As a full-time loudmouth queer, the word “Pride” fills me with a bone-deep urge to shout “bah humbug.”
It’s been something like 18 years since I’ve attended a Pride function where I wasn’t working. Tabling, performing, sitting out in protest, organizing — I even took a few dozen pies to the face one year as a political fundraiser. For a long time, I have experienced the month of Pride more as a series of conference room meetings and emails than as a party — let alone a rebellion.
In my more grounded moments, I am able to remember the Pride celebrations I attended as a teen. Too young for the beer tents and bar afterparties, but old enough to know that the free prophylactics were gold, those early celebrations were my first taste of home. They were the places I learned what it felt like to be surrounded by people who understood how I saw myself and the world before I even opened my mouth to explain — before I even had language for some of the identities I hold. When I feel my gay-Scrooge energy flaring, I try to remind myself that being present for Pride means some young person might find in me the bright possible future I saw in the brilliant queers who came before me.
It’s hard to put my finger on exactly why I’m so cranky about Pride, but it’s at least partly a result of the way corporations use June as a weird sort of tithing ritual. For a microscopic fraction of the money they bring in on the exploitation of queer labor, major corporations get to wave their rainbow flags for 30 days and reap the benefits of queer customers who are grateful for the opportunity to patronize them with less fear of being outright shunned. We’re supposed to be grateful for these breadcrumbs of favor without questioning how corporate contributions compare with how their overall business models affect standards of living for queer people. How much money did they give to politicians making anti-trans policies? How many of their queer employees are stuck in low-level jobs with no hope of advancement under quietly queer-phobic management?
Many queer elders will tell mouthy people like me (and the Gen Z crowd behind me) that it’s rude to ask. There’s an argument to be made for graciously taking the dirty money to do good work — lord knows it was good enough for Sylvia Rivera, and it’s been good enough for me at various points in my life. There’s a whole generation of queers who remember having to fight corporations for the right to have a Pride celebration in their cities at all — let alone getting them to throw in for the costs.
Nothing we do is devoid of context, but still, stationing cops outside the beer tent smacks of irony. Maybe we can find some soft inflatable bricks and convince them to play along with a well-intentioned Stonewall reenactment. A sort of Guy Fawkesian history lesson.
When it comes down to it, I think I’m also pretty frustrated that LGBTQIA+ kids still have to go to a festival once a year to gather brochures and pamphlets and glimpses of the full spectrum of grown queers thriving out in the world. I’m frustrated that the conversations around safety protocols for Pride have, over the course of my Adult Queer lifetime, gotten more harrowing and not less.
We’re here. We’re queer. Rallying cries turn into polite invitations, and we’re still waiting for the world to get used to it.
As I ready myself for Pride this year, I brush off threats of violence by telling myself that I’m used to it. I pack my dark circles with glitter, trying to ignore the way it settles into ever-multiplying creases in my skin. I add a brick to my list of “tabling essentials for queer organizations at Pride” and try not to think too hard about whether another weapon might offer more practical support.
I close my eyes and listen for the Ghosts of Prides Past and Future to come tell me about the error of my ways, but the truth is I’m already present — however begrudgingly — and righteous anger is, after all, the reason for the season.
God bless us, everyone.
Bre Kidman is an artist, activist, and attorney (in that order), and the first openly non-binary person in history to run for the U.S. Senate. They would be delighted to hear your thoughts on the political industrial complex at [email protected].