For me Pride is complex. Raised in a cis, binary, heterosexual world that gave me zero role models and was oblivious to my existence means that like many, I didn’t realise my identities were queer until later in life. After three years, I still haven’t referred to queer history as ‘our history’ or the LGBTQIA+ community as ‘our community’. That seems presumptuous. And I hit these difficulties before considering what often looks to me like performative corporate allyship, companies mass producing queer products to capitalise on profits and people all saying ‘happy pride,’ while Florida’s government policies actively reshape it into a queer hellscape.
Pride Right Now
Pride At Work
I haven’t mentioned that its Pride Month at work. Work has been insanely busy, we’re all sick and there’s hardly a moment or the headspace to comment on something that isn’t work. I’m also the only openly queer person in my workspace and while my colleagues are kind, well meaning people, there’s a lot of ignorance. I’m not sure how much interest there is for things queer or how to proceed when I’m the only person flying the rainbow flag before all my cishet colleagues.
So I’m mostly seeing Pride online, packed with corporate performative allyship posts, and ‘love is love’ and ‘lets work together to make things better.’ And the cynical part of me wonders if that post is the only thing that organisation will do during Pride month (or ever), to support queer people. I’m sure some groups do more, but it almost feels like being accepting of queer people is politically correct, and socially and morally obliged, and mass displays of it at this one time of year can feel insincere.
On the flip side, so many organisations publicly displaying their acceptance of queer people does, as many recent tweets have pointed out, show the haters that hating on queer people isn’t the norm. That such hatred is unwelcome in many spaces. And while that causes initial inevitable backlash (which I’m fortunate enough to have only seen online, not irl), I share the optimism that it will ultimately help normalise being queer (especially being trans!).
Indie Author Pride Online
I was grateful when Indie Book Spotlight started #IndiePride2 and I had a means of connecting with fellow queer authors. One of the prompt questions was: what does Pride mean to you? To some on the hashtag, its a celebration of how far queer people and our status in society has come. From being gay being illegal and legally defined as a mental illness, to gay marriage being legalised in many countries, for example. But also a time to protest, and to look at what still needs to be achieved. I’d define that partly as every homophobic argument made against gay men in the 80’s/ 90’s now being argued against trans people, and the legislative assault trans people are coming under, in Florida and California in particular.
Reaching Pride, Space to Be Queer
But before discussing the present and future, I’d like to look back to how I personally and many others came to the realisation we are queer, and Pride is for us. Because things don’t just happen in a vacuum, and many of us were unable to recognise our identities for a long time, because to us our world was a vacuume.
Queerness in The 90’s
I had no idea I was queer as a child. I played with girls. I played with boys. I played with girls and boys toys. I liked pretty clothes and pragmatic clothes. And like many 90’s kids, I knew you could be gay or straight. And that was about it. It didn’t stop me from punching bullies back. ‘Girls didn’t do that’, and I ‘was a girl’ in everyone else’s eyes. But I saw the world as I saw it, I thought what I thought, felt what I felt, believed what I believed and would not tolerate shit I would not tolerate. I demanded male respect while presenting as female in a sexist era. I suppose in some ways I was ‘one of the boys’ and in others ‘one of the girls’ and nowhere did I truly fit.
Queerness in The 2000’s
‘Transexual’ was mentioned a little more then. The notion of a ‘man in a woman’s body’ and you could ‘get a sex change’. It was such early days for gender diversity. There were still such rigid expectations for women. Slut shaming was still at full throttle. But the ‘metrosexual’ was coined. Men were starting to break free of recent limitations in male gender expression, some growing their hair out, experimenting with make up, etc. And that helped me, because I realised those men were more feminine than I, and I more masculine than them. There was a little more space for me to recognise my own gender diversity.
Of course, there was still nothing like a single role model of anyone I wanted to be when I grew up. Because the gender binary was still an absolute power. But Blink 182 were rocking the charts alongside ‘metrosexual’ male artists and there seemed a little more room for queer existence than before. I even heard the terms ‘bisexual’ and ‘lesbian’. By my late teens, people were starting to say that using ‘gay’ as an insult was disrespectful to gay men and were beginning to discourage others from doing so.
It felt like millennials were starting to make and or create space to be alternative. To break away from the mainstream. Including to be queer. But so many queer labels and identities were so little, or not even understood, that for many of us, this was a time where we struggled to be what we could not see.
