Sunday, June 25, 2006

Pride Still Matters

Queer Pride still matters. This might seem like an obvious statement at the end of a month of parades and parties. Yet, many within the queer community have named pride irrelevant.

Self-proclaimed “post-gays” (mostly middle-class professionals) and certain academics even get paid to disdain things like pride celebrations. The post-gays deride “gay ghettos” and repudiate “in your-face activism.” Post-gays enjoy a comfortable middle-class existence and claim, therefore, that the culture war is over.

Homophobia, you might be relieved to know, just isn’t an issue anymore in the urban U.S., according to post-gays. Post-gays name themselves a higher lifeform and smarter than those queer who live in a gay neighborhood or go to leather clubs. Post-gays don't need those things, so why should any other queers?

When pressed for explanations of their thinking, they turn to a classic move enjoyed by both white-liberals and white-conservatives: they redirect attention by pointing their boney fingers to places outside the U.S. “Homophobia isn’t our nation’s problem,” they say, “it’s really just those poor people in third-world countries who need to catch up to our white, middle-class perceptions of the world. Everything is fine and dandy in the good ol' U.S. of A. compared to those other nations.”

The existence of a greater injustice in another nation does not mean that the lesser injustice in your home nation suddenly becomes irrelevant. Being murdered, we can all agree, is probably worse than having your leg cut off. Yet, living without your leg would still suck. This is just another way to make people of color seem constantly deficient while also maintaining the status quo at home. You get two blocks to progress, TWO!, for the price of one.

What post-gays really mean is that homophobia really isn’t an issue in their very specific lives. Because they don’t participate or live in gay sectors of town, they rush to criticize those who do. Make no mistake: post-gays are not seeking an idealistic sexual freedom. They seek only to validate their own personal beliefs and practices. For them, homophobia isn’t the problem. It’s queer diversity that hurts us. If queers didn’t act queerly or, I guess, all live in the same apartment building, straight folk wouldn’t notice our difference from them.

Likewise, a significant number of queer academics also imagine themselves as being above pride. They pooh-pooh their queer brothers and sisters for “blindly adopting and replicating the nineteenth-century categories of ‘homosexual/heterosexual.’” These academics have used their stunning intellectual powers so that they no longer need such terms. They pull off a neat trick of both claiming that a gay community does not really exist (because it is all imagined) and also state that “gay culture” (which one would think is equally imagined) is vapid and vacuous.

This crew, in my experience, generally show only the shakiest understanding of queer theory. Yet, they are more than happy to use that little bit of knowledge to bludgeoned those around them.

Both “post-gays” and those academics are often fairly mediocre thinkers. They don’t really have a lot to offer us. The media (queer and non-queer), however, gives them oodles of attention. Oddly, even as they repudiate the notion of "gay culture," it never troubles either the post-gays or these particular academics to get a pay check from an all-gay magazine or newspaper.

Their world-view often returns to a fairly simplistic vision where one’s sexuality has little relevance in day-to-day life. Their benchmark for safety stops at people being able to say that they have a same-sex relationship. Almost always, though, when these groups start talking about that nonexistant utopia, they default to visions created under heteronormative standards. They don’t talk of sexual revolt. Instead, they want to blend into existing heterosexual standards. For them, they don’t want a queer community because they imagine being inconspicious in the [straight] larger community is so much better. Gay clubs, pride marches, and even rainbow flags become anathema to them. Well, okay, I must admit that I wish we would get a better flag than the rainbow. That, though, is another entry and for different reasons than the post-gays.

We have listened to what these post-gay types have to say. This doesn’t mean that they have not raised some valid critiques that we can’t address. Hell, a monkey with a machine gun will eventually hit the target if he keeps firing long enough. I certainly agree, for instance, that we have allowed corporations to coopt things like pride celebrations as just another means to sell liquor, cigarettes, and prescription drugs. These types of issues we can address.

Simply believing, however, that homophobia no longer exists does not make it true. Just because you personally did not have your jaw broken doesn’t mean our queer brothers and sisters aren’t facing violence across the U.S. (Yes, even in those allegedly safe urban areas). The threats of violence can be even greater for those in our community with overlapping identities as racial minorities.

Knowing the etymology of the term “homosexual,” likewise, does not somehow make a person separate from the current dominant discourse or political climate. Even Judith Butler, the undisputed queen of queer studies, acknowledges that we often need the modern categories, though socially constructed, when it’s necessary to mobilize for political purposes. She, unlike those other mediocre academics, understands that ideologies about sexuality and gender exercise power in our daily lives no matter how smart we might be. It’s hubris to think one can rise entirely above the discourse that informed our individual knowledge.

