing sequins, they ask, and so few pictures of the thousands of gays who attend Pride in Polo shirts? These complaints, for whatever reason, tend to pair drag queens with another group: hyper-sexualized men, of either the leather or go-go variety. There’s a lefty variation that also bugs me, where people complain about images of gay, middle-class white guys.
Again, I understand the desire to see more, say, people of colour in Xtra, or more working-class lesbians on TV. What I don’t understand is the desire to tear down representations that people don’t identify with.
Take Halifax Pride, for instance. For the first time, organizers have organized a kids’ play area at the festival site. It’s something that they should be justifiably proud of.
If the comments of Halifax organizer Ed Savage had stopped there, I would have nothing to quibble with. But instead, Savage said that he hoped the festival would be “less promiscuous” this year. Including more people (parents, kids) in the festival is one thing; asking others to tone down their behaviour or stay away is something else altogether.
Or take the reactions to Tourism Toronto’s lame — but harmless — Pride Pump video. The reactions revealed a deep discomfort with go-go boys, bears and drag queens. I’m not prepared to denounce representations of those groups — because they’re part of our diverse, oddball movement, just like anyone else.
So often, this kind of attitude is based on the fear that some straight person will mistake all gay people for drag queens or leather dykes or what have you. My question is why would we pander to people who believe that gays are one undifferentiated mass, that we all believe the same things or act the same way? Most people are smarter than that. And those that aren’t? Fuck ’em.
And besides, if someone mistakes you for having a secret life as a drag queen or leather sub, who cares? If there’s nothing wrong with those things, then what does it matter if someone gets the wrong idea about you?
In other words, we all need to chill out a bit. The alternative — some kind of self-policing — would be horrendous. We’ve fought too long and too hard for the freedom to be who we are. How awful is it for our community to undertake the kind of policing that we are finally shaking ourselves free from?
So this Pride, let your freak flag fly. If you don’t have a freak flag, that’s cool too. But let’s not tear down anyone else’s, eh?