I Don’t Like Pride | Dear Baby Maybe #8

Dear Baby Maybe,

I know you don’t really have a grasp on what Pride means, but honestly neither do most of the loudest people celebrating it. Pride is a month-long extravaganza in this country for QUILTPBAGs. (That’s Queer/Questioning, Undecided, Intersex, Lesbian, Transgender, Pansexual, Bisexual, Asexual/Aromantic, and Genderqueer/Gay. I pronounce the P as silent, but if you ask most people every letter besides the G are also silenced.) Different cities will have parades on different days, but for the most part, June is PRIDE MONTH.

But here’s something I don’t talk about enough: I don’t like Pride. Pride gives me a lot more negative feelings than positive ones. There are a number of reasons, and I’m going to try to keep you up to speed. This is going to feel like education, but that’s just because it is. The sooner you learn, the better off you’ll be. But most people don’t actually know what Pride is celebrating or the history of the parade, the whole event and month have been far too commercialized and the wrong people are profiting off of it, and I can’t get over the fact that the whole thing feels really hyper sexualized in irresponsible ways.

I’m also going to say, and many people won’t understand this, the rainbows are annoying. With personalities and flamboyance like ours, people will assume us to be surrounded by rainbows and glitter for the entire month of June. But we will rarely be seen wearing actual “Pride gear” or rainbow accessories. This isn’t necessarily Pride specific, but for all holidays. On St. Patrick’s Day you’ll wear all the green you can find, but you’ll never be seen with a Shamrock on your face. This is kind of the same thing. We’ll go to Pride wearing a very colorful outfit, but not an actual rainbow. We’ll dress for the theme, but not in the swag.

Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson. Photo courtesy of Diana Davies

So Pride is actually a historical holiday, remembering the Stonewall Riots of 1969. Though the words they were using at the time might have been different and limited, these riots were led and created by trans women. Femininity ruled the Stonewall Riots. Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera were at the forefront of the movement. Trans women, specifically trans women of color, are to thank for our ability to experience Pride and the world as we know it today. The actual details are blurred, since few people cared to properly document the history of queer people, but the important takeaway here is that trans women have been working their asses off for queer liberation since before they were called trans women. And gay men have been riding their coat tails until they could take the coats off their backs. Too many cisgender gay men at Pride events are unaware of the work women of color have done to start the party they are enjoying. Too few gay and bi people actually acknowledge the fact that they are on the top of the social ladder for queer people BECAUSE they are standing on the backs of trans folks.

Now, this heavily influences my main discomfort at Pride events. Most people refer to it as Gay Pride. People make plenty of remarks about straight people not being allowed, forgetting that there are straight identified trans people. Too many people have told me versions of “wait your turn” in terms of social progress, as if being trans is something that puts me “next in line” after gay people. (Remember: trans women STARTED THIS.) Too many people around this time of year will yell “Yaas” and “WORK” at me while I walk down the street, (which is literally just cat-calling, no matter how affirming they think it might be) but not actually stand up for me if I need it. I will spend most of my Junes being compared to drag queens, asked where I got my hair, or being scoffed at for being “that gay.” In a city where gay men and women can exist, for the most part, comfortably and happily, it saddens me to know that the same is not true for me and my other queer siblings.

This city, New York City. A city where my cis gay siblings can walk down the street holding the hands of who they love, but if I’m walking alone in a dress I’m likely to get yelled at, spat on, or worse. A city full of hope and a city full of fear. Part of the beautiful thing about Pride month is that rainbows and acceptance are seemingly everywhere. You go into a store, and you can see that people acknowledge the fact that it is June by selling Pride-themed and rainbow-coated merchandise. But in that beauty lies the question. What happens with the money spent on these rainbows? Why are these corporations profiting off of Pride month? How many people are buying items from these stores instead of financially supporting smaller, queer-owned businesses? And what does it mean when everywhere you look, those rainbows start to be a sign of rich white cis straight people benefitting from your Pride? Why do the flags passed out at the Pride parade have bank logos on them? I told you that I have a distaste for the rainbows. It’s because every time I see one, I wonder who got payed for it.

I tried Pride. I went to parties, I went to the parade. I even marched in the Parade one year. And I was constantly overwhelmed by the feeling that this wasn’t for me. My memories of trying to celebrate pride are memories of being misgendered, manipulated, and molested. And here’s where we get into the over-sexualization of the Pride march. I am not by any means condemning the lack of clothing worn at these events. I participate in the shortest of shorts wearing, even without being at Pride. I am all for bodies being shown and people being open. What I’m not here for, is the touching of those bodies without consent. I walked the parade and saw too many kisses without conversations, too many spanks without asks, and too many men grabbing breasts because ‘they’re gay so they can.’ I was young. I thought that was what queerness looked like. I thought that was what I needed to go through in order to be part of the party. I let people grab my ass. I let people call me “Mr. Sister.” I let people kiss my neck. I let people think I’m a gay man. I let myself get lost because I didn’t know if I was able to speak up. I was surrounded by celebration without accountability. I didn’t feel like I was able to actually have the conversations I wanted to have, and if I had anything bad to say I wasn’t a team player.

I realized that I didn’t want to be in that parade. I didn’t want to be surrounded by people who scream for gay rights but sneer at queer liberation. I didn’t want to see another young person coming into themselves and their body be touched and kissed and groped and stripped without consent. I couldn’t let them think that was validation. What I want is to have active conversations about what we’re doing. I want to put an end to the perpetuation of rape culture within a community that historically couldn’t speak about desire. I want a societal shift in the way queer people address each other and respect each other’s bodies. I want to go to a celebration that acknowledges the work of people who came before us and gives back to the communities who need support the most. I want a Pride that can hold people accountable for their wrongdoings while celebrating their worth. I want to do better than Pride has done for me.

Your Future,

Maybz.

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Maybe Burke

Theatre artist and trans advocate telling the stories that haven't been told. Founder of The Trans Literacy Project. @believeinmaybe maybeburke.com