05 December 2007

Gay Pride: A Place We've Never Been?

In a January 2007 essay titled "Doin' Time In Gay Man's Hell, Parts One and Two", I described how centuries of criminalization and ostracism had infected Gay people with a deep sense of shame. I wrote:

Thirty years ago, there was nothing like the affirmation of LGBT identity that we see today. Society taught us that our love was illegitimate and perverse, and like impressionable children, we accepted that teaching. The Stonewall rebellion notwithstanding, we had very little self-esteem. Closeted or not, we were willing to perpetuate a clandestine culture born of oppression and shame.

It was a separate culture centered around disreputable dive bars, dangerous wooded areas, reeking public restrooms and sleazy Adult book/video shops. Unfortunately, there are a lot of LGBT folk who still think of these venues as being the center of "Gay culture"! Worse, they think Lesbians, Gay men and Transfolk should confine their leisure activities to such venues.

I got a painful reminder of this when I recently picked up a booklet called Out In Canada; distributed to Gay businesses in the United States, this handout is aimed at promoting LGBT tourism north of the border. Of course, you'd expect such a publication to highlight places of potential interest to Gay tourists. What I didn't expect is how limited and narrow that interest was perceived to be by the Out In Canada editorial staff!

As an example of what I mean, here's an excerpt from the booklet, directed at American Lesbians who plan to visit the Canadian province of Québec:

To make sure I was up-to-date, I asked friends what "d*ke places" I should (go to) . . . it seems that Toronto d*kes tend to patronize Straight bars and restaurants; comfort, cost and quality seem to be more important than queerness (sic).

OK, let's imagine that I'm a Lesbian reading this. (I look like a butch Lesbian, so that shouldn't be hard to do!) This writer assumes that I only want to visit places in Québec where Lesbians are known to congregate. The writer also implies that there's something odd about Lesbians patronizing mainstream bars and restaurants popular with Straight people, and that as a rule, Lesbians shouldn't spend their leisure time in establishments that are comfortable, affordable and pleasant. Why not? Evidently because Lesbians are "d*kes", and "d*kes" don't rate such luxuries! A patently offensive idea, don't you think? In this next excerpt, the writer solicits perspective on the local scene from a Gay Québecoise:

Alison Kemper, a Lesbian activist, says . . . "we don't go to queer places, but cheap ones . . . restaurants that are used to families with kids are used to queer (families) . . . . my personal favorite, Golden Thai, is on Church Street, the main queer drag . . . it's rare to go there without seeing other d*kes . . .

Reading this quote, you'd think it was unusual for restaurants to let Lesbians dine within their walls! I know there've been isolated cases of restaurants refusing service to Gay people, but that certainly isn't the norm. Yet Ms. Kemper makes it sound like I'm risking discrimination by going to popular cafés! She stresses that it's safe to patronize Golden Thai because it's located on the "queer drag", and that I'll feel comfortable because "other d*kes" will be there with their "queer" families. She also characterizes Canadian Lesbians as unique in their preference for inexpensive eateries, thus playing into the myth about Gay people being an élite, well-to-do class. Excuse me, but when have LGBT folk not patronized cheap restaurants? Most of us aren't rich!

I live in the midwest, the so-called Bible belt, and I often see women and children eating at chain restaurants like Red Lobster and Denny's . . . no men in the group. Sometimes it's pretty obvious that the women are Lesbian couples, but nobody ever raises a fuss over it. If it's no big deal in Independence, Missouri, why would it be an issue in Canada, where Gay weddings are legal? And who makes a habit of announcing their sexual orientation when the hostess shows them to their table? Nobody I know!

There's no reason why a Lesbian couple and their children shouldn't feel free to dine anywhere in Québec they want to. Why does the writer seem uncomfortable with the concept of Gay and Straight folk eating together in public? If the objective is to have a good meal, what difference does it make if you're the only Gay couple in the dining room? These excerpts leave the distinct impression that Lesbians should avoid mainstream venues; I wonder, was there a valid reason for leaving that impression, or is it just Out In Canada's editorial position that Lesbians belong in "d*ke places"?

Farther along, the writer talks about a venue in Toronto where same-gender couple dancing is welcome:

. . . not a queer-only location, the Gladstone Hotel functions as a hotel, bar, meeting place and entertainment venue . . . the Gladstone also holds . . . a queer midweek dance night.

Once again, there's a distinct odor of separatism in the air! Granted, LGBT folk should feel free to go to the Gladstone Hotel if they like . . . but for "queer midweek dance night"? Doesn't that remind you of John Waters' movie Hairspray, and "Colored People Day" on the Corny Collins show?

Why would any self-respecting Lesbian want to attend an event like this? To show how badly she wants to dance at the Gladstone? To make the hotel's activity staff think they're doing Gay people a favor? Why isn't same-gender couple dancing allowed every night? What's wrong with LesBiGay couples sharing the dance floor with Straight couples? It's been happening for years at Gay dance clubs, and the world hasn't come to an end!

Later for this kind of incremental liberalism! It's insulting. When LGBT folk go out on the town for a good time, there shouldn't be any Jim Crow stigma attached to it!

Another supposed mecca for Lesbians (evidently a "queer-only location" this time) is a club known as Goodhandy's:

Goodhandy's bills itself as Toronto's first truly Pansexual playground . . . (it) provides an often sexualized party atmosphere. Fridays are the night for . . . queer women . . . it can get downright sexy and dirty, so be prepared!