You Can’t Be What You Can’t See
Let me put not having labels or definitions for who I was into context. When I was 10 years old (in the 90s), I went to a family event and a male relative was there with a friend of his. My dad quietly told me, “That’s his boyfriend.” By the early 2000’s, another family member had joined the Melbourne Gay and Lesbian choir, and attending that choir’s Christmas Carols for several years became a family tradition.
I had the privilege of being raised in a family where queer family members who recognised themselves as such were welcomed, and where Pride was totally accepted. It was a very safe environment for me to ‘come out.’ But it wasn’t enough. ‘Gay’ meant loving the opposite or opposite and same sex back then. It didn’t mean not romantically loving anyone. It didn’t mean not experiencing sexual attraction. ‘Everyone’ in fiction, on tv, in books, in the movies, in real life ‘wanted’ a girlfriend/ boyfriend, and ‘wanted’ to have sex with them, sometimes on the first meeting, which I always found absurd. And ‘everyone’ everywhere ‘was a man or a woman.’
So What Am I?
Its very challenging to be proud of who you are, when you don’t even have names for the things you are. (Trust me, I’ve spent over 30 years trying to do just that 😉). I respected gays, lesbians and bisexuals. I liked how they just did their thing, despite peer pressure, despite prejudice. That they went out every day defying what most people expected them to be, and were just themselves. I tried to do the same, on my own, with no role modelling what so ever, because I didn’t have labels or a clear definition of who I was, nor any examples about how to express myself as a person.
Pride as Living Space
So how can anyone be queer when you’re queer in a way that’s ‘not a thing’? Let alone how do you be proud about it? If I felt masculine, I did masculine. If I liked a guy but didn’t actually want to ask him out, or even date him, I didn’t ask him out and tried not to encourage him too much. I slowly clawed my way towards a wardrobe balancing feminine and gender neutral attire. I wrote books from female and male perspectives, alternating between them as much as I wanted.
But I didn’t gain clarity about who I was, or how to more happily be me, until I started seeing others trying to do the same. I shrugged off the many people suggesting I try online dating because ‘surely I must want a romantic and sexual partner because isn’t that what every human wants’? I moved house, country etc (surrendering to the ADHD desire for novelty and challenges, long before recognising I had ADHD ‘only boys had ADHD in the 90s’ 🙃). That was a convenient excuse for never bothering to date, because I never lived anywhere long. But neither I nor anyone else had terms for what I was, so they kept expecting me to want what I didn’t want.
Pride as You Can Be Who You Can See
I know many people are wary of politics on Twitter, or fear it as a hellscape, even before current management took over. But Twitter was where I found Pride. No, not the month. Pride as in people who put things in their bios like ‘asexual’ or even… they/them pronouns. I started meeting and interacting with people who were queer beyond being same or same and opposite sex attracted. I learnt from them and we learnt from each other that there are so many other queer identities. That humanity has far more ways of being than the exceptionally limited cookie cutters society had been jamming us all into since childhood, despite plenty of us never fitting.
As I said in my blog Identifying as Nonbinary, identifying my pronouns and telling them to other people was an outward way to give myself permission to be my nonbinary self. To wear feminine, masculine or gender neutral clothing. To relate to other people as just a person, even and especially when they want to relate to each other and everyone else as ‘woman’ or ‘man.’
Many in my queer generation (and earlier generations) have had to overcome the disconnect between blundering through the dark to define and express ourselves and society inventing names for us 20, 30 even 40 years later. You have this vague sense of who you are and how to be you, and then these external, ‘foreign’ labels and gender identities pop up, and it can take years for you to realise you are that thing and it is a part of you.
Pride to Save Time
Let’s fast forward to the present. Now its not just Gay & Lesbian, its LGBTQIA+. Not only can you be bisexual, you can be pansexual. You can be aromantic, or asexual or demisexual. Its trans people now, trans men and women, a gender appropriately named as a gender and not lumped in with the word ‘sexual’ even though it isn’t a sexuality. And you can be nonbinary, and gender queer and agender and SO MANY things. And with names, and definitions and books like Heart Stopper and shows like Umbrella Academy, people can see their gender and sexuality in fiction. With safe online spaces and pronouns and sexualities in bios, people can see diversity in online life.