Let those, like the post-gays, who dissuade queer unity exist as tacit remembrances of our greater goals for true sexual liberation and diversity. They can be symbols, in their error, representing the true freedom that we wish to achieve as a queer community. We can demand that they be guaranteed personal safety to fulfill their own desires of heteronormative assimilation, if they feel it will bring them personal satisfaction. As we engage in the real fight for sexual diversity, we must also acknowledge their right to safely maintain their errata of opinion as part of that diversity.

Now more than ever, though, we need to respond to any person who wants to dismantle a sense of community among queer folk with suspicion. Pride matters because we, as a queer community, demand that it matters. We exist as a queer community because we imagine ourselves as united in common struggles.

This is not about being proud of simply having sex with somebody of the same sex. Or being proud about having the desire to have sex with somebody of the same sex. There is nothing innately better or worse about those desires and acts.

Pride matters because, in our society, having those desires and pursuing those acts informs our daily lives. We have unique experiences and challenges that hetero folk never imagine.

I do not identify and claim union with a queer community because I am uninformed about the historical processes that created modern assumptions about sexuality. I identify and claim union with a queer community because I choose to align myself with those others who reject the sexual status quo.

Pride matters because we have collectively done much that makes us proud. Each one of us who claims a queer identity has shucked off a life-time of subtle (and not so-subtly) messages that said we can’t have a fulfilling life without being a monogamous heterosexual.

Let’s not pay attention to those in our community who claim that our community does not exist. Those individuals lack relevance. Instead, let’s hold onto each other as we keep fighting for real sexual freedom.


jeremy said...

Prof, I'm shocked. Your words seem so pointed. And your argument for community is completely dismantled by your derision of the "post-gays." I have yet to hear someone refer to himself or herself as a "post-gay." And could you please cite some of "oodles of attention" that the post-gays get?
Then you drop down to an "us" and "them" mentality that is, frankly, republican.
Get thee to Boston, young man!

Roger Owen Green said...

Not all of it, of course, but if you were to replace queer with black in the first two paragraphs, it would largely apply.

tornwordo said...

I have issues with the word "pride".

And I think that allowing for diversity in our community is more honest than just banding together over our sexual habits to squelch homophobia.

brian said...

Perhaps some would be more comfortable with the term "post AIDS gays".If that crisis taught us anything, it's that when our backs are literally against the wall,no one will address our community's needs if we don't.
Tony Snow says there is no more racism in America,so it does not surprise me to hear that homophobia has been eliminated. If we are honest though,we all know the truth about these statements.
Ofcourse I am proud of myself for unique personal reasons not for my sexuality,per se. I am proud of the gay community for being savvy enough to organize GMHC,SAGE,GOD'LOVE WE DELIVER,PROJECT ANGELFOOD,BROADWAY CARES and many other worthwhile community services.When the mainstream community provides services like these to the gay community I'll agree that we have overcome.

K said...

Wow! Quite a piece of writing. "post-gay"? a term you throw around as if it is used all the time. If post-gay means that you are gay, but choose to live just like everyone else, call me post-gay. I appreciate the folks who fight for equal rights, but also choose to live my life in the mainstream. If we want to be treated equally, living an openly gay life in a straight world is the way to do. That is the activism I chose. No need to wave a flag, wear a rainbow necklace and put an HRC sticker on my car. I simply am who I am.

GayProf said...


Given the responses so far, perhaps I have over estimated the wide-spread circulation of notions of “post gay.” Still, columnists as diverse as Andrew Sullivan and Rex Wockner have tossed around the term long before me. Usually I don’t just make up things for the blog, though sometimes...

As for the “us” verses “them” language, I don’t feel that I created that dichotomy. Rather, we are living in a time when that has been thrust upon us. That division, though, isn’t based on sexual-object choice. Rather, it is based on politics. A real divide exists between those who want sexual freedom for everybody (whether they individually identify as gay, straight, etc) and those who wish to regulate, restrict, or force conformity of sexual expression.

Finally, I am not at all claiming that “post-gays” do not have a place in queer community. On the contrary, I tried (apparently unsuccessfully) to show that I do think they have a place. How people wish to live their lives and negotiate their relationships should be open to their freedom of choice. Indeed, many would probably imagine my own personal preferences as fairly prudish.

There is a distinct difference, though, between wishing all to have free choice to pursue their lives and declaring the “gay community” dead because it does not match their vision of life. They may be part of the community, but I am not sure that means we need to mindless accept their political viewpoints because they are part of that community.

