Before I begin, I need to say that I’m a bit of a hypocrite. Every year since I’ve felt confident enough, I have attended Pride events in Newcastle and Manchester. I thoroughly enjoy them, and the feeling of being in a majority for once brings out lots in me. I get noticeably camper (if possible); I dance in clubs with more confidence, and I flirt more. Pride brings out exactly that: an un-ashamedness that the rest of the year prohibits.
So, when I go on to say that a tiny part of me is glad Pride is not going ahead, naturally ‘hypocrisy’ rises to the forefront. For despite its many strengths, there is a savage set of expectations. I am not well suited to jockstraps and Topman fishnet t-shirts, being more partial to a camp feather boa, so in amongst it at Pride, I sometimes feel a little alien.
This, I am convinced, is not merely the usual social anxiety that comes with attending events. At my first Manchester Pride, I remember encountering the Gay Gordons, an all gay Morris Dancing group, who were involving members of the public in a dance. It was a wonderful moment of unity and fun getting to dance with them, but I remember being looked down on by a few passers-by, as though we were doing the wrong thing. I was drunk enough not to care, but I am certain that if sober (rare at Pride) it would have been harder for me to join in.
This is the point I wish to make, that Pride is simultaneously a place of liberation from a minority societal position, whilst also having its own expectations and restraints. There is a culture of very white, very thin, very male judgment at Pride, well documented by others, that makes one feel, no matter how at ease, also a little nervous.
There have been a few advancements recently in attempting to shock this culture away from Pride, such as the increased representation of fetishists at events, such as the Dog People. You will have no doubt seen them at pride, dressed in leather dog outfits with immodestly positioned holes. Now, given I always preferred Mr Bingley to Mr Darcy, it will come as no surprise when I say that the dog fetish holds little appeal over me. However, I am proud that these people marched behind me in Newcastle on my first ever parade, whilst a group of ASDA till workers went before me, all in perfect harmony. I almost envy them – their confidence, certainly.
Black Pride too, is a welcome addition, one that I hope will make the abhorred ‘White Gays’ think twice before they berate and ignore black gay men under the pathetic façade of ‘personal preference’. Hopefully, this will spur some much-needed reflection, and celebration of people of colour. I was glad to see that on Black Out Tuesday, Black Pride’s tweet that we ought to celebrate black figures that have inspired and educated us was taken up. Let’s use this newly cleared time to heed their recommendations.
Also, Manchester’s Pride event seems to be challenging the emergent norm of large corporate events with huge sponsors and expensive price tags. Their event is organised amongst the clubs and bars of Canal Street, with one weekend fee covering free entry to most establishments, and given it’s in the North, the drinks are not unreasonable.
Hopefully, in alleviating the pressure of Pride, we can take this summer to remember our roots as a community and reconcile in 2021 with a more measured, kinder event that refocuses itself on radical politics and inclusion; on the human side to all this, rather than the relatively superficial.
A balance can be struck. I remember, at that first Pride of mine in Newcastle, how after the parade we went to local bar Rusty’s. After meeting the drag queen with one of my all-time favourite names – Cara Van – I went to the loo. Upon my return, an old man, late fifties at least, was sat at our table, chatting to my friend. My heart sank. I was a little drunk and wanted to enjoy myself, not awkwardly suffer a pestering old man, hell-bent on conversing. On a park bench, on an inconsequential day, I would stay gladly – but it was my very first Pride.
Obviously, since this is a moral tale to round off an article, I was wrong. He was in fact a long-time member of an all gay rugby team, and he proceeded to tell of his struggle coming out, being kicked out, and his relationships. He told me how two of his long-term partners had died of AIDS; that he cared for them both in their final months and moments; how his mother apologised in the last years of her life and welcomed him back into the family. He looked out fondly when he spoke of them, clearly at the point in his life where their memories triggered fondness, not tears.
He said how proud he was that, on that day, he could sit and drink in a bar, proudly gay, un-hectored, unassuming. ‘Guilty’ doesn’t come close to how I felt. He asked if he could sit with us, which of course he could, and we chatted until he insisted on leaving. I went on to have a good evening, a nice dance, and a flirt – everything you’re supposed to.
I never caught his name, but whoever he was, he was the meaning of all that celebration. Whilst Pride brought me to him, it simultaneously held me back, and I know that only my disposition to listen to old people and my friend, who loves this kind of thing too, were the things that stopped me from finding another seat.
This year, I hope people see that Pride is a place for stories like this as well, not just twinks, ket, and a sprinkling of ASOS. I always loved the drag, the Gay Gordons, the diversity, the Dog People, and all that is antithetical to being composed and rigid. Where that comes from – the African American voguing houses in New York, the Cabaret clubs of London, Canal Street’s illegal cruising – is being eroded in place of a stale, corporate cut-out of beauty standards and coldness. I hope this year’s considerations give way to something more accepting, loving, and fun in years to come.