Butch, Like a Drag Queen

Yesterday, Teejay and I went down to watch the parade and mill around at Pittsburgh’s Pride in the Streets celebration. Were it not for Teejay, I almost certainly would no have gone. I have always found the whole concept of Pride to be a little irksome. In the past, the few celebrations that I have attended always struck me as strangely forced and not nearly as inclusive as they pretend to be. A lot of my discomfort comes from my belief that there is no such thing as Gay Culture, and I have always found attempts to create such a culture to be incredibly off putting. What exactly binds the Gay Community together other than a sexual orientation and persistant discrimination? These aren’t really enough, in my mind, to build a culture around. It always seemed to me like Gay Culture reduced to a celebration of a particular body type (slight, effeminate, and pale, with a disturbingly toned body) and bad dance music, with a decent amount of alcoholism and substance abuse mixed in.

I have never really fit that mold. My body is not, nor never was the Gay Ideal that popular culture constantly reaffirms. I am tall, hairy, and far from toned. My Eastern European heritage is far too strong for me to ever look like the idealized gay man. Of course, I realized that I am not alone in this, and that there have arisen a lot of other gay cliques, and I do think that is the proper word, for those who do not fit in the ideal. Bears, daddies, chubs, otters and plenty more tags that I’m sure I’m unaware of have sprung up to round out the gay cohort. Again, however, each of those groups tend to be just as protective of their discrete identities and roles as the idealized gay body is, despite their claims for acceptance of difference and inclusivity. I am not, despite the shape of my flesh, a bear or otter or whatever other woodland creature is deemed to be the most empowering. My role and my sexuality are not determined by my appearance. While I can certainly adapt my appearance to portray a particular role, that is a game played only in particular circumstances that I can choose to apply to discard at my whim.

So, I brought all of this with me to Pride. Honestly, I was not mistaken with my assumptions, but what I experienced showed me that I, recognizing the limitations of of a phrase like “Gay Culture” needed to allow myself to see the people themselves, and the what each brought with them to the celebration. The thing that struck me, and that turned the whole experience into something strangely powerful and effecting, was that I was unlike everyone else there, and that everyone else was unlike everyone else. The only thing that bound the celebration together, at the end of the day, was that all of us were human, fighting for our rights, trying to live as we know we must.

The parade itself was still kind of disturbing. The first ten minutes of it were dominated by corporate sponsors (Highmark, PNC, Walgreens, Giant Eagle, and several others that I simply do not remember), and while I was happy to see so many businesses coming out in support of Gay Rights, I still had to wonder how many of these corporations also donate to other, less savory causes. Business is business, after all, and corporations have no problem supporting contradictory causes if they think it will increase their profit margin. I understand that events like this are incredibly difficult to fund, and that corporate sponsorship is necessary, but I would be more impressed and have more faith in these institutions good intentions if they did not insist on showing you over and over again how good their intentions are. True charity, true concern, is quiet and persistent.

The other thing that struck me about the parade was how many churches were marching in support. Five or six Presbyterian congregations and two or three Unitarian congregations (no one is surprised by that one, though) came through. It was reassuring to see such a surge of support from Christians, especially after running into a horrifying Christian Bigot spouting bile on a street corner in the center of Pride. The truly faithful and the truly righteous recognize the that their salvation is not incumbent upon the damnation of others, and will do what they can to help those in need love and live as well as they are able.

I have to admit, though, that my favorite parts of Pride were the strange contemporary dance troupe that performed immediately after the parade, and seeing an acquaintance performing drag street theater randomly throughout the crowd. I’ve always been a bit uncomfortable with drag, as I feel that it can have a tendency to reinforce retrograde gender and sexual stereotypes. I have long thought that drag requires serious, dare I say, queering in order to be relevant and useful. My acquaintance more than accomplishes that wonderful queering, as thus typified: upon hearing a girl call out, “You’re so pretty!” he shouted back, “You mean butch!”

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