by Kimberly Dark
Remember when being gay was dangerously cool? Don’t let your sass and style get lost in the good fight…
It’s pride month and I’m super-thrilled that activism is becoming more pointed, more intersectional in recent years. Black Lives Matter protestors are shutting down Pride events to remind people that not everyone’s human rights are yet a queer priority. Hooray for Vancouver having complicated discussions about police presence at Pride events too. It had become easy to forget that the first Stonewall event was actually a riot against police, and that upper-class out-queer folks on TV didn’t just spring fully formed from Liberace’s forehead.
Wow are we complicated! There are gay black police officers out there celebrating with Republican trans-women (c’mon, you know at least one; she’s very famous). There are folks all over still risking their jobs on Monday morning (especially in schools, y’all) to even march in a pride parade, along with homeless queer folks being scooted out of the way to let pride festivities take over city streets. We are complex and have creatively persisted throughout time. We’ve also done alternately better and worse at supporting one another across privilege-barriers like race, gender, social class, age, size, etc.
“We are complex and have creatively persisted throughout time.” — Tweet this
Diversity is part of what thrills me about my queer and genderqueer community; I’m no assimilationist. I was not alone in worrying about the focus on marriage equality exactly because it promotes a heterosexist agenda by allowing more of us to participate in it. Queer events have been feminist and political for me all along. Letting our freak flags fly is a public service. Creative deviance in the realms of gender and sexuality reminds us that we have more brilliance than we can even name. This is true for other forms of resistance-born creativity too. Think about that. Like Walt Whitman, we contain multitudes and we stumble on and reinvent language exactly because we are greater than language can contain.
Absolutely, language is important. But not more important than getting along with others and having a good, loving time. My friend Veronica Lake and I were discussing this the other day. She asked, “Does the LGBTQI only ever talk about repression, discrimination and victimization? We used to be the people you wanted to know, now we are the people you’re trying to avoid.”
“We reinvent language exactly because we are greater than language can contain.” — Tweet this
It’s an interesting question — and assertion. After all, a lot of people get involved with social movements because their friends are involved or it looks like they could make a difference. When the work seems boring, threatening or hopeless, we stay away. Look, I’m not arguing in favor of a focus on parties and fun outfits. I’m arguing for creativity, surprise and occasional disagreement as we handle repression, discrimination and victimization.
There are many reasons for marginalized people to be tense and either sad or snappy these days as the tide of fascism rises in North America and Europe. I also don’t think it serves the bigger cause of justice and equality for anyone to see the way we admonish and exclude each other and think, now there are the “people you’re trying to avoid,” to quote my friend. Becoming collectively tedious doesn’t happen overnight and is no linear process. We’ve been collectively exciting and badass before, and could be again.
Veronica’s a trans-woman about my age. We’ve been around a bit (and I mean that in every sense of the cliché). She recalls a time when LGBTQI community was a place she went to express herself for being an outsider. “I want my community back… the community that used to treat me as an individual member, not a repressed minority group.” I feel her on this. We’ve developed specific ways of talking about people and identities and making caveats and disclaimers so that no one feels anything’s been left out. Some of this is necessitated by internet dialogue, I’m sure. The speed and vigor with which we can dismiss each other on technicalities is astounding. It’s a good idea to be accountable to what we say (and type), how we say it, who we include and exclude in our rhetoric — and still celebrate our innovations and interests.
“I’m arguing for creativity, surprise and occasional disagreement.” — Tweet this
It’s also great to be able to disagree and have interesting opinions. I’m particularly wary of any rigid party line, from which one must not deviate in order to avoid someone’s side-eye. Perceptions change; I’m old enough to have seen a lot of changes. For instance, I was once angrily told by a dykier-looking-than-me babe (whom I probably would’ve dated) that I really should learn a few things before I speak if I wanted to be a good ally.
Yeah, ally. She assumed.
