Thursday, June 28, 2007

"Gay Pioneers"

My firm's diversity committee sponsored a screening of the short (30 Min) documentary "Gay Pioneers." I went, though I was dreading it. I worried that this film would be the "woe-is-us, we're all victims" whine fest that I despise. I was quite pleasantly surprised. The film was all about the first (pre-stonewall) demonstrations for equal rights for gays and lesbians. The tone of the film was the much more optimistic "we've come such a long way (even if we still have a long way to go)" message that I and I think straight people can better relate to. I actually recommend it highly.

One thing that struck me: in the first Mattachine demonstrations (1965-1968) they had a strict code of dress and conduct. At the time they were fighting the misconception that gays were only a bunch of weirdo queens. Instead men had to wear suits; women had to wear dresses. They had to lower their signs when they played patriotic songs. They had to be respectful but firm. The message they wanted to convey was "we are upstanding citizens just like you." Contrast that with Pride today.

What does this say about us? It could go either way. On the one hand you might say our pride events that resemble gay Mardi Gras are doing nothing more than perpetuate the stereotype that we are weirdos. On the other, you might say, how great it is that we can be so visible, campy, and celebrate our differences without the (great) fear of people throwing stones at us. One could argue that the pride events of today have lost the message in favor of a week long party. Others might argue that Pride is more of a celebration of who we are than it is about gaining recognition, so a party is appropriate.

Not sure yet where I fall. I did enjoy my first "out" Pride this summer. But I do understand the importance of demonstrating that gays are just like ordinary citizens. Nonetheless, coming out of the closet is all about being honest instead of conforming to the requirements of society. These Pioneers in the 60s paved the way for social change that ALLOWS us take a weekend, week, or even whole month in most major cities to celebrate our progress and work towards even more. Then back on the first hand, I know that lots of people look at Pride as a prime example of the "decadence and immorality" of our community, making progress even harder. I don't have an answer here, and I would appreciate hearing your thoughts.


Matt said...

This was a good post. I don't really have any thoughts on the subject matter, but the post was good. The juxtaposition of those photos makes the point very well.

Icon said...

I was at Toronto Pride last weekend; marched in the parade for the third time. My gay pilots group is far from the more bizarre participants although we did have 6 go-go boyz on our float that kept us in the "competition" for prizes beyond the originality category and into the sex appeal arena!

The Pride Parade is a dynamic animal. The symbolism and the real meaning (!!??) are in flux. I am not embarassed or repulsed by those other elements (such as Totally Naked Toronto) but try to keep my mind as open as I wish that others would keep theirs to the larger gay community.

Pink Elephant said...

Thanks matt, I typed it hastily (during an "extended lunch"), but I have since gone back and corrected some of the misspellings. Glad you were looking at the pictures instead :)

Jason said...

I know where I fall. I fall on equality.

Those early demonstrations and many of the early gay rights movements were about showing the world that gays were regular people and deserved rights because of it. That is a good thing, but the problems came when those groups then threw all of the queens and "weirdos" under the bus and excluded them from membership because they weren't the right kind of people and didn't deserve the rights that respectable gays deserve.

It was no longer about equality, but equality for only respectable gays. The GAA broke off the GLF because it didn't want to support other movements like black rights and women's rights. It soon became about not ending oppression, but including gay white men (who are just like regular white men)in oppressing women and non-whites.

Why should how a person dresses dictate what rights they have? I agree the dress code presented a more serious image, but the whole issue is that the image shouldn't matter.

I will agree that pride parades are no longer really protests like they used to. They have become much more a celebration of our right as humans to be ourselves and express ourselves. Which isn't a bad thing by itself. We just to have more serious marches, not necessarily dress or act differently, but ones where we differentiate from celebrating who we are by having a big fun party and marching in angry passionate protest of being oppressed. We have an odd mix of the two right now and it does take away.

Ultimately, for me, the most important things is that gay rights is not about gay rights. It's about oppression of many different peoples. The only any of us are going to succeed is if all of us oppressed peoples work together, instead of tearing each other apart while all of us continue to be oppressed. This means gays, women, minorities, the poor, all oppressed groups must work together, for each other, to end oppression.

Part of this is accepting all the different types of people out there. Oppression is oppression. No group ever deserves it. No matter how they dress or act. Everyone deserves to be treated equally. It's that kind of spirit that pride parades have come to embrace and is something I want to keep. We are not how we dress, we are not who we sleep with, we are not how we talk, we are not even who we are. We are human beings and as such deserve to be treated with equal dignity.

However, no matter how we dressed or acted... the oppressors never want to give up their privilege. We could dress like an army of the "upstanding citizen." It wouldn't make a difference. They'd find some other reason to justify their right to privilege, to treating us like less than them. People are rarely willing to give up privilege and power.

I kinda got lost ranting about this, but my class last semester spent a lot of time on these issues and it's something I get passionate about.

Tim in Italy said...

The Mattachines were a product of their time, but I don't believe they accomplished very much in terms of advancing gay rights. That came with the Stonewall Riots and it was the drag queens leading the charge all the way. In many ways we owe our first toe hold on the real estate we enjoy today, because the "freaks" were the only ones who had the balls to say, "that's enough".

But the majority of us strive to be good boys and girls. Get good grades, play by the rules, fit in... get pushed around, possibly even killed. Good guys finish last, because it is an unfortunate fact of life that you usually have to fight to get what you want. And there's no half-way when you're going into a fight. Trying being a nice, reasonable guy with Chris Matthews and see where it gets you. I think we can judge our effectiveness by how many people are pissed off at us.

Lastly, I think we are only dimly aware of where all of our advances are leading us. I have seen a few essays on it, heard a few comments, but eventually we will have to answer the question of whether or not we are a separate species all together. Sounds kinda science fiction-y, I know, but think back to those first vague feelings about who you were. That you were different. How do we know things like that well in advance of puberty? We have let our sexual activity define us for a very long time now. It’s time to dig a little deeper than that.

I think maybe Pride is the one time each year we allow ourselves into our own. We think it's camp, but maybe it's reality.

Lewd & Lascivious said...

Although I do very much have an "inner gay man" and am not exactly representative of the Bible Belt mainstream, here's a hetero's view for whatever it's worth.. .
I loved Jason's post. I admit I'm an outsider to these things, but it seems to me that there should be room for all kinds. Not everyone feels comfortable dressing in 5-inch sparkly thigh-boots and a harness: that doesn't mean they're repressed or ashamed of being gay. As a straight, I think gays are the minority that has most successfully and amiably integrated into mainstream society. I've spent my whole life in the Deep Deep South and conservative areas of the eastern seaboard, but I've had the pleasure of knowing all kinds of gay people---buttoned-up professionals, flaming drag queens, and everything in between; bull dykes and ultra-femmes; radical liberals, atheists, Christians, staunch conservatives, you name it. That's pretty awesome, I think.
I've always hated it when other minorities "eat their own"; i.e., shun members of their own group for the "wrong" political/religious/aesthetic preferences. It's self-destructive and really only harms the cause of the minority in question.
I hope to go to Pride one day, because it looks like a lot of fun. I say let everyone be themselves: it's best to deal with people as individuals, and decide whether you like or don't like them based on what is inside, no matter how they dress or speak.

Eric said...

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