Pride, People, and Perseverance
Pride’s over for another year, making this the week of recuperation for many local folks. I always need some downtime after Pride, but this year especially. Maybe it’s a result of long-term exposure to this oppressive city, maybe it’s a growing lack of patience, or maybe I’m just losing my touch a little; for whatever reason I find myself needing significant self care after this year’s Pride side effects of overwhelming planning, hours of work, heat exhaustion, and the annual broken heart.
I rushed out from the tarp-lined picnic shelter “dressing room” and stood beside the Northern Kentucky Pride stage. From the small park I could see the signs of the river, and my city on the other side. I thought of the Cincinnati Pride festival that would be held there the following day, and the involvement my fellow performers and I were denied. I looked at my troupe, exhausted, overworked, over-stressed, and emotionally injured. I was pissed off. We all worked hard, we all loved our city, and we didn’t deserve such mistreatment. Desperate for an attitude adjustment, I turned to one of my troupe members and gave myself a pep-talk: “We’re here for the community, and sometimes you have to put up with bullshit to make a difference. We’re here because we love our community.” I walked onto the stage and for the next thirty minutes I tried to forget my hurt and outrage and focused on creating something good. When you work for justice and inclusion there is only one road to take: the high road. Instead of creating a number that promoted the oppressive truth about community we have I painted a picture of the inclusive community I wished we had. (the stage was too small for us to do all of our planned movements, so some of it is a little spur of the moment). I told everyone to bring something real into it. Maybe it was the heat exhaustion or the pent up frustration or both, but by the end I unexpectedly broke down on stage. Thankfully T kept me from crying much, tears and glitter eye shadow don’t mix.
The next day I walked through the Cincinnati “Equinox” Pride festival in my home made “The First Pride was a Riot” t-shirt. I’ll admit it, despite my resentment I was glad to see that so many people had come out. It was a beautiful sight to see the city square bustling with “gay” – regardless of how white and normative that “gay” was. I lingered in the small collection of activist oriented booths – mostly national orgs; the rest were all corporate shopping. There was not a single trans focused or people of color focused organization there. I looked over the huge, wonderfully positioned stage, it only made me angry. I read over the 11 act line-up. It was clear that the issues of no having enough space were legit; I can see why there was such a stress about accommodating performers in the well over seven hours of stage time that day (surely you can sense the sarcasm, but just in case you can’t: please note the sarcasm). All the performers where queens or gay men except for the rainbow marching band and one performance group representing drag kings; a relatively new troupe that advertises itself as “the best in gender bending performance in the city” (even though few people have heard of them, so I’m curious as to where this title came from). Oh and did I mention that this troupe is run by the same person who did all the Pride performance bookings? I’m sure there is no connection between that and that there were no other kings allowed… I watched the small parade of churches, bars, companies, and non-profits; I tried to take it in, feel the pride of my community, enjoy the love I saw in front of me but it didn’t heal the hurt I was feeling. I once again found myself searching for someone like me and like years before, I never found them. I didn’t feel proud. I didn’t feel loved. I felt alone.
There are not enough trans or queer folks on this planet to ever justify non-inclusive behavior, especially in a place this conservative and oppressed. There are just not enough of us to allow prejudice, exclusion, selfishness, egoism, greed, or, most of all, failure. Notice that failure is not the same as making mistakes. This whole Pride ordeal (as it continues) is not a mistake, it is a failure; a failure to support the community, to take responsibility for mistakes; a failure at being inclusive and creating a space that everyone can take part in; a failure to listen to one’s own people, to accept hands reaching out, crying out for help, for comradeship; a failure to be proud of Cincinnati’s trans and queer community, the entire community. I am angry, I am heart broken, and while being able to conceptualize fucked up motivations of these organizers I can not rationalize them and I am finding it increasingly hard to forgive them.
I may not agree with everything Equinox Pride organizers do and I definitely abhor the way that they do it, but I recognize that they are a part of my community and therefore deserve respect and human decency. On the surface it may seem like Equinox Pride organizers feel that way too, but under the surgace there is dishonesty and egoism, privilege and separatism; these can never be constructive tools for healthy community building, no matter how good the intentions are. And despite my own good intentions this weekend I also struggled. Through my smiles I knew my composure was not as civil as I wanted it to be, I just couldn’t hold it together. I shook hands and smiled, I was polite and respectful, but I was not warm. I really tired, but like a dog on a leash I was caught, unable to pull myself from civility over into friendliness. But I also I wonder if it was better that way as a part of holding people accountable. Would I be enabling their behavior, excusing it even, if I smile warmly, embracing them like there wasn’t a problem? Or is it better to be civil and professional, yet reserved to show respect yet also recognize that the issue is there and unresolved. I wonder if I let my community down because I could not grow past my own internal hurt and anger. It is hard to keep running at a wall; pushing for inclusion and recognition, giving respect without any return, trying to love those who continue to prove that they don’t love you. And through the exhaustion, I am left with only one thought, “Why?” But this is my city. This is my home. These are my people. I am not giving up.