Yesterday, LA Weekly's Patrick Range McDonald created a bit of an e-gay stir with an essay whose headline wondered, "Is L.A. Gay Pride an Outdated, Adolescent Mess?" Los Angeles' Gay Pride weekend kicks off today, hence the question. The answer, according to McDonald? "An unqualified yes."
From his essay:
[Is] L.A. Gay Pride kind of stale and outdated? Are we celebrating some kind of pre-AIDS, 1970s version of the gay experience? When sexual liberation in gay culture was just as important — and justifiably so — as equality? Are we coming off passe and immature by still celebrating our gay heritage as if we're a bunch of horny, drunk 19-year-olds who came out of the closet a few weekends ago?
McDonald's argument is littered with stuffy grousing about "the same damn music with the same tweaker beat" and "cock-ring tosses to win a stuffed animal," but he makes a valid point about today's concept of gay pride, and the way in which it's been hijacked by muscle-laden floats yelling, "Whoop whoop!" Gay pride shouldn't be expressed solely through extreme partying, but during daily life: conversations with co-workers, public displays with your same-sex object of affection, the outfits you choose for your pets. Like so many cultural practices, gay pride is a 24/7 commitment. We shouldn't confine the celebration of black history to a single month, we should plant trees on days other than Arbor Day, and we should be willing to sell our hair to afford platinum fob chains for our loved ones not just on Christmas but all year round.
McDonald's solution is to bring "L.A. Pride back to its roots and make it once again a political statement. To highlight our contributions to society, and to reach out in meaningful ways to our straight allies, our parents, and extended families." Well sure. If we are not doing that already, a reminder day could be helpful.
However, the root of McDonald's argument against the visible, hedonistic displays of gay pride is that they somehow invite discrimination, that the flagrancy of it all makes said discrimination somehow deserved:
Yet once again L.A. Pride will bring out the go-go boys and cock rings, will be partly underwritten by liquor companies, and will celebrate stereotypes and outdated notions of what it means to be gay.
And then we'll wonder why certain straight folks don't take us seriously or think we're stuck in some kind of "Peter Pan syndrome" — and we'll cry bloody murder when we're treated poorly.
Well, as the old saying goes, if you don't want to be treated like a slut, don't act and look like one.
I'm not exactly sure why these notions of what it means to be gay are "outdated" if, by McDonald's estimate "hundreds of thousands of gay folks from Southern California and elsewhere will converge on West Hollywood to celebrate gay pride by marching in or watching the parade on Sunday." That sounds like a thriving cultural practice, whether you agree with it or not.
McDonald is suggesting that gays simmer down and behave if they want to be taken "seriously" or avoid mistreatment they ultimately bring upon themselves. Gay Pride celebrations may represent a loud, douchey side of the culture, but they hardly warrant animosity. If an outsider looks at them and decides that's how gays are all the time and uniformly, that's willful ignorance and the defect of that person, not the people who are having an unabashed good time.
McDonald goes on to list a number of gay men whose achievements have helped make the world a better place: civil rights leader Bayard Rustin, Walt Whitman, the people of ACT-UP and its ilk, South African activist Simon Nkoli, philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. The list stretches on. Displays of partying do not negate these accomplishments or overshadow these men. Together, the achievement, the hedonism, the specific sexuality come together to illustrate the complexity of the gay experience. No rational person judges an entire population by the sports fanatic whose out-of-shape body is painted with the colors of his favorite team, or by the fuzzy legwarmers of its dehydrated, EDM-listening youth. Public revelry is what we do when we aren't saving the world.
I get the feeling that straights are still squeamish about gay sexuality. From neutered depictions of gays in pop culture to one-on-one conversations I've had, it's clear that there exists a communicative divide — a gay person cannot avoid being inundated with all facets of heterosexuality, including the sex. Straight people can more easily ignore the ways of minorities, keeping us at arm's length and accepting us only in part and begrudgingly. The public spectacle of Gay Pride exists not just to say, "We're here, we're queer." It's also saying, "We're here, we're queer and we fuck." Editing ourselves for the sake of acceptance is disingenuous. It's a slippery slope from, "I'll tone it down and behave for the sake of sensitive straights" to "I'll stop sucking cock for the sake of sensitive straights." No mentally healthy gay guy is going to do the latter anytime soon; why bother doing the former either?
Nothing that happens during Gay Pride parades deserves discrimination. No one deserves to be treated "like a slut" in any negative way for his consensual sexual tastes and practices. In projecting what straight society will make of wonton gays and condemning the latter, McDonald is essentially rushing to make homophobic judgements before the homophobes can get to it. It's a declaration of treason that's not going to actually change anything ("Gay Pride Parade Canceled Because LA Weekly Writer Is Embarrassed" will not be a headline). It's just a way of saying, "I'm better than you guys." That kind of disconnect within our culture is a hell of a thing to show to straights, too.
At a time when anti-gay attacks are on the rise in New York and frequently in the news around the country, the need for the public displays of pride strike me as more essential than ever. And if you don't like it, don't go. Stay home. Teach an old person a new gay trick. Garden. Exercise for enjoyment, not to conform to one of those stereotypes that you loathe. And while you're at it, write something that's going to change the world, hopefully without shaming your gay brothers.
[Image via AP]