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12 July 2011, 9:00 am 4 Comments

Pride: Understanding Pride

This post was submitted by Gella Solomon

I went to my first Pride parade years ago, when I was a young scared little queerling of 22 or 23. I went to my second two weeks ago. What happened in the intervening years? Well, very little. At that first Pride parade, I felt out of place. I came looking for belonging, but didn’t belong there. It was so loud, so audacious. So… So prideful. I thought at the time that the problem was with the raw sexuality on display. The barely clothed men dancing on so many of the floats, bare breasted women throwing social mores (along with their bras) to the wind, doms and subs doing things with chains whips and leashes in public… It all made me uncomfortable. Why couldn’t these people just be normal? Where were the normal queers like me who didn’t want to make a big deal out of their sexuality, but just wanted to gather and exist comfortably? In retrospect, I think the concept I had a hard time with was Pride itself. I didn’t really understand what there was to be proud of.

The sentiment is not unique, I’ve heard it from many, with varying intentions and subtexts. On the one hand, there are those who will say that, while LGBT folks should be left alone, there’s no reason to claim “pride.” Doing so only serves to embarrass all of us. After all, do straights claim straight pride? If one’s sexual orientation is, putatively, something with which a person is born (according to many, but not all self-identified LGBT folks), then why is pride justified for something over which you have no control? This is an example of a hostile stance, but the last part of this question is a legitimate one which I’ve heard from queers and straights alike, and have asked myself many times.

The same question, of course, may be applied to any self-identification. Did I choose to be Jewish? Though there may be nuances to this question, my answer would be no. Is there, then, any meaning to my claiming any pride in this identity? What about deaf people? Deaf culture is something in which many deaf people take much pride, to the point that some rail against medical/technological advances in hearing restoration, fearing the destruction of their language and culture. Isn’t deafness a disability? What can it mean to be a proud deaf person? This year, however, I found an answer. It may seem obvious to many – indeed, having come to it, it now seems obvious to me – but not all of us get it right away. I had an insight about the definition of pride: The meaning of “pride” is contextual.

I can be proud of myself for getting a solo in my chorus, or for finishing a paper or article, or winning a scholarship. I can be proud of my bat mitzvah student as she reads from the Torah. Pride in achievements, whether your own, or those of another (or a combination thereof), is a pride that stands on its own. There is another definition of pride, though, that stands in the face of its antonym. A positive born of a negative, a flame that burns to spite the darkness. It is this pride out of which is born our queer Pride movement. It is a Pride that is born of shame. It is because we are engaging with this sort of pride, that we will not tone it down, we will not cover it up, lower the volume, or stifle our joy. It was not until this year that I fully realized what Queer pride, Jewish pride, Black pride, Deaf pride, Irish pride, etc. all have in common. All of these identifiers have been, and often still are, associated with shame in one respect or another. All have been, or are, categories of people whom the powerful, the majority, the “normative,” would like to shut up, sit down, disappear.

Why do I have to be so vocal about my Jewish identity? About my feminism? About my bisexuality? Why must I be so visible? So public? Because, I am here to tell you that I am not, and will not be, ashamed of who I am. Because, when you tell me to be quiet, to disappear, it is my job to shout in defiance. To dance with glee. To show you that I am here, I am me, get used to it. This year, I found the people like me in the parade. I marched with Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, the LGBT synagogue in Manhattan, and a contingent of JQY (Jewish Queer Youth) members. From this vantage point, as a queer Jew celebrating my visibility and that of people like me, I could love and celebrate all of the displays of folks who are different from me. This year, I learned that Pride is not about saying “Look at me!” It’s about saying “See me.” And I opened my eyes.

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  • Ann Marie said:

    This is a great piece. I am just coming Out to myself, my friends and my family, although I have been more comfortable in the LGBTQ community longer than I have with myself. I think that a lot of baby-gays have the anxiety about how boisterous and in-your-face Pride celebrations are and, it isn’t until they realize what you are talking about: “a Pride born out of shame”, that they realize it is more than getting drunk, making out and sweaty Lady Gaga dance parties (although, I must say how much I do love all of those things). Thank you for this post and, especially, thank you for reminding us that we all are “a flame that burns to spite the darkness.”
    -Ann Marie

  • Jon said:

    I resonate with your experience. It took me awhile to “get” what pride was about, and while I think it’s a legitimate question whether the parade is so misunderstood that it hurts our cause, I now have a ton of fun at pride and it helps me feel empowered.

  • Alan said:

    Great article, Gella!
    But I wonder if differences in taste and style aren’t being papered over here.

    I’ve been to DC Pride and NYC Pride and I happen to prefer the ‘small-townish’, less-overtly-sexual, more-families-and-cultural-groups, less-boundaries-between-marchers-and-spectators style of DC pride a lot more.

    The folks in the capital are still loud and proud, but with more queer families cheering in the streets with their strollers and fewers leather-strapped dancers cheering off tricked-out floats with their shlongs. :) That’s cool too, right?

  • Kenny said:

    This was a wonderful article that opened my eyes to the diversity in celebrating who we as people really are. The gift, whether gay or straight is knowing who you are and being happy with that divine character who resides in your own skin. I would make a small adjustment to this articles premise and say that the kinder aspect of Pride is finally being granted a “lack of fear” for who we are and how we choose to conduct our lives.

    Personally, I believe we should be past the parade that flaunts open sexuality and nudity. That is why we have Halloween, Mardi Gra and Erotice Balls. Let’s keep the Parades colorful, family friendly, liberal, loving and celebrate simply getting along in a community. A gay float? Absolutely, just keep Earl’s piece where my 12 year old can’t see it.

    Don’t forget the bands and the firetrucks!