I like Pride.
I like the rainbows. I like the drag queens. I like the uncertainty of the weather and the boring speeches. I like clapping for the leathermen and the dykes on bikes, and the babies with two mamas, and the shirtless dancing boys on the floats. I like all of it, and when June rolls around I start to get that Christmas morning excitement in my chest.
I try not to admit this proclivity in polite company; it’s not a very popular view. It’s not so much that I encounter opposition to Pride as much as it’s the rolling-the-eyes, here-we-go-again kind of resignation. There’s a prevailing sense that Pride is for people newly out, and that the best it can offer is a holiday opportunity to get drunk — a kind of variegated St. Patrick’s Day. There’s a belief that its cheesy rainbow optimism is, at best, a gloss over the diverse needs of our community and that, at worst, it’s just opportunistic consumerism.
That’s all true; I don’t disagree. But I love all of that, too.
When I moved to Portland, I came out right away, as though it was my plan all along. After some disappointment with the bar scene, I decided a better way to meet people was to get involved with some activism, and found my way to the Pride Committee. In some ways, it was lucky timing: the Pride Committee was in the process of re-forming, and was looking for new members. I jumped in, and before I knew it I was planning the Festival in Deering Oaks.
The festival was canceled because of rain, but that’s another story. I still have the friends I made on the committee, and I gained a ton of respect for the work that goes into making that kind of celebration happen.
I’ve heard a lot of discussion about Pride this year. Planning a community-wide celebration is a nearly impossible task – we are an incredibly diverse group of people. No one would ever try to plan a celebration that is inclusive of every heterosexual (Saturday night in the Old Port doesn’t count), because sexual orientation and gender identity are just pieces of our lives — important ones, but not the whole picture.
The selection process that gathers us for Pride is almost as random as if a celebration were held for all the people wearing t-shirts on a particular day. Of course, those people would all have different musical tastes and entertainment preferences, and would want to gather in subgroups. Some would want a serious discussion of the implications of the socio-economic forces that create such divisions; some would want to dance.
But here’s the thing — I also like the controversy of Pride. I think it’s necessary. There is no other time of year when I hear such earnest and widespread discussion about inclusion and diversity, even if it takes the form of complaining about the DJ. The rest of the year, we go to our separate bars and cafes, and the bridges barely exist. But during Pride Week, we are lumped together by our common difference.
The only way such a large celebration could include everyone is through a radical re-visioning of the event, and by lots of participation by attendees. There could be as many events as there are subcultures — those Mahjongg Mavens could hold a game night, and there could be motorcycle riding lessons in the park. There could be a pub crawl for the drinkers and an art auction for the philanthropists. The possibilities are unlimited… Transgender bicycle workshop! Lesbian cappuccino-lovers’ brunch! Bisexuals’ flower show! Gay superhero bowling! Fun activities for other identity categories, as desired!
During no other time of year are so many of us together in one place. It’s possible to use the strife and discussion about Pride for positive ends. Pride doesn’t have to be the kind of event that makes you roll your eyes and reach for a rainbow-labeled Coors Light – unless you want it to be.
So, see you on the street! I’ll be the one with the rainbow socks on. I’ll be dancing and grinning, loving my community and all its contradictions — loving the drama and the complaining, the ones who are hooking up, the ones who went home early to tuck in the kids, and the ones who are driving their cars back home to the woods. I’ll be there. I wouldn’t miss it for anything.
Jen Hodsdon’s column appears monthly.