I want to talk about Pride. Not just talk, I want to question it.
For contextualisation, and also if you’re new to my blog posts, the past couple of years have been marked by tremendous and drastic personal changes. Not so much on the outside per se, but on the inside. So much so, that a friend whom I hadn’t seen in years, recently told me that my current job/profession, actually makes a lot of sense. Which indeed it does, but the internal marathon it has taken to get here, has been gruelling. What has been at the core of these changes? Well, firstly, my actual core. The core of who I am, of what I thought I was. It’s not that I’ve changed who I am drastically, but I have been drastically questioning everything about myself and my beliefs/values.
Around this time last year, the question of “what do I want to do with my life?” was so unexpected and contrary to how I had envisioned my life, that it shattered many of my perceptions of the world around me. I have been questioning my core values and beliefs so much recently, that I’m currently even exploring the scariest question of them all – very perceptibly posed by my own therapist: “what if I don’t want a relationship? What would my world look like?” This doesn’t mean to say that I won’t want one, but it poses the question of why I think I should have one in the first place. Whose voices and instructions am I actually following?
Additionally, the past few weeks have been all about LGBTQ+ stuff. I am currently guest editing a special LGBTQ+ edition for the academic journal for all things Dramatherapy in the UK, I am soon to run an “Understanding LGBTQ+ Mental Health” workshop with friends/colleagues for The British Association of Dramatherapists, I have been watching and becoming in love with a new show called Pose, I watched the documentary about Studio54, and this is all happening during Pride Month. But it was the specific experience of writing the first draft of my editorial for the academic journal that got me questioning many things, particularly the idea of Pride and the meaning it holds for this extremely varied community.
In the Studio54 documentary, the director made a nice job of placing it in context of the changing tides of the time, and even in the transition out of disco music in the 70s. One of the founders said that, ultimately, Studio54 challenged the status quo and its exemplary demise may also be seen from that perspective: a rejection of freedom, sexual liberation, hedonism, and even community. The 1980s brought the unabashed focus on the individual, on power and money, and AIDS. The sexual liberation following the Stonewall Riots of 1969, was curtailed by a true plague, which killed thousands of gay men, decimating immense creative and revolutionary potential, reinstating sexual shame and fear, removing whatever acceptance had been gained up until that point, and making this community everyone’s favourite group of people to hate.
Our potential to disrupt the status quo still very much exists, and I don’t think it’s necessarily about who we have sex with, or identify as, but about the concept of fluidity. Through the many people that this community represents, fluidity is something that we bring to the table across 4 spectra (singular: spectrum): biological sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression. Our very existence as a community, our bringing together of so many different people and experiences, is an absolute challenge to the binaries of the status quo. The hate and fear we attract may be traced back to this very challenge, for all major power structures are based on the binary between men and women, and the hierarchy that it allows. If the binary isn’t there, then the rules change, by default. Patriarchy and heteronormativity, which are at the foundation of so many societies, cultures, religions, and institutions, depend on the binary’s unchallenged existence.
Herein lies the power of our community: the possibility and potential for a new world order, led by our fluidity across spectra of sex, sexuality, and gender – but we need to accept it, understand it, know it, and most importantly, we need to live it. And, I think, in order to do this, we need to question the idea of Pride itself. As I mentioned last week, I’ve been reading this very long book called Letting Go by David R Hawkins, and in it, the author dedicates each chapter to an emotional expression. As I kept reflecting about the LGBTQ+ community and movement during Pride Month, I remembered that he writes about pride in a not so favourable way. Think about it: “Pride carries with it the desire for recognition from others, and, consequently, there is a vulnerability to anger and disappointment if it is not forthcoming at some point.”
What strikes me about that quote is the “recognition from others” part. The first Pride march – not parade – focused on the socio-political needs of our elders and their fight against oppression, including police brutality. I wonder what the decision was behind calling it Pride, rather than something else, but if you consider it from this prism, this is almost a fight that we will never win. Why? Because we are literally asking our oppressors to accept us, to include us, to make space for us, to hear us, to ultimately love us. We want their recognition and validation. But as any therapist, life coach, or spiritual practitioner would tell you, only you can give yourself those things.
There’s no point in looking for love, if you can’t love yourself. You may love or hate RuPaul, but his motto of “If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell are you gonna love somebody else?”, is quite spot on. Waiting for the status quo to fully accept us and make room for us, for us to feel validated and recognised, seems paradoxical to me. It leaves us vulnerable to our oppressors’ whims, based on their level of comfort and stability at any given moment.
Whether you agree or not, it is important to question what we think we know, nonetheless. Because, in this case, I would argue that the one thing we don’t do very well in this community, is to truly, unconditionally, and fully support and love each other. We absolutely emulate the status quo within our own community, playing out hierarchical structures and dynamics of power based on gender binaries. We oppress each other, and yet, expect the outside to accept us. The status quo will never fully accept us, because everything we are is ultimately a threat to their power structure. And the status quo is very happy that we don’t seem to find a way to get along.
The rampant sexism, misogyny, racism, transphobia, biphobia, and even homophobia, within our own community will always keep us from fully reaching our revolutionary potential. The work starts from within. Look at the example of the activism that erupted in response to HIV/AIDS. Whilst the circumstances were tragic beyond belief, it brought much of the community together to fight against the power structures of the time. I feel that we have a difficulty with embracing hedonism and activism at the same time. Our community always goes from one to the other. They are both staples of our experiences, why not bring them together?
Until we fully accept everyone in this community properly, across all spectra, Pride will always just be that one day of the year, instead of a new world. Let’s look within, at ourselves as individuals, and then at ourselves as a community. Looking inwards, at ourselves and each other, will allow us to get all the recognition, validation, acceptance, and love that we want and need.
P.S. Pride flag design by graphic designer Daniel Quasar, to reflect current progressive trends within the movement, of including and acknowledging the lived experiences of people of colour and of transgender/non-binary people.