5 min

Have Pride, will travel – far away

What if it doesn't rain men?

Credit: Mia Hansen

If you’re feeling a little more anxious than usual lately, don’t pop the meds just yet. It’s not a new mental disorder or the latest SARS-like bug. It’s Pride, and it can make you love the city of Toronto in late June – or want it dead.

True, queer social expectations dictate that you attend (“What do you mean you’re not going to Pride?”) but what if you don’t want to? Well, you don’t have to be a self-hating homosexual to skip it altogether.

“I always haul it out of here,” says Kenn Barton-Jones, who hasn’t attended Pride since 1992, after most of his close friends – including his lover – had all died.

“It became difficult to see people arm in arm and having fun celebrating,” says Barton-Jones, 50. “Pride became something that I couldn’t celebrate.”

Barton-Jones is not alone. Queer counsellor Nick Mulé says that without loved ones, Pride can be a desperate and lonely time. “People may have looked forward to spending it with a partner, and if that’s not going to happen, there’s an emptiness. They’re just not in the best place psychologically to deal with that massive social scene.”

A massive social scene that’s too alienating for some queers, even as it brings hordes of them together in the name of inclusiveness. Chris, a 29-year-old Catholicschool worker, says he feels more distanced from the community at Pride than at any other time of year.

“There’s definitely not a focus on making people feel welcome,” he says, adding that Pride’s large crowds prohibit true social bonding. “It sort of makes me feel lonely.”

Unlike Barton-Jones, Chris goes to Pride, but only sporadically, having skipped four Prides in the past eight years. And even that may have been too many, he hints.

“The next couple years will bea big deciding factor of whether I’ll continue to go to Pride or not.”

Ironically, the more the straight world joins in, the lonelier some queers get.

“As Pride grows,” says Mulé, “people go through further pressure of looking for friends they can’t find. There are no guarantees you’re going to see the people you had hoped to see.”

Mulé says that the sensory overload of sights, sounds and colours at Pride – to say nothing of the scorching heat – only heightens the difficulty some have with attending. One needs only to recall recent years’ jam-packed cattle herds to wonder how long it will be before the only thing allowing us to manoeuvre past each other is the lubricant qualities of our own sweat.

John Montague, also a queer counsellor in Toronto, says that Pride is a difficult time for many queers who aren’t accepted by their own families, because they often have to witness other queers who are accepted by family. From moms hugging their drag queen sons to dads showing off their “I love my lesbian daughter” T-shirts. It’s an emotional punch to the stomach for queers who don’t have the luxury of a supportive family. It can depress the hell out of them.

“They’ll see that and think ‘My parents would never come to this,'” says Montague. “And then they feel worse.”

But lack of support through friends or family is not the only reason to feel depressed, anxious or lonely at Pride. Sometimes knowing too many people at Pride is the problem. If you’ve ever felt you’ve met hundreds of friends and third-removed acquaintances at Pride, only to wake up the next morning feeling as if you haven’t truly connected with anybody, then you know what I mean. Seeing so many people and trying to keep up with them, says Mulé, is tough, especially when you’re “chatting with one friend while part of your crowd is walking away and you have to catch up.” For many queers, it’s an entire day of catch up, bouncing from one acquaintance to the next in one frenzied game of social pin-ball after the other.

“It does nothing for my goddamn chakras, I can tell you that,” admits my friend Jenn, who says that if she’s a basket case by the time she’s 40, she’ll have holidays like Pride to thank.

“Even the Dyke March is too much for me. I love it all, but in small doses.” Last year she did Pride in one large dose, convinced that if she returned home to Scarborough at any point in the day for any reason, she’d miss her chance at meeting someone special. “Which of course, I didn’t.”

Such high expectations and disappointing returns can be a bad mix at Pride, especially for lonely queers. Mark Wadman, 31, recalls being ditched for Pride plans a few years ago, after his supposed best friend found himself a new boyfriend on the Internet, just in time for Pride. Wadman says his friend was suffering from what he diagnoses as the Pride Attacks, a temporary mind fuck that has conceivably plagued every single queer in Toronto at least once: the mortifying thought of having nobody to share Pride with.

So the hunt for somebody – anybody – often rages days before the big day. And often during.

“It’s ridiculous. It’s like they think there’s this boyfriend window that opens for a weekend, then immediately closes again,” Wadman says. “It’s a total science fiction thing.”

On the other hand, having a partner at Pride can be just as anxiety-ridden. A lot of dumping happens the week before Pride. Wadman’s current partner, Regi, is a self-confessed dumper.

“I was 24,” says Regi, now 32. “My boyfriend was very young and he didn’t have any friends, but I just wanted to be single.” So Regi called the relationship off and headed for California, leaving his new ex to spend Pride all alone in Toronto.

“It was such a horrible thing to do,” Regi recalls. “I was such a head case back then.”

If you’re feeling like a head case because of Pride, there’s no rule you have to be a part of it. But finding something else to do on Pride isn’t easy. Even queers who will curse Pride with their dying breath attend willingly, proof perhaps of a tiny homing device in our queer genes that forces us to attend all Prides regardless of our emotional circumstance, if only to keep the attendance numbers up.

Mulé tells his clients to assess what they think they can handle, and if it’s too challenging, to nix Pride for the year. “I don’t see it as any positive feedback to urge them to go.”

If you choose that option, at least you’d be in good company. Not everyone skips Pride because of an emotional burden. Mulé says he knows more and more people opting out of it, people “not necessarily [who] I see in my practice, but people who are actually quite centred about their needs and wants. For them, it doesn’t hold the thrill it used to.”

People like fellow therapist Marie Robertson. “I don’t always go,” she says, remembering a time when she felt Pride was something much simpler and more unifying. “Where I feel sadness is that I don’t feel attached to the march anymore at all.”

Now Robertson finds other things to do, which is exactly what therapists like her suggest for clients who can’t face another Pride, whether through loneliness, anxiety or, like Marie, simple disenchantment. “Sometimes I have a party myself in my backyard.”

Whether you’re loving it, leaving it or barely living with it, Pride is here to stay. And beneath its collective warm fuzzies and group-hug ideology, it has its drawbacks, much as the holidays in December can have. Perhaps that’s why Mulé is so eager to offer an alternative way of approaching Pride this year; a pep talk if you will:

“This may sound soft, but be as friendly to people you don’t know as to the people you do know. Let’s pull each other through it, even if they’re total strangers.”

It’s a start anyway. Either that, or it won’t be long before we all have to give ourselves our own pep talks on Pride morning: a pep talk on the infinite value of self-worth, a stiff drink and a couple of Tylenol 3s. Might not be a bad idea anyway.