Of course, if I am really honest, probably most of this post is really about unresolved conflicts with my liar ex (who told many lies). We did not see eye to eye on such issues.

Doug said...

Thanks for the insightful post. I agree that there are many in "our community" who refer to the end of "gay." The Advocate has had several covers and quotes related to the question: "Is Gay Over?"

I've also read about it in the blogs of other gay activists, referring to how embarrassing it is to see a pride parade with drag queens and boys prancing around almost naked. It was the drag queens and leather daddies that had the balls to start the whole gay pride movement with the Stonewall riots.

How can we be embarrassed by our own pioneers? We should be more embarrassed by ourselves.

As long as there are states in this country that have a list of all the reasons a person can't be fired, but exclude sexual orientation from that list, the "gay" community will still exist. As long as our partners lay alone in hospital rooms because we can't legally visit them, as long as we aren't allowed to automatically inherit our partner's estate, as long as ... you get the idea.

I agree with you, Prof, that our intellectuals are out of touch with our reality. You say it much more eloquently, with much more authority, than I ever could.

Thanks for saying it.

Anonymous said...

I think I might be post gay. It's not a choice though; I was born this way.

I'm not offended by anything you wrote however. I just disagree here and there.

You won't get a job if you show up at the interview drunk, wearing nothing but a pink speedo, and snorting cocaine off the back of your hand.

Jason said...

GayProf is certainly right to point to the "post-gay" as a disturbing trend. It's talked about quite a bit here in MA and if you want to see it, just come here and see us post-marriage. Ugh.

The comments to the post are disturbing though. There seems to be a suggestion that the only options are drunk cocaine-fueled job interviews in pink speedos or being in the mainstream. How sad that we can imagine only the two extremes. There is a middle road that GayProf (i believe) alludes to and homphobia imipacts us daily. I am reminded of Kenji Yoshino's Covering.

There is an opportunity to build community and am happy to see GayProf pointing to it. I am not hopeful though that the post-gay gay will be part of the community. If you don't conform the community to his vision, he isn't going to have any part of it.

MEK the Bear said...

Well, I'm definitely not post-gay, I love being part of the bear, leather, blogger, theatre and polygamous communities.

I agree with you wholeheartedly though, I think the thing most people weren't picking up on is your argument that some "post-gays" feel it's ok to tell other people how to live because they're not comfortable with "our" lifestyles.

Well, too damn bad, get over it, "our" lifestyles afforded you to have "your" lifestyle, this seperation and declaring of one persons life as unproductive is not only ridiculous, it's dangerous.

ladyjax said...

I went to San Francisco's big Pride Parade for the first time in almost a decade because friends were in town; my girl and I missed the SF Dyke March the night before which was a big disappointment.

I came away from the parade feeling highly amused and yet curiously let down.

The 1986 NYC Pride March was the first one I ever went to. Given the times, there was much more urgency in what people had to say and how they expressed themselves. There was, however, an air of protest. There was music and partying, don't get me wrong, but given the way the NYC march was organized, the political stuff came first and the party came second.

Over time, I've noticed how "march" became a "parade", that with increased acknowledgement of relative spending power, corporate sponsors have come knocking at our doors. What was once something that most of those folks wouldn't touch with a ten-foot poll has become an advertising opportunity.

I realized yesterday that's what was missing: the air of urgency, of Pride day being not only a day to celebrate but a day to remember the past as well as work hard and loudly for a much better future - one that we would chart for ourselves.

There was no agenda, nothing that fired up the blood and made you want to raise your fist and scream to the heavens that we were weren't going anywhere anytime soon.

That lack of focus makes it easy for mainstream sources to dismiss the gay communities (it's not just one, really) or reduce everything down to one easily digestible sound bite ('gay marriage!') while ignoring a host of other issues that affect large segments of people (housing, immigration, health care, etc.) who otherwise don't fit the neat, clean-cut, New Gay appearence.

And that is the reason I do appreciate the Dyke March (aside from the fact that it is woman-only, woman-focused space at a time when there is little left). There are stated goals and a mission, and yeah, some public displays of naked boobs which are dangerous to a whole lot of people. There's a party and yet there is a purpose. And even if the mainstream doesn't pick up on it, for those of us that go, it's a reminder that all is not well and that we still have work to do. I'll be attending the local Black Pride celebration in Oakland for many of the same reasons: focus, purpose, and no lack of party.

We can have both; we can still offer a critique of the mainstream and our own communities as well as celebrate accomplisments and outrageousness. It just feels like one part (politics) has been dropped and the party is all we have left.

