Sunday, June 26, 2005

Pride in Toronto: A celebration of identity and connection

Toronto's Pride Parade -- the culmination of a week of festivities that brings over a million people to the city -- is going on as I write, not too far from where I live. It's the 25th anniversary of Pride in Toronto, and ours is now one of the largest in the world, an extraordinary celebration that the city embraces every year. The event speaks for itself, not least as Canada is set to legalize same-sex marriage before Parliament's summer recess, and the organizers have done another incredible job, but allow me to single out my good friend Leon Mar, who does media relations for Pride Toronto (and who is quoted here). Well done, Leon. Tomorrow will be a well-deserved day off. For more on today's Parade, see here, and on yesterday's Dyke March, see here. There are many great reasons to love this city -- my own favourite is the Toronto International Film Festival, the second most important in the world after Cannes, held every September -- and this is certainly one of them.

See also AmbivaBlog's excellent post on sexual identity:
And I'm thinking what a monoculture the straight world is, how conformist really. There are so few straight gender archetypes to embody, and most people try to squeeze into one or the other even when it's a poor fit, or just boring. My friend Sharon got fed up with trying to grow her hair, so she shaved it off. So there she is with a bald, fuzzy skull and a sexy thong. It just busts up all your categories, and maybe that's the real reason why many people find it so existentially threatening. The freedom to define yourself is dizzying.

I don't mean to idealize the dyke counterculture, though. There's something sad about how separate a world it is. That separateness wasn't originally gay people's idea; it was forced on them, and now some of them are perpetuating it, with a defiant provocativeness -- "you wouldn't accept us even if we didn't go to extremes." I guess what I am groping towards is the realization that the relative regimentation of most straight life and the flaunted bizarrerie of some gay life are mirror images of each other. What's sad is the obscuring of how much they really have in common. Underneath the warring uniforms of hetero conformity and outcast chic are just people, loving, craving, needing, longing, and if they're lucky, finding someone with whom to become one flesh and share a life.

Both "the relative regimentation of most straight life" and "the flaunted bizarrerie of some gay life" alarm me, just as extremism of any kind alarms me. Even a liberal society requires some social order, but the problem often comes down to trying to balance out the competing claims of the individual and the collective. Given the inflamed passions that come from identity politics (and from sexuality in particular), both the "straight life" and the "gay life" seem to have entrenched themselves in opposition to one another. It's just a shame that we can't seem to understand that we're all looking for the same thing, that, straight or gay or something else entirely, we're all human beings trying to find meaning in a world that seems at times to be beyond our grasp. "Only connect," E.M. Forster implores us at the beginning of Howards End. Yes, that's what we're all trying to do, in our own all-too-human ways.

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