As has been my policy since coming out four years ago, I have sought against attending any of this year’s Pride marches or associated events. This, I do, as a bisexual man and as a person who believes that grandstanding of this kind is not good for those who identify as sexual minorities.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I do not say this out of personal umbrage to those who take part in such events. I understand exactly why Pride retains massive support. I am very happy, too, that my LGBT brothers and sisters can find ways to enjoy themselves and their exuberances each year.
Many of them will be relieved to take a trip to London, Brighton or other metropolitan cities, coming from regimented, old-fashioned homes that do not espouse healthy attitudes towards those of the rainbow persuasion.
And nor is it because I am reluctant to ‘express myself’ or feel in any way embarrassed to take part (though I do have a dislike for crowded places, especially in blazing heat). I am content with who I am as a person, my surroundings and what I want and need from my life. The problem lies not with me, but with the messages sent out by Pride events.
The first issue is, of course the name itself. ‘Pride’ is a rather peculiar way of denoting the way individuals feel about a part of themselves that they have no direct control over.
Should those of us who are LGBT be proud of who we are? Yes and no. I take pride in accomplishments, not in things which are out of my control. I think others should do the same.
There is nothing heroic about belonging to a sexual minority. Much debate rages about the influence of nature and nurture, and whether or not we can help who we are, but that is not an argument that I particularly want to get into.
This is not, of course, to say that I believe sexual minorities should hide who they are or feel ashamed of it. For me, coming out at 17, despite not being homosexual, was both challenging and rewarding. We come out and are honest about who we are not because we need attention or to fight against non-existent subjugation; rather we do it because we want those around us to know who we truly are.
I believe that this is a very important principle. Those who ask why there is no ‘Straight Pride’ are very ignorant to the internal pressures that sexual minorities face. Notice that I describe these pressures as internal, which I believe they predominantly are. Homophobia undoubtedly lingers at an individual level, but that does not constitute external oppression.
If we must discuss the oppressing forces that are restricting Britain’s sexual minorities, we need examples. We need to be able to identify institutional biases, their causes and policies to overcome them. If we cannot do that, which I believe we can’t, then I do not think the LGBT community can designate itself as an oppressed class. Rather, they are merely a selection of people coming to terms (often in understandably difficult circumstances) with who they are.
Then there is the second issue. ‘Pride’ implies a counter-force; something from which anti-LGBT prejudices grew. That force was stigma, which derived from popular misunderstanding and more prevalent religious belief. Back in the 1960s, for instance, homosexuality was still considered a mental illness in large parts of the west. Then in the 1980s, an AIDS epidemic contributed to social stigmatisation and forged misleading stereotypes about gay people.
Thirty to forty years ago, it would seem, a force like Pride was ideal for combating these problems. LGBT folk needed a place to say: ‘this is who we are and we are proud of it’. It was a useful barrier against shame.
But, as religion has crumbled, legislation changed and biological understanding strengthened, the need for grandstanding movements has withered and these events have instead been exploited by corporations, who use the Pride movement to market their goods and boost public relations.
I use the word ‘grandstanding’, by the way, because I believe there can be made an important point about the way in which we treat those who do come out. And indeed about ensuing celebration. One of the problems with Pride is that it overhypes and glorifies the significance of coming out. It creates solitude for LGBTQ people that may not necessarily be conducive to acceptance or assimilation.
The extravagance of Pride, unmistaken throughout the world, gives the impression that those who take part belong to a different strand of society. In other words, notable differences are laid bare. It reinforces the idea that those who are LGBT must behave this way, dress this way or look this way. It suggests that they must demarcate themselves as being separate and ‘odd-looking’, when in reality, LGBT people look, behave and dress just as heterosexuals do.
Pride culture has attached to the LGBT community, whether they adhere to it or not, a certain strata of expectations and traits. They must wear outrageous clothing, talk a certain way and exercise different, perhaps more feminine, mannerisms and gesticulations.
It is my belief that, instead of this approach, the more casually we treat coming out, the more effectively we will be able to normalise the process for sexual minorities.
Pride, like with all social justice movements, has a goal: to overcome prejudices. But, in taking part, many of its members subscribe to the very narratives and stereotypical behaviours that become magnets for bullying and misunderstanding.
The problem with social justice movements is that invariably they fight what they perceive to be oppression by adopting methods which are counter-productive to their cause. Racism and sexism are tackled by university students with counter racism and counter sexism. Just as any lasting homophobia is addressed through means which serve only to give life to bigotry.
I think, instead, we should find more appropriate ways of reintegrating the LGBT community into society. We should scale back the attention, the outlandishness and the self-aggrandising policies and go back to basics.
Like the self-fulfilling prophecy, if we want something to be normal we ought to treat it as such. If we don’t, then there is something slightly selfish and sinister about what we’re actually trying to achieve.