It was when I saw a guy hovering in the air that I decided this year’s Pride was decidedly off-kilter.
Now, I’ve participated in some questionable things in Queen’s Park at night, but there he was, feet dangling above my head. Turned out he had just climbed a tree to get a better look at Cyndi Lauper, and I wasn’t losing my mind after all. Still, there seemed to be an undercurrent of weirdness all weekend: Are we partying? Are we protesting? Both? Neither?
In the nights leading up to the official Pride weekend, there was a discernible lack of buzz. The streets were busy, but not fever-pitch busy. I kept hoping for something exciting to happen beyond the politics of Pride (more on that later), but like last week’s trick, it came not with a bang, but a whimper. So what happened?
Pride is by nature a political event, but also by nature a celebratory one. Mess with that formula and folks get upset. Enter Bronno and Hank (no last names, like Sonny and Cher!). They decided to hold their second annual Trigger Festival right before official Pride on purpose, and it was a hit.
“Pride is very commercialized, and our main feedback was people saying that they haven’t come out to an event in years, and they don’t feel comfortable in that space,” says Hank.
Bronno adds, “Politics is at the root of who we are as artists. We are trying to provoke something.”
At Trigger, Pride came in the form of celebration of survival of trauma, isms and other emotional triggers. It glowed with the incredible spirit of the performers and the respect the organizers have for them. The Trigger Festival also had a lot of what Pride should have: an intrinsic and inclusive involvement with the community.
Buddies in Bad Times Theatre also hosted a Pride festival, with sold-out nights even in the middle of G20 insanity, and ARTWHERK! returned to the AGO with a panel of speakers and performances. Again, they were definitely parties, but with razor-sharp politics. These satellite Prides tell me that the celebration of our queer history isn’t confined to a particular planning body; the more you try to contain or tamp things down, the more they spread.
Pride is like Christmas. Or herpes — it will happen whether we want it to or not. The community’s response to censorship was to reclaim its event and spread the love around. By the time we got to Pride Sunday, we had ODed on Pride, official or non.
Now that it’s over for another year, tongues are wagging. I keep hearing rumours about an official un-official Pride next year, which really excites me. Even if they manage to get it up and running, I’m not letting Pride Toronto off the hook.
That said, Pride Toronto deserves some props. Credit is due for landing Lauper (the guy floating above my head kept singing her hits even as she went through a catalogue of blues covers…. I guess he had a good time). And things ran smoothly and efficiently, thanks in large part to all the volunteers who put in long hours under tough conditions.
Then again, after all the commitments to the Blockorama crew, there’s no excuse for shoddy sound equipment, no toilets on site, and the other problems this year. For next year, I’d love to see more Toronto artists in prominent slots.
And nothing would make me happier than for Pride Toronto to have smoother relations with the community. Faye Dunaway-as-Joan Crawford might shriek about getting the respect she’s entitled to, but I’d like to issue a reminder that Pride belongs to no one.