I had very intentionally used the term “sexual preference” rather than “sexual orientation” (and still often find it more appropriate, for the social agency it invokes). That was back in the early 90s and at that time, it was very important to force everyone to say “sexual orientation.” You know, if the public thinks we’re “born this way” we might deserve human rights. Ugh. How much more might she and I have learned about each others’ views if we’d just gone on that date and had a flirty high-spirited debate? I can’t say, but I know this: the queer and genderqueer standard narratives have shifted over time. The anger and righteousness hasn’t. And this brings me to another theme we shouldn’t be so quick to sideline in our struggles for equality: sex.
“In fact, fun, flamboyant intervention has always been one of our brightest beacons of dignity.” — Tweet this
Truly, not everyone’s interested in sex and it’s great to be hearing more from folks who don’t have strong sexual urges or choose celibacy. And of course, hetero folks shouldn’t be constantly focused on queer people’s sex lives, genitals, etc. Because, ew. I’m also interested in the creative ways our sexualities grew and proliferated, evolved and morphed into so many different beautiful blossoms fed by the sewage of a toxic “moral” majority. Many of us learned — and still learn — from our sexualities and extend our usual company in the process.
Samuel Delaney’s Times Square Red/Times Square Blue, is really of contemporary relevance despite being a few decades old. Delaney is a black gay man, writing about the changing gay landscape (and economic development) in NYC between the early 1960s and the early 1990s. The book is focused on his experiences having public sex in porn theaters during that period before their closure. It’s a fascinating and useful trope for his theses. He discusses the mainstreaming of desires and how that has also narrowed acceptable queer desires. (Conversely, he asserts that porn expanded straight sexual desires during the heyday of those theaters.) In Delaney’s telling of these porn theater environments, body diversity, erotic verve and sexual practice clearly trumped identity and ideology. Many of the men frequenting those theaters didn’t identify as gay, and yet, the breadth of community (very different from normative community in the light of day) was wider than most of us know now.
“Letting our freak flags fly is a public service.” — Tweet this
For instance, how many among us think about potential sexual partners as coming from all economic brackets (including homeless people), of coming from all age groups, racial or language groups, etc? No, we’re too ruled by others’ perceptions and our internalized pre-judgments — though we may work to overcome certain biases. Delaney pointed out how proximity to a wide range of other (men’s) bodies and lives created an interest and sense of community that just doesn’t exist now — and was always very different from mainstream ideas of community. Though he doesn’t valorize this time period or these venues, he makes a strong argument for the blossoming of deviant behaviors which enrich people’s lives.
Then there’s the creativity of eroticism itself. I never want to let go of that, somehow forget that it’s a source of learning and positive social change too.
My friend Veronica hopes that we queer folks can somehow remain “dangerously cool.” Clearly, we are still dangerous to many mainstream values and political powers. In the U.S. (and other nations) our recently won rights are in danger of receding. Rather than protecting the assimilationist ground we’ve gained, let’s ask for even more human rights and get as creative about it as possible. If someone’s shutting down your pride parade, get out there with them and make a different kind of party. Learn what’s happening and why things need to change — according to the people who have even fewer rights than you. Let’s quit arguing so much already, and teach each other something new about our vivacity instead. When we can. Because always is too often for anyone.
I’d like to think that in Delaney’s Times Square, some listened better to other marginalized folks not just because they had to, but because they wanted to, because that’s what humanity asks of us. Delaney sure did — and he couldn’t have written exactly that book without being both a cultural critic and vibrantly, erotically deviant from the mainstream.
This is my Pride Month reminder: a passion for the creativity of difference is going to be the way we sculpt the new world we’re all yearning for. And the way to acknowledge that we are not all yearning for the same utopia. Would it be great if we all shared one image of fairness and equality? Maybe, and we don’t. We’re messed up; we’re human. When we embrace that, we can work hard to see things from others’ perspectives and elevate the concerns of the most vulnerable among us. Plus, even when the world is stubborn, we’ll have a better time in the struggle. Lots of uptight people will see our fabulosity and wonder what they’re missing. That’s not nothing. It never has been. In fact, fun, flamboyant intervention has always been one of our brightest beacons of dignity.
Kimberly Dark is a writer, sociologist and raconteur working to reveal the hidden architecture of everyday life, one clever story, poem and essay at a time. Learn more at www.kimberlydark.com.