Taking Pride Back from the Straight Gays

Pride is not the sole possession of those who fit into a certain model of gayness.

You can smell the mixture of glitter and sweat from a mile away. It’s the only time of year where rainbow print matches anything you wear and it only means one thing: Pride season is upon us. Since I was a teenager in Chicago, one of the highlights of my summer has been attending Pride in all of its different forms: parades, picnics, parties, performances, etc. As I’ve become an adult and more aware of the world around me, my relationship with Pride has ebbed and flowed. I am acutely aware of how Pride has been corporatized by big companies looking to make money off of LGBTQ communities while ignoring the actual issues affecting those communities. And these days, with anti-trans measures in North Carolina, anti-gay religious freedom laws in Indiana, and a host of other exclusionary, violent bullshit I’m not feeling particularly festive.

And on a personal level, as I got more connected with my evolving sexuality, there were even more complicated feelings about Pride. Not only do big corporations commodify LGBTQ identities for their own interests, they do so by uplifting a specific model of gayness that is super limiting and spreads throughout the entire LGBTQ community. In essence it’s a model of being gay that mirrors the ideal heterosexual relationship and the gender norms that come with that: monogamous, able-bodied, upper/middle class (if not economically, aesthetically), marriage oriented, and with a clearly defined masculine and feminine partner. Pride caters to those in the queer community who emulate this model — I call them straight gays — in a way that has felt disheartening for me and other more radical queer folks.

I hope it’s no surprise that racism, classism, and ableism exist in LGBTQ spaces and culture. A few years ago in Chicago, the Broadway Youth Center, an agency providing social and health services to low-income LGBTQ youth — who were also disproportionately people of color — was threatened with closure. Members of the gayborhood where the center was located, Boystown, didn’t like that the center attracted so many young people of color to their neighborhood. Gayness is not created equal, and race is one of the things that is also read as too flamboyant. These kinds of cultural barriers are the reason sub-celebrations like Black Pride take place in cities across the country like Chicago, Atlanta (my personal favorite), Miami, DC, and New York. While the straight gay model subliminally works to exclude queer people of color by prioritizing performances of gayness that are associated with whiteness, you’ll still find these communities subscribing to straight gayness. It’s not uncommon to find strict gender binaries reinforced via events that are almost exclusively separated for men and women, and others that call for specific performances under those umbrellas, i.e. femmes and studs. The BTQ almost always gets lost in the sauce. Thin and able bodies are glorified, and marriage equality is still celebrated as the pinnacle of our liberation.

What I feel most proud of about my queer identity is that it extends beyond a simple refusal to only date people of the gender that is opposite mine in a binary gender system. Through my queerness I have found the flexibility to completely reimagine how I love and connect with other human beings beyond their gender. I’m able to define the terms of my relationships on a case-by case basis, challenging the notions of institutions like marriage and monogamy as the only way to go. Queerness has provided a framework through which I can navigate having a fat body in a really fatphobic world. For many of us under the LGBTQ umbrella: our identity allows does so much more than determine who we fuck. It is not a one size fits all identity. Trying to make it so means ignoring the other facets of our lives that shape our sexuality like violence in our communities and from the state, disparities in housing, employment, and healthcare, religion, disabilities, gender, etc. Despite what straight gayness represents, we are not model minorities.

And to be clear, I am in no way suggesting that straight gays are able to completely sidestep homophobia and its effects. In the same way that respectability politics won’t shield black people from the effects of systemic racism, performing whitewashed heteronormativity — which is also a form of respectability, if we’re being honest — will not protect those who identify as LGBTQ from anti-gay oppression and violence. However, intersectionality is always key. When standards of performing sexuality are shrouded in ideas of normativity — that have traditionally worked to exclude poor people, people of color, those with disabilities, and especially those who reject the mores of conventional gender roles and relationships — systems of oppression are reinforced and supported, including the once used to oppress LGBTQ communities. Pride is not the sole possession of the straight gays, and if it is the rest of us are screwed.