Why would the writer assume that, as a Lesbian, I would want to go dancing at a club where people act out sexually? And am I correct to assume that Lesbian dance partners aren't welcome at Goodhandy's on any night other than Friday? Gender-segregated dancing on designated nights is no better than what the Gladstone Hotel does! If a venue doesn't welcome me and my kind all the time, then I don't consider myself welcome there anytime. I'd much rather go someplace where the gender of couples on the dance floor isn't an issue. I'd also rather dance where club patrons don't feel free to paw me!

Evidently, the writer of this piece thinks Lesbians should be satisfied with crumbs flung at them from a sexist table. She (he?) also seems to think what Lesbians traveling in Canada most want to do is buy sex toys!  I didn't know a woman had to leave the USA in order to find them!

Out On The Street is your one-stop destination for rainbow paraphernalia . . . a large variety of lube and dildos are all available here . . . those looking for a more sexual shopping adventure should head to one of my two favorite sex stores . . . Good For Her (offers) toys, videos and books (and) is focused on women's sexual pleasure.

Can you think of any legitimate mainstream travel magazine that would single out a lube and dildo shop as an essential sightseeing destination???!!! As if that weren't bad enough, read this excerpt from another Out In Canada article called "Seven Reasons To Say 'Oui' To Québec City":

To say Le Drague is Québec's only Gay bar is true and false . . . it's more like four bars in one . . . Base Three (is) their butch guy/leather zone. It's a cool space utilizing sexy mannequins in very creative ways. The 'pees de résistance' is the upstairs washroom, where six naked mannequins surround a bathtub . . . you pee into a hole in the mannequin's back, and, well, use your imagination . . . this spot sees plenty of cruise 'n' grope!

As they say in France . . . dégoutant! If you still haven't got the message as to what kind of tourism this booklet encourages, elsewhere in the handout the editors provide a few language tips to help you navigate through French Canadian territory:

A few key French terms: Penis = bout. F*ck/Have sex = bourrer. Underwear = calbombe. F*cked-up/Messed-up = f*cké.

Rude French Canadian slang for tourists whose purpose in visiting the country is sexual cruising, fetish play and getting stoned out of their minds! And who else but the Gay tourist would want to prioritize such activities?

Call me "politically correct" if you like, but I found the tone of this booklet extremely heterosexist!  If an uninformed Straight person (i. e. most Straight people) were reading this copy, he would have his anti-Gay prejudices reinforced big-time! The words "queer", "homo" and "d*ke" are peppered liberally throughout the text. The writers portray Lesbians and Gay men as deviant human beings whose families are "queer", who know they shouldn't go where normal folks go, who are predisposed to depravity, and who are bent on sex tourism. Segregated dancing . . . a tourist draw? A bar bathroom, cited as a must-visit locale? Essential French phrases, all sex-related? I don't know about you, but this kind of travel writing doesn't exactly make me want to buy a plane ticket and pack my luggage!

The editors and writers who put Out In Canada together obviously suffer from a Pervert Mentality. It shows in their product! Their best intentions got compromised by their own internalized shame. They sat down at their keyboards meaning to write Gay-friendly articles, but they ended up creating a flyer that drips with barely concealed hetero-bigotry. They didn't think about what harm they were doing!

Without thinking, they habitually referred to Lesbians and Gay men with derogatory names. Without thinking, they sent a message that Lesbians and Gay men don't belong in the mainstream and are better off sticking with their own kind. Without thinking, they directed Lesbian and Gay tourists to segregated venues. Without thinking, they played up the stereotype of Lesbians and Gay men as a promiscuous and depraved people. Without thinking, they told LGBT readers to come to Canada, have a good time, but don't forget, you're still abnormal!

As I surf the Gay blogosphere and sample Gay media, I am disturbed more often than not. I find that a majority of us write and say denigrating things about ourselves and each another without thinking. Isn't it high time we started thinking? Thinking seriously about the poisonous language we love to use. Thinking seriously about the consequences of clinging to stereotypes. Thinking seriously about rising above juvenile obsessions with sex. Thinking seriously about assuming our rightful place in mainstream society!

A person who answers to names like "queer" and "d*ke" is marginalized in his or her own mind, and a person who calls his or her LGBT brethren by such names is identifying with the oppressor! Neither person has liberation as a goal. Both people have shame as an underlying motivator!

If we don't find a way to crawl out from under our collective burden of internalized shame, we'll never progress any farther. We'll never succeed at making this world a good place for LGBT folk to live in! We've got to believe ourselves deserving of mainstream acceptance before we can achieve it.

From my point of view, there isn't much daylight between hetero-fascists' perception of us and the way many of us perceive ourselves! Could it be that Gay Pride is a place we've never been? I'm beginning to think so. I pray that we finally have the courage go there someday.

2 comments:

  1. What a wonderful, trenchant, post, that should be read by every Gay person who, knowingly or unknowingly, buys into the lies and stereotypes that homophobic people have associated with Gay people for centuries. It's high time that the "mainstreaming of Gay people" occurred, both in society, and in the minds and lives of Gay people themselves.

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  2. "From my point of view, there isn't much daylight between hetero-fascists' perception of us and the way many of us perceive ourselves."

    Indeed. The power of the truth behind this statement makes my head spin. Well said as always my friend.

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