Just gonna say it, I don’t like pride. I’m bad in crowds and I find shouting crowds unsettling. The actual marching is fine, but I rarely find a place to ‘just be me’ despite all the rhetoric to the contrary. I don’t believe that withdrawal is a good idea, but I find many of the conventions of a pride march distinctly unwelcoming. It’s almost as though showing up to pride as anything but a cisgender gay white man is a counter protest. In the bigger city events, marching as an individual seems to be a revolution of some kind. It just runs sour in my anarchic queer female brain.
I remember my dad telling stories of marching in New York Pride some time in the early 90s or late 80s. He described a hostile scene of counter protests, chanting ‘shame’ at angry people held back by police as the march went by, and the feeling that they were taking on the world. Pride was a protest and the image stuck with me.
My memory of his description provided a sharp contrast to the leisurely walk along the seafront to the park. There were no counter protesters and passers by would show support by honking horns or cheering. We passed a wedding at one point and the march congratulated the couple, who waved and applauded back. The statement needs to be made, but this was no protest. This was a gentle reminder.
One friend mentioned to me that she felt we were preaching to the converted as we gathered, and I agree. It’s the outside that might be watching that I care about. Brighton is the LGBTQ+ capital of England; opposition there would be news. Course, transgender people still get fetishised, harassed, abused and killed there. Not converted enough, so a gentle reminder is probably a good idea.
Looking around the march itself, I saw why I came here: individuals. Some support groups and community initiatives. Some activist groups. Mostly just people. Friends. Couples. Families.
If the spirit of pride is inclusion, this was it. The normal bias towards transgender women was there. It’s a perennial problem with transgender groups and events all over the country. If pride is for cisgender gay white men, trans pride would have to be for transgender women. And at Brighton there was definitely a slant towards the white people. Not a perfect picture by any stretch, but better than most pride footage I’ve seen this year.
"IT’S WORTH REPEATING: PRIDE IS DOMINATED BY CISGENDER GAY WHITE MEN."
It’s worth repeating: pride is dominated by cisgender gay white men. Last month, my feed was full of op-eds saying they didn’t feel welcome at pride. I had activist friends expressing their frustration about the removal of dedicated spaces for women, disabled people, persons of colour, transgender people… anyone but a cisgender gay white man. And they were removed by organising boards dominated by cisgender gay white men. Even the description of my father’s experience around 1990 was about cisgender gay white men. Syracuse, NY, 1996. St Patrick’s Day parade, they had a group of gay Irish marching that nearly turned ugly. One of my father’s friends, a photographer, found herself using her camera as a weapon to suppress opposition. The people who marched? Cisgender gay white men.
We are looking at a heritage of pride. Cisgender gay white men may not have started pride, but they sure do own it now. They took it over long ago. A quick google image search reveals armies of white people, mostly men, particularly in the black and white photography. It’s worth pointing out that a similar search for transgender rights shows armies of transgender women, so nobody’s coming out of this looking terribly clean. All the same, it’s easy to see why there is a pride in Brighton specifically for transgender folks and if the outcry from last month is anything to go with, not much has changed.
Saying all that, as much as I love it, having a trans pride is not going to fix pride. It actually runs the risk of hardening the grip that cisgender gay white men have over the major pride events. I’m one of those transgender folks that doesn’t consider going to pride because there’s a trans pride to go to. Then again, I don’t enjoy pride anyway so the fact that I’m turning up to one because it’s trans-specific means they’re activating a section of the community. So what’s an organiser to do?
"TRANS PRIDE BRIGHTON MANAGES TO AVOID EVERYTHING I HATE ABOUT PRIDE EVENTS: BIG ENOUGH TO BE BIG, SMALL ENOUGH TO AVOID ATTENTION FROM BUSINESS THAT MIGHT HEDGE OUT THE INDIVIDUALS."
Trans Pride Brighton manages to avoid everything I hate about pride events: big enough to be big, small enough to avoid attention from business that might hedge out the individuals. Calm enough to deal with, but enough excitement to feel like there’s purpose. Real issues of public safety and human decency addressed rather than token groups of employees waving a logo. Belonging, enthusiasm and community without someone trying to buy the fun and sell it to me.
Is it the only pride event that does this? No, not by a long shot. There are many local pride events out there that manage to be about people, inclusion and human rights. And they still have their party. Pride can be for everyone, but it seems that the bigger it gets the less it is. I understand that big events cost money. I’m not blind to the fact that business often drives social change, either. It’s just for me, pride is about people being people. People don’t need a company to be people. Companies aren’t motivated in the same way or work for complicated purposes. Companies make money. Events cost money, and the system we have to work with means we need that money to keep pride going. Trouble is, companies keep it going by buying the fun and selling it back to us.
As Trans Pride Brighton gets bigger, we’re inevitably going to see more sponsors in the march. We’ll see more company banners. Rules about what we can take into the park (so we have to buy things inside) will show up. As the event becomes more populous, it will be depopulated. And that’s sad, but I hope that day is a long way off. Maybe we’ll even learn how to have a big, grassroots pride event that never discards the individual, but I’ll not hold my breath.