I’m sharing some thoughts in the context of my involvement with a new but growing small town Pride organization. As we move forward with planning our first large scale event, I am feeling the personal need to step back and address some of the challenges we’re facing. The first challenge, at least from the perspective based on my experiences as an individual in society at large as well as within my role as co-facilitator of the organization itself, seems to be defining what Pride is and what communities and individuals it represents.
This is really long, and really personal. No one’s making you read the whole thing or to engage in the subsequent discussion. Just don’t be one of those people who say I didn’t try to explain myself 😉
I don’t get to decide what or who Pride ‘should’ represent; what I do feel obligated to do is speak out on why I’m involved and on what some of the exclusionary deal breakers might be regarding my continued involvement. There are three underlying threads in this discussion: prejudice, solidarity, and the small-p pride behind the upper case sister word.
There are currently, for me at least, a minimum of 5 representative letters that must automatically be included in the Pride-related acronym, LGBTQ; although the challenges faced by individuals and communities are unique, I don’t think I could stay involved in an event, forum, discussion, or organization that excluded any of these from the umbrella term Pride. I would also argue for the inclusion of a N for Non-binary, and I for Intersex, a P for Polyamory, another T for Two-Spirited, for instance, and I would have no fears or concerns that the inclusion of individuals and communities represented by those letters would water down the larger meaning or purpose of any Pride organization.
However, even when we focus on the first 5 letters, we are already seeing evidence of exclusions, in the news and in personal conversations. When Pride first started, it may very briefly have been only about representing gay and lesbian communities. I have read different accounts of history, and it really does depend on who is doing the telling. But I have heard gays and lesbians say that bisexuality is not real. We have heard many members of the larger communities (as well as sadly some feminists) who argue that trans people should not be included in Pride activities or in other aspects of community. And there are also some who think that the Q is either redundant or meaningless.
I’ve tried to explain publicly and privately that I identify as a ‘Q’ (for ‘queer’, or more specifically ‘gender-queer’. And with this full disclosure, it is now not just an academic or preferential matter to discuss why I can or can’t stay involved in a particular Pride organization – I could potentially, by definition of not really fitting into the categories of the founding communities, be excluded from discussions without excluding myself. There is related challenge when it comes to me being in any kind of position of leadership — I can’t and don’t claim to speak for the needs of gay, lesbian, bi, trans, or even of other queer individuals and communities, but I’m going to talk about that below in the context of ‘solidarity’.
There is no doubt a lack of understanding among the public, both inside and outside of the lgbtq spectrum, about the difference between sex and gender. Even that distinction, and the definitions and distinctions within the distinction between sex and gender, raises more problems of binaries than it solves — so perhaps the separate category of Non-Binary really is essential.
There are two familiar ways to explain sex vs. gender: a) sex is the biology you’re born with, gender is a social construct. But as soon as we expand our minds and our active research, we soon see that ‘sex’ too is essentially also a social construct, even if in most cases it seems to be a convenient definition of biological categories of male and female. b) Sex is who you go to bed with, gender is who you go to be as. This particular way of explaining the difference should be clarified for the general public — ‘sex’ in this case refers to orientation, not biology. In any case, you can begin to see the problems with definitions; but if we’re not prepared to even try to wrap our heads around the riddles, then we certainly have no business being prejudiced.
The problem with these particular distinctions has applied to me in a very personal way. Most of my life (childhood, adulthood, continuing), there have been many members of the predominantly straight/cis communities who have presumed that I’m gay. This stopped bothering me quite a few years ago, but what is important is that the reason for the confusion is that the straight community not only clung to stereotypes about the way that gay and non-gay males should act, but that they were also failing to distinguish between gender and sexual orientation. Who can really blame them, these discussions are not generally had with the general public — even though Marlo Thomas and others were doing their best in the 1970’s.
Conversely, most times I walk into a gay bay, patrons seem to sense right away that I might not belong there, although there have been some happy exceptions. There are elements of my history with coming to understand the difference between sexuality and gender that I can’t discuss here, but here the point is a bit different than in the paragraph above: although most members of the gay and lesbian communities were correct that I didn’t share their sexual orientation, they weren’t able to sense the emotional and mental ways in which I might have had more in common with them because of my ‘queerness’ than I could have had with anyone because of a sexual orientation.
Or because of a biology — if anyone wonders why I have no desire to join their men’s only clubs, it’s because first I really don’t identify as all that ‘male’ in gender terms, and second because I don’t think in an evolved civilization, there is really all that much of a need for men’s only groups to start with.
Aside from my personal experience throughout life, though, I am also going to be getting on any soapbox necessary in order to fight for the inclusion of the Trans communities. My real awareness of transgender issues came while attending an educational and activist conference on transgender needs and rights a few years ago in Winnipeg. I don’t proclaim myself an expert on those needs and rights, and I will not speak for them. But what I will say is if they can’t be included in the general acronym, and if they can’t be included (and actively embraced) as colleagues in the struggle for pride and for Pride, then Pride wouldn’t mean anything for me either.
In terms of the kind of solidarity I dream of, though, within the Pride community as well as across other categories of oppression, one of the models that inspires me is intersectionality within the feminist movements. I won’t try to define that here, I will let intersectional feminists, or women in general speak for themselves. I find it interesting though that in my experience as a Q, I have not only felt more kinship with women, with feminists, and indeed with many lesbians, than I have felt in some particular contexts of Pride discussions and activities — partly because the letter Q is not always included in umbrella acronyms and subsequent organizational policies. It’s quite possible that I should be focusing my energies specifically on wider solidarity activities and discussions, rather than on trying to work within the confines of a Pride organization.
The main reason that I’m not giving up on my role in helping to shape this particular small town Pride organization, though, is that I still believe in pride, and in the need for Pride. The individuals and communities represented at the very least by the letters LGBTQ, as well as N, I, and P, need their voices to be heard, particularly when even in Canadian society there is still a great deal of prejudice against them. They/we need the opportunity to stand tall and proud, not only in parades but in our daily lives. Sex and gender oppression are only two kinds of oppression that need to be dealt with in our world. Sex and gender oppression are different from each other, but it happens to be my personal belief that there are common goals best served by being included together under the official umbrella of a Pride organization. I also believe that any Pride organization, especially in a small town, will either fail, or become irrelevant, if it doesn’t represent the entire community of those who experience sex and gender oppression.
I’ve shared this particular set of thoughts because, for various reasons, I believe they are relevant not only to my involvement with Pride, but are also relevant to the kinds of conversations that need to be had if the new local Pride organization is to really get off the ground. Most of all, the success of this latter organization is going to depend on more people speaking up about their own personal, political and community needs, both inside and outside of the LGBTQ context. If there are happen to be some N’s, I’s or P’s who are just waiting to be included in the acronym before they come on board in leadership or participatory capacities, I will be quite happy to either make the executive decision to expand the acronym, or to push for the inclusion through the democratic process.
Which brings me to my final point: in order for the process to be truly democratic, we need a quorum of more committed voices speaking out constructively. We need these voices to speak in spirits of diversity and solidarity and pride. I really don’t talk as much in person as I do in writing. This bothers and disappoints some people, and for some it’s an opportunity to do all the talking themselves without letting others get a word in edgewise. But despite sharing so many thoughts here, I’m extending the open invitation for others to join a committed working group/founding membership of this particular Pride organization. I’ve been wanting to pass the torch almost as soon as I got started, for different reasons. Apparently I can’t resign until such a committed working group is in place, but if this is the case, I’m going to be doing my darndest to make sure that it’s democratic, that there is solidarity, and that we’re proud.