Everyone, turns out. But this year’s Pride is particularly for queer people of color. This Pride recognizes that police brutality in this country is continuing to hurt and kill black queers and black trans people, and that their struggle for existence is our struggle. I’m glad for the ways we queers have put those faces, names, voices, and histories at the forefront of our parades.
How Pride is for everyone involves sex. I’m writing this from a housesitting gig in the Oakland hills, which feels like the suburbs, and when I walk the dog I pass the same sign posted on different houses’ lawns:
“Love is love” is the Okay With Queers part. It’s the assimilationist message that says it’s wrong to deny us equal rights, because we’re at heart just like straight people.
What Pride is for? Reminding the world that, also, sex is sex.
We mean two things by that. One: sex is not separate from what defines a queer person. Queers love people just like heteros do. Queers breathe using their lungs just as heteros do. The argument for our rights and respect doesn’t hinge on proving to heteros that we aren’t different, it hinges on demanding that heteros accept difference. It demands the end of discriminating because of difference. The sex you have is the sex you have, and the sex I have is the sex I have. Now let me fucking add my partner as a dependent for my work benefits.
Two: Sex is not a demonstration of your virtue or righteousness. This is the real exciting gift of Pride. Let me explain.
Every queer’s life begins from a place of being told their desires are wrong, or if not wrong, abnormal. I mean their desires for the kind of sex they want to have, or their desires for the gender identity they want to express.
I imagine every straight life begins with some version of this story, too. Because remember, if you go to school in some states, the only guilt-free sex you’re allowed to have is when a masculine-presenting husband puts his penis inside his female-presenting wife’s vagina, usually with him on top.
Kids are still being taught that that’s what sex is.
However, every queer’s life reaches a point where they stop heeding lies about their desires. Often they do it once they find each other and realize they’re not alone. Sometimes they do it in isolation. Either way, it makes them heroes. These are the heroes we celebrate each June.
If you like more variety in your sex without feeling bad about it, thank queers. If you like sex not to follow proscriptions but rather affirm your and your partner’s autonomy, thank queers.
Is why a pride parade, when it’s done well, puts sex at the center. Dykes in leather. Bears in jockstraps. Femmes in body paint. Femmes in jockstraps. And, yes, kinks of all stripes. Which is an argument I thought we were done with in the queer community.
But In recent years, some online queers have begun complaining about the presence of kinks and nudity at pride. People attending pride do not consent to your kinks goes the argument. It’s an update of an older, sadder argument that goes something like This is what the homophobes point at to show how we’re all degenerates.
These complaints come from people who do not understand what a queer person is or what Pride is for. They accept sexual shame as a valid force. They believe that queer pride can exist alongside sexual shame. They insist that we queers accommodate the shame of others.
It feels and sounds like progress and radical politics, but it’s neither. Though he’s speaking specifically about the gay male community, Michael Warner can maybe better illuminate the trap I’m getting at:
Identity, like stigma, tars us all with the same brush, but it also allows us to distance ourselves from any actual manifestation of queerness. We only share the identity and its stigma, in fact, because identity has been distinguished from sexual acts and their shame…. Thus there always seem to be some gay people who are shocked, shocked to find that others are having deviant sex. They will have you know that their dignity is founded on being gay, which in their view has nothing to do with sex. If others are having sex—or too much sex or sex that is too deviant—then those people have every reason to be ashamed…. But to have a politics of one without the other is to doom oneself to incoherence and weakness. It is to challenge the stigma on identity, but only by reinforcing the shame of sex.
The worst part of the new resistance to sex at Pride are the complaints that children cannot (by dint of their age) consent to seeing it in public, which reeks of the age-old lie equating queerness with child abuse. It’s a deeply conservative tactic: won’t somebody think of the children?
“Children can’t consent to your kink” is true if your notion of consent involves two adults saying yes to each other. But kinksters have been marching in our parades longer than the children you claim to be protecting have been alive. If you believe your kid’s sexual autonomy and growth is damaged by their watching sluts whip each other or crawl along the ground on leashes, then don’t bring your child to a celebration that’s all about transcending sexual shame. Stay home and talk to them about what pride has always been about.