This week, Queer McGill will kick off its Pride Week festivities with a smattering of events, including speed-dating, drag performances, and an eighties-themed dance party. McGill’s queer community is diverse, and Pride Week caters to that fact. Whether you’ve been bisexual for years, or you’re just becoming “queerious” – interested in members of the gender you call your own – you might enjoy “coming out” to some of our events.
Maybe you’d like to hang out in a space where you won’t be judged for who you lock eyes with? Maybe you want to smash hetero-patriarchy? Either way, we hope you’re interested in celebrating queer sexualities.
Sometimes people ask us: What does “pride” mean, anyway? And why do queers seem so intent on flaunting it? Fair enough. Perhaps the following will give you a better idea of why Pride is still important. See you this week!
The LGBTQ – that’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer – liberation movement began with a now-legendary standoff known as the Stonewall Riots. In the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, the New York police raided the Stonewall Inn, a tawdry Greenwich Village bar that catered to gay and trans people of color. Although police raids of gay bars were ludicrously commonplace at this time, this particular one sparked unified, violent resistance from patrons and other people in the area. The result was a riotous protest involving hundreds people, who shouted slogans like “Gay power!” and “We want freedom!”
This picture-perfect uprising gave an identity and voice to the queer community, unified together against homophobia. Soon after came fabulous pride parades, political queer groups, and a whole movement dedicated to advancing the notion that queers are equal and amazing people.
Stonewall provided a powerful impetus for the unity and demands of the queer community, but it seems like a different era’s fight. Today, Quebec and Canada forbid discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. McGill and other institutions provide countless services to the queer community. Montreal even has its own gay village. Pride now fights a different battle; our era’s Stonewall riots do not occur in violent confrontations with the police, but in everyday actions that aim to celebrate queer folk.
Pride is an achievement of queer and straight people that promotes unity, solidarity, and appreciation. We all must continue to celebrate pride through discussions and events to create an environment in which queer people are respected and understood as equals. Suggestions like, “People can be gay at home, but shouldn’t block traffic with their rainbow parade,” promote a shameful concept of queer identity as something to be hidden or begrudgingly accepted. To counter this attitude, we must understand queerness not as a disadvantage to be tolerated, but as a way to identify with a tight-knit community, as an amazing way to live one’s life, as something to be proud of.
The closet is so gay
“In the closet” is a pretty fucking appropriate idiom. It’s dark and lonely in there. Pride Week aims to show closeted queers that there is a community out there – no pun intended – that will accept and celebrate who you are. These events also praise those individuals who have had the courage – and it takes a hell of a lot of courage – to assert their sexual identities, and to show the world that queers are wonderful people.
What’s more, coming out publicly can be a powerful political statement; it’s clear that as more people come out of the closet, queer rights movements gain strength. Some see coming out as a moral imperative, a duty you owe to the whole queer community.
The argument goes like this: There are gays who aren’t gay – “closet cases” who everyone knows are queer, but who refuse to come out. Closeted celebrities are a case in point. These are talented and respected people who would make amazing queer role models if they would come out. If only a certain silver-fox news reporter would admit, “I’m gay!” the heterosexist mainstream would be thrown for a loop. Everyone’s favourite single-mom bad-guy-killer could be such a strong voice for the gay-rights movement. But instead, they’re choosing to do a disservice to the community by so conspicuously not publicly coming out.
So, why shouldn’t Perez Hilton just do the outing for them? Because it might affect their careers? Because it might hurt their feelings? And don’t they owe it to the community?
This is where it gets a little grey. Sure, celebrity blogs and Hollywood may be far removed from real life, but this just-come-out-already sentiment is not completely foreign to the rest of the queer community. After all, no one likes a closet case.
But what’s often neglected is that, in some situations, coming out is just a bad idea. Let’s face it: in many cases queers are not treated as full people under the law, whether in the workplace or in eighth-grade classrooms. The goal of Pride is to eliminate the hostility in these environments, but Pride must reflect reality. It shouldn’t encourage exposing oneself to danger.
The choice to come out is intensely personal and contextual. Individuals don’t owe it to anyone to come out until they are ready, especially not if it may endanger them. Queers, out or in, are not de facto members of the queer community by virtue of their sexual identity. The benefits to the queer community of coming out are an exciting bonus, but should never be the driving motivation.