Its no longer necessary to blunder through the dark. There are names to go with identities, and fictional and real life people to look to as examples. Its easier than ever to find your queer people, to not be alone. To have people to share experiences and challenges with. To ask questions of. To find your way on your journey of being and expressing your authentic self with.
And then there’s the bigots.
Get Back in the Closest
Yes, that’s exactly what a religious nut job recently told me, right after accusing me personally of turning western civilisation into a circus for daring to encourage, via public tweet, people to live as their queer selves. Its easy to laugh off extremists like that. And people running around saying, “the Bible says its a sin, don’t be proud to be queer” when the supposed lord and saviour of these supposed Christians said stuff like “let he who is without sin throw the first stone” and something about attending to the plank in one’s own eye before attending to the speck in one’s neighbour’s. And who, despite popular opinion in some circles that he said “hate thy neighbour” actually said “love thy neighbour as thyself.”
But Pride Month had barely began before the book What is a Woman, so packed full of attacks on trans people’s existence that I soon forgot it supposedly related to women, was released. And people are tweeting about ‘Family Pride Month,’ you know, ‘family’ as defined by bigots, in opposition to all things queer. Then there’s the ‘when do we get straight pride month?’ crowd, who are so used to everything always being about them that a whole month dedicated to someone else is apparently more than they can cope with.
A lot of the above may just be noise. But the 369 anti-trans bills currently active in the United States are not. These bills include things like denying teachers and students the right to be addressed by pronouns not matching their biological sex on their birth certificate (which would misgender me). They include limiting gender affirming care (care which spares people being trapped in a body that every time you see its reflection isn’t you, because it doesn’t match your gender, aka dysmorphia).
I’ve been very lucky with dysmorphia. My body is a mix of classic masculine and feminine traits. Only seeing myself on film do I see someone whose face or expressions aren’t right, or their voice sounds wrong. Its like watching a mockery of myself, when it is actual footage of me. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. To wish, let alone force dysmorphia on people is to wish them mental illness and self harm. And that’s exactly what Desantis seems to be praying to God for trans people to have.
So much has been gained in recent decades. Pride Month seems to get bigger each year. And yes, it is nice to say ‘happy Pride!’ and to celebrate all the queer community is and has achieved. And queer joy can be a rare thing, so much so that I don’t feel I can enter my queer ownvoices book in an author contest specifically for queer authors, because the contest is for books about “the struggle to be queer in the modern world”. So yes, there’s room to celebrate, for queer joy and plenty to be PROUD of.
But its the fight that sticks with me in 2023. This map of countries where its illegal to be queer won’t surprise experienced travellers like myself. But even to a casual observer, people referring to all LGBTQIA+ people as groomers (see Twitter) and claiming all of us are pedeophiles (see #NotADragQueen for convicted, actual child sex offenders) looks to me like people getting their ducks in a row before they shoot them. What is a Woman was described in this partly theatrical, but also thoroughly researched documentary as a rallying cry to incite hatred of and violence towards trans people. Having watched her full analysis of the book, I agree with Jessie Earl’s interpretation of it.
Yet so many bigoted morons on Twitter are tweeting ‘what rights are trans people being denied?’ Meanwhile a certain rich white woman would like everyone to believe cis women are victimised by the existence of trans women. And so many misogynists are happy to ‘defend’ TERFs against the existence of trans women (including literal, self identified fascists in my own city).
Pride to me?
In his monologue in June 2022, First Australian Mene Wyatt said “silence is violence.” A blog about Melbourne’s fascists expressed the view that most people, whom it called ‘normies’ truly oppose the ‘evil transes’. If fascists like that don’t hear people articulating that we actually don’t think trans people should be eradicated (yes, the Melbourne fascist banner called for exactly that), than Mene Wyatt is right. We’ll have haters committing violence in the name of ‘normal people’/ the bulk of the human population against LGBTQIA+ people —trans people first.
So to me, Pride is my chance to say: don’t let fascists presume they speak for you. Tell people where you stand. So no one can falsely claim to speak for you. Don’t be silent and let others believe they are committing violence in your name. (Fellow Aussies, we can use our voices to VOTE YES in the Voice Referendum, while we’re on the subject 😉). Yes, things have come far for us queer folks and that’s great. But I want to see everything we’ve gained and so many have worked so hard for weather the current storm, futuresurvive and thrive.