I think my disappointment and anger are rooted in the chasm between who I wanted to see and the reality of attendance. I don’t know what I expected — proud, queer people clutching both their partners’ hand and their rights with equal vigor, maybe individuals who looked like me? But when I got off the train, I was greeted by an overwhelming swell of young, straight passing, cis, white women and the reverberating chants of flamboyant, rightfully angered, gay men screaming “I hate straight girls.”
Let’s get this straight (no pun intended), I am a wide-eyed, queer, fem presenting woman of color. I don’t read a lot of queer theory; I don’t know the token words that connote the academic, queer narrative. I am passably straight, arguably the subject of the howls of these men — they push past me, just another straight girl in the crowd at Pride. I am increasingly offended as I shuffle through a buzzing clot of women who are dressed like they’re at a lollapalooza, they’re all drunk or high, they talk too loudly, they take up too much space. I think I look like them.
It took me a really long time to be able to articulate the source of these emotions. Pride’s significance has evolved over the decades from commemorating the Stonewall riots of 1969, to fighting for rights and equality, to demanding representation and recognition; and now, arguably, this day acts as a celebration of inherited gifts from past struggles. The parade is no longer about fighting, it’s not an act of rebellion. But never in the history of Pride has the fight centered around the individuals who receive the privilege of our heteropatriarchal society. The straight guys. So, why then, does the participation of so many straight people feel like they are hijacking the narrative of struggle and suffering that has and will never belong to them? Why does their attempt at allyship feel like robbery, as if their presence attempts to centralize their own discomfort? I would purport that the appropriation of space translates to attention, or that their coming has nothing to do with celebrating the lesbians, and all to do with cheap booze and confetti. There are claims that straight attendance is an act of fetishizing or of jealousy. But I think those are crappy answers to a much bigger question.
We may look to Nietzsche for possible contentions. In his first lesson he discusses the superiority of the clerical caste (analogous to the white folk), this group establishes a dichotomy between the “pure” and the “impure” which leads to values and concepts having intrinsic moral capital in and of themselves, separate from their social or political contexts. That which was considered good and bad were of course determined by the clergy alone. This established Nietzsche’s Master Morality (in opposition to his later discussed Slave Morality); those in positions of power see their actions as inherently good and their hubris leads to that which is not them, or in tandem with their own values, as inherently bad.
Those in positions of power are responsible for constructing and maintaining the systems that neatly packs away each individual onto a rung of the ladder, tattooed with their perceived identity. There are pragmatic advantages coupled with very real consequences for the maintenance of this structure. Denying the voices of the minority and centralizing the voices of the privileged ensures legitimacy (and the advantages that come with that) for those who are used to it. From Leelah Alcorn to Ash Haffner, the suicide list grows as quickly as the denial of the problems, their legitimacy refused and denounced in favor of the privileged; they were always “impure.” The trope of LGBT death on screen continues to eclipse the lived experiences of these people. They ask for a day in celebration of progress.
And now contemporarily, I believe that those on top feel guilty for stepping on the lives of those residing at the bottom. It is guilt that carries them to Pride, believing their participation will somehow amend and ameliorate the systems they have upheld and histories that have been erased.
It is for this reason that I don’t believe allyship will ever make up for the harm the system has imposed. Asking them to step down from power, to step out of the conversation, to step back from the parade, must feel like asking them to give up on an apology. The stakes feel too high for both parties. I am sure that these straight people have the best intentions, they are here to support, to have fun, and maybe to say sorry. They come from all over the city, clad in rainbows, and attempting to understand and maybe deconstruct the oppression they have unintentionally but nevertheless established. My anger makes sense, I am engulfed in a very similar guilt, not wanting to hear an apology, not wanting to move on, yearning for the advantages of pride to be completely divorced from the privilege of the oppressor. Maybe I am too stubborn to accept the attempted assistance of someone more powerful as a helping hand instead of condescending voice.
And so I am here, wading through the puddles of straight people’s laughter and drowning in the thought that maybe I’m the one who’s sorry.