There’s nothing wrong with keeping your foot in the door, just in case you get locked out. It’s your closet, after all. Own it.
Homophobia at McGill? Really?
You might expect a left-leaning queer like myself, given this fine opportunity, to launch into a rant on my experiences of homophobia at McGill. If it were that simple, I would indulge. Instead, I admit: I can’t think of one instance at McGill when I have experienced explicit homophobia. I have not been discriminated against for my attraction to women and trans people in any way that I can remember. Why is this? Have I gotten so used to homophobia that I’ve lost the ability to recognize it for what it is?
Homophobia is not just about sexual practices and desires; it is about gender. I am a female whose gender presentation is sufficiently “femme” so as to not attract glares or fists-in-the-face when I use the women’s washroom. People don’t get my pronouns wrong. When I say I don’t experience homophobia at McGill, I am not claiming that McGill is homophobia-free. Homophobia is expressed differently now. It does its business subtly, permeates our every interaction, and targets “different” queers: queers who are visibly trans, who don’t fit into rigid conceptions of “man” and “woman.”
“Being gay is okay,” it is sometimes said, “as long as it’s not advertised.” But who advertises? It’s hard not to notice the impatient smirks of library personnel who shoot an embittered up-and-down at my trans friend, and then – only because I am with them – at me. At these times, I become most aware of my “deviant” sexual predilections, and start to feel uncomfortable.
Since I tend to be interpreted as an awkward hippie girl – the “girl” part is key – I manage to skip out on a lot of homophobia. Whereas my trans friends tend to be pegged as queer, I can pass for straight. Transphobia, a fear of people and practices that go against “natural” gender, is the molten core of homophobia.
Pride needs to push past the mere acceptance of men who love men and women who love women. It needs to self-reflect and grapple; with taboo desires (BDSM and anal play come to mind); with bodies that don’t fit, nor want to fit neatly into the “he” or “she” of language. Pride is more than an acceptance of people who are attracted to members of the “same sex.” It is founded on respect for trans politics and people – and on the knowledge that we have a long way to go.
– Taylor Lewis
The Meaning of Pride
“Whenever I see a fag, I just want to punch him in the face.”
He meant it. The way he spoke, he could have been talking about bench-press technique, our upcoming tournaments, or the weather. He said it without shame.
We’d been teammates for years, athletes on the Canadian National Wrestling Team – the Olympic sport, not the Hulk Hogan sport-entertainment. He was a buff, tough, straight jock. I was a buff, tough, gay jock.
I’m sure he had no idea that he was staring a fag in the face; that for the past half-hour he’d been training with the object of his disgust; that for years he’d been travelling the world, sharing hotel rooms, with the very person he so violently detested. The camaraderie of his smile underscored the brutishness of his threat. I was afraid.
How should I have responded? I know how I did respond: I laughed, awkwardly. I mumbled something about how violent he was, which he probably took as a compliment. And I hoped, desperately, that he would never, ever, find out that I was gay.
Take a sport that legalizes violence and glorifies pain, add a dose of ignorance and a dollop of reactionary homophobia – “I may wear spandex, but I’m not gay! I swear! Grrrr! Chicks!” – and you have a recipe for a particularly unfriendly environment for queers. So I lied. I lied to save myself from the potentially violent reactions of my undeniably violent teammates. I lied to escape the homophobia of my coach. I lied because it was easy.
But it was only easy in the short term. Lies are suffocating, and after years of hiding I finally ran out of breath. So this summer, I began the process of coming out to my teammates. The response? Shock, but also understanding and respect.
When queers keep quiet about who they are, they also hide the homophobia that lies at the root of their silence. No matter how scary it may be, being honest and open about who I am is my moral obligation. I owe it to myself. I owe it to those who’ve come before, to the Martina Navratilovas and Mark Tewksburys, champions who had the courage to live honestly and openly.
I owe it to the queer kids who are killed in their classrooms and streets. Compared to them, I have it easy.
Only if every queer person comes out and stands tall can Pride make sense. First we must be proud, and soon others will be proud of us.
And sometimes, Pride means risking a punch in the face.
“Whenever I see a fag, I just want to punch him in the face,” he said. I dare him to say it again.
– Tyler Marghetis