I’ve never had the urge to go before so I don’t know why I suggested it this year. Perhaps it was the thought that I’ll be 30 next month and I can’t let that happen without being able to say, ‘Done that. Like, whatever.’
So yesterday afternoon, as we headed to Maria’s barbecue, I said to Syndi, ‘Do you want to go to Pride afterwards? We can check out the urban music stage.’
Syndi is newly-arrived from Australia so she doesn’t always get it. She said: ‘What’s that?’
When I’d finished declaiming against over two thousand years of hetero-fascist oppression and lauding how far ‘my community’ has advanced in its quest for equality, she said: ‘Oh that. It’s like Mardi Gras, right?’ Then: ‘So how come you’ve never been?’
Which only got me thinking. Why have I never been to the gay event of the year? Even my older sister – who is not even a lesbian but has known about my sexuality since I was 14 – attends Gay Pride. Every year for the past sixteen years, she has tried many a tactic to convince me ‘to give it a go’. When none of them works, she’ll try humiliation: ‘You’re the ungayest gay in the universe – what the hell’s wrong with you?’; or ‘You might find someone to shag. God knows you need it.’
But I’ve always resisted, despite the annual fantasy in which I turn up and ‘find’ my Prince Charming. I’m older but the fantasy is still the same: he’s a beautiful Muslim man wearing a green-and-black kefiyyeh, dedicated to the campaign for gay liberation in the Islamic world; he’s tall, extremely intelligent, witty and cultured; and our eyes meet across the crowd and our fingers touch as he hands me a leaflet and invites me to a public lecture. (Sigh.)
Perhaps at a deeper level a part of me is still too embarrassed to be seen with so many ‘queens’ at such a public event. Perhaps, when I am in a place full of gays, I become too conscious of myself. On another level, it may be because I have never felt any affiliation with other (and by that I mean white for I was the word in its Saidian sense) gays: I’ve never experienced homophobia so I’ve never had to rage against hetero-fascism. My ‘struggles’ have always been of a different sort – racism, Islamophobia, global injustices – and, as a result, I have never felt part of the gay milieu.
I have always felt uneasy with the gay ‘scene’ because it appears to me to pander to our worst stereotypes and empowers a minority that is already extremely confident in its sexuality – for whom being gay is not simply a matter of genetics but informs every aspect of their lives (watch Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and you’ll see what I mean) – and drives away the majority for whom that is not what being gay is about, if it is about anything at all. It is this scene that desires to establish an identity premised upon a set of cultural references exclusive to a very specific type of gay ‘lifestyle’. I cannot believe that the way forward for gay liberation is a weekend of binge-drinking, drug abuse and debauchery on the streets of London. Whereas I can see how important it is for a minority to be visible, I keep asking myself: Where is the history, the liberation ideology?
Forty years after the Stonewall riots, the gay liberation movement has achieved its objectives in Britain: an equal age of consent, marriage, the repeal of Section 28 and the criminalisation of discrimination against gay people in employment and housing. Thanks to our courageous forebears, we made it to the Promised Land.
Yet, for the overwhelming majority of gays and lesbians around the world the struggle has not ended. It is still all around them. They do not enjoy our freedoms and rights; they cannot march freely through their streets; they risk imprisonment or execution even if they express their love privately; they are tortured and executed by their governments; they are murdered by their own families or neighbours; they are run out of their homes and communities; they are equated with paedophilia and the spread of Aids. We, on they other hand, are ok.
So forty years after Stonewall, where is the international gay solidarity movement? Being gay has become all about lifestyle and nothing about solidarity or liberation. (It is this moral vacuum that explains why one of the gays in Queer Eye for the Straight Guy voted for Margaret Thatcher despite the fact that she introduced Section 28, the most explicitly homophobic piece of legislation in British history. ‘But, darling, did you see her boots?’) So what’s to be proud of? And what has marching through London dressed in drag or like a gimp or in one’s underwear got to do with fighting homophobia?
In her famous essay, Notes on ‘Camp’ (1964), Susan Sontag, one of my icons, had this to say about campness: ‘[It] converts the serious into the frivolous . . . It is one way of seeing the world as an aesthetic phenomenon . . . It goes without saying that the camp sensibility is disengaged, depoliticised – or at least apolitical.’ We can say the same about Gay Pride.