Critical Pride

Posted by & filed under Blogosphere, Canada, Catherine, Cycling, Events, LGBT, Politics, Vancouver.

On his blog this morning, Buzz Bishop posed the question: Are you proud of Pride?

In his post, Buzz asks if the imagery we’ll see in Vancouver’s Pride Parade this Sunday is really the best way to demonstrate that gays are just like everyone else. This reminded me of another familiar argument, about Critical Mass: are 3000 people on bicycles blocking commuter traffic really helping the image of cyclists?

Honestly, Buzz does raise a good point, though it’s hardly a new argument, going back to the exclusion of activists we would today consider to be transgendered in the immediate post-Stonewall era.

Still, as I wrote in Buzz’s comments, it’s a debate I feel is pretty well moot at this point. As of last week, it’s been four years since we formally enacted gay marriage nationwide here in Canada, an anniversary that totally passed me by due to no mention whatsoever in the media. People don’t care.

At the same time, though, it’s important to remember that Canadians are very cautious not to offend. At all. Ever. (We’re very passive-aggressive, though.) The problem I have with this is that it’s fundamentally dishonest. Frankly, as much as I like not having bottles hurled at my head should I choose to hold my girlfriend’s hand in downtown Vancouver, it would be nice if people advertised their hate and intolerance.

“Catherine, stop blogging while drunk,” you might say.

No, I’m serious. I want to know who to avoid. I want to know who’s trustworthy and who’s biased against me. It may not be popularly accepted that we’re all prejudiced, but I’m sorry, we are. Frankly, humans are a bunch of xenophobic jerks. Our ability to pigeonhole “the other” is why, as I mentioned to @_lisas on Twitter this morning–in the course of explaining why I’m freaked out by birds of all things–there’s a single species of human surviving today.

Everyone’s a little bit racist. Sure, we’re taught that it’s wrong, but I think this leads less to discussion and education, and more to bigots becoming closeted themselves.

So… obviously my friends are cool with it. Very few of the people I know are homophobic in the least. But I don’t date a lot. I haven’t had a girlfriend in… well, let’s just put it at “a while”. Very few people I know have seen me totally making out with girls. Doing so wouldn’t necessarily provoke a homophobic reaction, more “Cat does PDAs? Since when?”

Would my landlady be on board with my being gay? Probably not, but it’s never come up. She’s content to assume that my extreme height is what has prevented me meeting a succession of horrible, chainsmoking boyfriends to bring home to the hottest 300 square foot apartment ever known to mankind. But at the same time, it’s not like I would bring boys there if I was into that sort of thing either.

Last year, I remember her expressing skepticism about Obama and his ability to handle the financial crisis, which I presumed to be of the usual Canadian variety: “Can you believe he doesn’t support single-tier healthcare!?” It turned out that, no, she liked McCain better. I had definitely never heard this view expressed by anyone in Vancouver. I realize I’m stereotyping, but there is a bit of a correlation there.

The majority of Canadians are in favour of gay marriage, with an overwhelming majority at least being on board with some sort of “separate but equal” equivalent. The most conservative government of my lifetime has stated the matter is settled. That may be debatable, but it’s just not something we’re spending time on.

At the same time as this was going on at Buzz’s blog, there was a conversation occurring on my Twitter feed about the VPD advisory regarding the estimated 3000 cyclists participating in this month’s Critical Mass. (Mind you, I’m highly skeptical about the likelihood that so many people will brave 30° Celsius weather just to irritate commuters and climb up on top of the Lion’s Gate Bridge.) Still, the eternal “yay, Critical Mass”/“stop being assholes” debate rages on.

You know what? I support the Burrard Bridge bicycle lane project — which seems to be working out just fine at this point. (I do agree with Vancouver City Council member Andrea Reimer, however: “Enough about the Burrard Bridge.”) I support the construction of increased cycling and transit infrastructure. We need billions of dollars more for transit and millions more to improve bike lanes.

But is Critical Mass the way to convince other people to get on board with this plan, necessarily? Yeah, probably not. I actually do understand the “now drivers know how we feel!” argument. But, dude? No they don’t. Now they hate cyclists even more. And the drivers who didn’t ever consider cyclists much? Yeah, they remember that it took them two hours to make their 20-minute commute home after a long week.

And ultimately, this acts against my interests as a cyclist.

At the same time, Critical Mass looks like a lot of fun. It’s just fun at the expense of other people’s day. And I’m a staunch believer in the idea that we’re all entitled to do whatever we want until such time as what we want interferes with others’ ability to do what they want. Also, separation of church and state.

So how do I pair my this with my moral outrage towards post-Stonewall activists fighting for “straight-acting” gay and lesbian rights 30 years ago, or my position that it was was wrong and ultimately self-defeating to deliberately exclude the rest of the LGBT community?

I don’t know. I’m judging history from the perspective of someone who didn’t live through it, who just inherited the world activists worked towards a generation ago. And frankly, that’s dangerous. Today, it may seem obvious that including bisexuals, effeminate men, butches and transgendered people has always been the right thing to do, but I have to consider the possibility that I can even assert that position today because of the fact that they were effectively booted out of the movement decades earlier. Which is actually really depressing.

So, would a 21st-Century-style Pride parade and LGBT movement have flown in the early 1970s? The spectators and participants definitely wouldn’t have been the same, but the fact of the matter is, if you think The Queers are doing things to the soil, nobody’s going to convince you otherwise with a float covered in incredibly ripped guys wearing thongs.

So maybe that’s not what Pride’s for anymore. Maybe it’s just a party. As Buzz’s commenter EternalCanadian points out, honestly, what’s the difference between Pride and Mardi Gras or Caribana?

Edit: Also see Critical Pride Part 2: Midnight Mass and the Dyke March.

2 Responses to “Critical Pride”

  1. themindfantastic

    Coming out as queer, and being openly affectionate with man woman tree or rock isn’t really political, but it can be still a little dangerous. Example Vancouver has a spotty record of racial integration with the Asiatic Exclusion League inciting rioting here in September 1907. But we have grown used to a large population from all parts of South Asia in our modern times, but it hasn’t actually eliminated racism in the city. Its there and while its not an active thing, a lot of people do resent the perception of white people being the minority. Regular Pride events will never really eliminate Homophobia even 50 to a hundred years from now I suspect. People resent not seeing themselves in the culture around them, which is in part why people end up fighting for identity and rights to express their identity in the first place, and why we now have cultural spaces in Vancouver, so that people can feel a part of something. The argument that can we simply be accepting Canadians is becoming harder to rally under with the larger cultural fragmentation underway in our world as we find ways to feel not so insignificant in the populations we find ourselves lumped into.