Joe.My.God. said...

Another winner, GayProf!

Even here in NYC, arguably the gayest city in the country, I hear the post-gay discussion all the time. I am constantly enraged by these whitebread assimilationists that want to distance themselves from the queens, butches, and otherwise "flamboyant" people, whom they see an embarrasment. Some of the commenters here appear to be exactly those sort of people. Bah!

Dorian said...

The "post gay" sensibility has always struck me, not as an assimilationist urge, a desire to be "part of the mainstream" rather than part of a sub-culture, but more of an abandonment of dealing with political and social issues related to being gay. It's a wilful denial of the fact that discrimination and inequality still exist, and a choice to remain invisible. As if acting like nice, nonthreatening queers will magically put an end to anti-gay discrimination and harassment.

brett said...

pride does still matter.

this may be a little off your topic, but, as i've said other places, pride is so important to me because it informs and furthers our collective historical narrative.

my generation (and those even younger) need pride. we need to see where we've come from and who we can be and what that means... maybe these "parades" aren't the best vehicle for our cultural "scrapbook" but right now, it's about all we've got.

...and as usual, my hat is off to you, gayprof! you always provide some sort of intellectual stimulation... and you're always welcome in chicago! i'll keep some "beads of doom" ready for you.

Perverse Adult said...

It upsets me greatly that rather than being used to destabilize and challenge heteronormativity, poststructural/Queer theories are so frequently used in ways that reinforce race and class privileges as well as hierarchies of respectability and sexual shame.

I do believe in challenging coherent constructions of gay identity, but as part of a more radical process of acknowledging diverse sexualities outside the white middle-class patriarchal heternormative ideal. I think Queer Theory is most useful when it throws open the definition and boundaries of Queer identity and allows us to move beyond narrow forms of gay identity politics with white middle-class male blindnesses and biases. But I agree that this still totally necessitates public presence and activisms for marginalized communities. I'd love to see Queer Pride celebrations become forums for diverse actions to challenge heteronormativity and its intersections with white supremacy, capitalist imperialism and patriarchy.

Wouldn't it be awesome to see "Straight Men who Love Taking Dildoes up the Ass" marching alongside "So-Called Welfare Queens for the Dignity of Single Mothers"??

Sean said...


You won't get a job "if you show up at the interview drunk, wearing nothing but a pink speedo, and snorting cocaine off the back of your hand" if you're straight either. Being a coked out whore isn't the exclusive domain of homosexuals. We just get more press for it. Straight folk aren't going to shine that kind of a spot light on themselves.

I have never lived as a openly gay man anywhere besides Utah. And if living a quiet suburban life makes me "post-gay" then I guess I'm post gay. If believing that homos should quiet down and conform is the definition of "post-gay," I am most decidedly not.

This year Salt Lake City had the largest Pride celebration I've seen in the six years I've been out. This after several years of "quiet (read boring) 'marches,'" this year, to name a few, we had drag queens, hot boys dancing in underwear, bears, Dykes on Bikes, and (unique to Utah, I am sure) gay Mormons participating in the parade. I was elated to see the rebound from our apparent attempts at normalcy.

Only the in your face activists have ever said you have be an in your face activist to appreciate and strive for diversity in society.

Adam said...

I had a fabulous weekend in SF that just so happened to be during Pride. I know that it matters because in our party was a gentleman who had just recently come out and this was his first big gay outing. Seeing his alacrity for the event and wanting to experience everything made me realize that pride is not only for those of us who know who and what we are but for those who are uncertain and need to hear their friends calling from outside the closet, pleading them to come out and play.

Lo said...

I have not heard of "post-gay" until today. and so of course, I googled this term out of curiosity, and came upon this page.

I now realize I am definitely post-gay. but this is my reason.

By running around proclaiming your pride for being gay, you are indeed separating yourself from the rest of the world. Everybody goes through problems, gay, straight, what have you.

Of course I have been discriminated against for being gay, but I am not a victim... I take responsibility for myself, and I choose not to react.

Being gay is not who I am as a person, it is simply what I do in the bedroom...

point being, you don't see "straight pride parades," you see that would be homophobic! you don't see "white pride parades," you see that would be RACIST!

I choose to live a nice, relaxed life... or as you call it a "straight life." But if I am living this life, and I am gay... wouldn't that be.. a "gay life"..

Pride is simply a way to make a scene, to draw attention to something about you, that might not otherwise be noticed. The way to fight discrimination, is NOT to ostracize yourself further, but simply deal with the discriminator.

That's just my opinion. [=