The festival known as Gay Pride and I have always had an unconventional relationship. Oh, we’ll tolerate each other in public. Behind each other’s respective backs, though? Our actual feelings towards each other vary widely from admiration to an acerbic questioning why each other exists.
Let me lay some groundwork for you: it’s never always been this way. At one point in time I was a flag-waving, gay history-obsessed HRC intern. I held attendance at Pride up as the ultimate in gay patriotism, second only in importance to voting for only candidates with a 100% equality score.
What happened though was reality. As I came out of the closet, I entered into the “real world” of gay culture. For those of you who don’t know, the truth about gay culture is a far cry from the pained artists and “out of the closets and onto the streets” activism that it might have once been.
“Gay Culture” as it exists now is a overly-commercialized attempt at reconciling our sexually rebellious past with an intense need to be liked by mainstream culture. It has morphed the concept of gay identity into a couture ideal guarded viciously by the club queens, bar fairies, and gym rats.
It’s possible I’m a little jaded, though.
The good news is that I’m not alone in my opinions. Louis Perlman, a year ago today, documented this phenomenon in his article “It Get’s Better, Unless Your Fat.”
Don’t get me wrong. Despite the fact that I am an – achem – not a thin girl, this is more than aesthetic ideals. It’s about what we stand for as a community and what we want to leave to the generations that come after us.
This brings me back to the concept of Pride. I chose to buy my first house in the shady, tree-lined neighborhood right in the epicenter of gay Atlanta. It was important for me to seek out a home where I felt surrounded by not just gay-friendly businesses, but also by like-mind Atlanta natives that feel a connection with the area and it’s past.
Of course, this also means that once a year, our neighborhood is flooded by queens and dykes from all over the southeast who want to revel in the three-day event that Atlanta Pride has become.
To them, it’s a carnival of culture where the overwhelming presence of corporate sponsors are just another way to collect free shit they can go back and hang on their OTP walls. They might even look fondly on all the rainbow beads and bottle openers branded with ID Lube and Bud Light and affirm to themselves that they are indeed a part of the “gay community.”
The fact of the matter, though is that we are more than corporate sponsors. We are the community of Harvey Milk and Larry Kramer and of Ruth Simpson and Elizabeth Birch. We are the modern carriers of the American legacy of civil rights. We can be out, proud, and frivolous at the same time that we are restless, politically engaged, and hungry to cultivate the amazing creativity and talent that have sprung from our struggle.
Let’s bring back the connection we have to the past and realize the rainbow flag isn’t just a pattern. It started as a binding of the diverse elements of our nature and support for the rainbow of diversity, of equality for all, not just some.
When you come to my neighborhood this year and someone wishes you a happy pride, think for a moment. Is it a come-on or is something more? For me, it’s important to wish you a Happy Pride as a reminder of our connection to each other and our collective responsibility to lift each other up.
Have a safe and a meaningful Pride, Atlanta.