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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  • Michael - I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed this post - more intimate and positive than so much of the mental masturbation in which we often are trapped. Being from Massachusetts, and a staunch supporter of gay marriage, it has long been a stunner to me just how behid the times, restrictive, monocultural, and just plain lame the rest of the "land of the free" has become, particularly with regard to this issue. In the same moment of Toronto Pride, in Florida some nauseating and hate-driven legislation:

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:35 PM  

  • Karl Rove to Machiavelli to Toronto Pride. Heh, now thats why I read this blog! Nice post. Only connect indeed! Pride weekend has a great vibe regardless of how you swing so head on down if you can.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:22 PM  

  • Thank you, Erica and D. Nash. Much appreciated. I'll be posting on the "nauseating and hate-driven" Florida nonsense in a minute. Thanks for the tip.

    I'm prone to "mental masturbation" every now and then, I admit (though I'm trying to avoid it at The Reaction), but, to me, the fact of a million people coming to Toronto for our Pride events deserves such positive comments.

    By Blogger Michael J.W. Stickings, at 2:03 AM  

  • No, I'm certainly not saying that. I don't buy into the politically correct, leftist notion that all forms of male-female relationships are inherently power-based and hence repressive (male over female). And I certainly don't think that heterosexuality is in any way a "monoculture". There is much diversity among "traditional approaches to sexuality," and, of course, to heterosexuality in general.

    However, I would agree with AmbivaBlog that sexual difference, however defined, is often seen as threatening to the rigid sexual/moral codes that have, over time, been cemented in our society. I think that partly explains the vehement opposition to sexual difference of certain conservatives, usually of the theocratic persuasion. Although strict, fundamentalist religiosity may have a lot to do with it, I do think that fear plays a profound role at a deeper psychological level.

    As I mention in my post, I am at times disturbed by the excesses of gay culture. Of course, I am similarly disturbed by the excesses of straight culture, too. The puerile sexualization of our society is indeed troubling -- largely because it is occurring without the requisite education that we (and our children) need in order to navigate an increasingly complex sexual landscape. And also because it is occurring just as our sense of responsibility, both individual and collective, is waning.

    Regardless, I do think that the gay culture -- well, the alternative sexual culture generally (and I suppose that includes non-procreative heterosexual culture, too) -- provides us with a glimpse (sometimes too much of a glimpse) into the possibilities of human sexuality. (This formed the basis of much of Foucault's work. Much of which I don't agree with, but he wasn't all wrong. That's what AmbivaBlog is getting at, though perhaps she and I should both have been more clear.

    By Blogger Michael J.W. Stickings, at 12:50 PM  

  • Nate, I agree with you that "hooking up" is soulless and I am also alarmed by the commercial, exploitive sexualization of the culture, where sex is reduced to a form of obligatory 24/7 entertainment mischaracterized as a "right." Many of the women at the Dyke March had obviously bought into this, as do many straight people (starting, most unfortunately, at the age of 12 or 13 if not younger). I helped a conservative write a book about this (Dear Patrick), and I plan to post about it in the 3rd part of my "AmbivAbortion Rant."

    What I meant by "the relative regimentation of heterosexual culture" (not the word "relative") is that seeing the riotous variety of personae among the gay women (a point somewhat distinct from how aggressively sexual they were or weren't) made me realize that we straights are much more corseted within a narrower set of images. I'm not sure why this is, and I'm not ready to make a value judgment on it. It's almost as if when you stop buying into those images, that somewhat conventionalized male-female dance, all bets are off and anything goes. Body image, for instance, is something of a straitjacket especially for straight women, but increasingly for men as well. (And maybe, ironically as hell, for gay men more than for gay women!) You're pressured to look and act and dress a certain way, be slim, have long hair, etc. And this is what a man is supposed to have "on his arm" to show that he's an OK guy whether it's what really individually appeals to him or not. (For instance, there's a fireman on "Rescue Me" who fell in love with a fat girl, and his mates gave him merciless grief about it.) I think a) neither gays nor straights benefit from promiscuity, and b) straights might take from gays (or at least gay women) a little more freedom to be who they are on the masculine/feminine continuum, which is not at all the same as the straight/gay continuum. For instance, I know an actor and writer who is as heterosexual as they come who strikes me as rather effeminate in some ways. That's who he is, and it works for him, and God bless him that he doesn't bother to conform.

    By Blogger amba, at 8:20 PM  

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