Friday, October 21, 2011

Gay Mormon Discomfort with Pride

A significant number of gay people from Mormon backgrounds are uncomfortable with many aspects of Gay Pride events. Although Pride events typically occur during the summer months, they are not infrequently discussed throughout the year. This post was prompted by an online discussion thread in which most commenters expressed discomfort and dislike toward various aspects of Pride, wondered whether Pride was necessary, and voiced their view that flamboyant gay people at Pride events perpetuate stereotypes, decrease the chances for social acceptance and cause the definition of “gay” to be too limited in the minds of the majority of people.
For me, Pride isn’t about acceptance, it’s about recognition. It’s about showing that there’s more than one way to live a legitimate life. It’s about proclaiming (and even shouting if necessary) that the most “obvious” queer person is just as deserving of respect and dignity as a queer person who can pass as a straight person from central casting.

It is the eagerness of people to dismiss other people who they view as weird that perpetuates stereotypes. People must take action to apply a stereotype to other people. That process is a strange combination of conscious and subconscious. Stereotypes do not merely radiate from the person being stereotyped. To say that the perpetuation of stereotypes is the fault of particular aspects of Gay Pride events or what someone terms as flamboyant is far too close to blaming the victim in my view.

Mormon culture rewards conformity to a very narrow band of acceptability. The broader American culture rewards conformity as well. Neo-Victorianism pervades many aspects of American religious life, even though it has led to hypocrisy and psychopathology all too often. These are things that many of us will likely have to work through for the rest of our lives---individually and in our communities. For our own self-respect and emotional health, work through it we must. Turning up our noses at the parts of Pride we don’t like is the same as the people we view as intolerant turning up their noses at us.

I agree there should be a broader range of voices involved in Pride. I’m glad there is a diversity of voices. That is vital. In fact, the range of voices has continually grown over the years. Take for example the experience this past summer of a good friend of mine who spoke with mother who came to Pride on her own to find out how she could support her gay child. I bet that mother raised her eyebrows a few times as she walked around Pride. But I’d bet even more that she gained something valuable in talking with my friend and in participating in something outside her comfort zone.

Beaches and swim meets also have scantily clad people. One important part of Pride for me is that it challenges the often arbitrary nature of what is deemed acceptable in particular settings. People may feel uncomfortable with people dressed in underwear and covered with glitter and feathers. Oh well. I'm uncomfortable with the fact that there are still local and national political leaders who say they will gladly “die on the hill” fighting an expansion of gay rights. But I don’t think they’re the majority of people who are grappling with their views about gay people.

If someone doesn’t accept me, fine. If someone wants to apply a stereotype to me, all I can do is be myself. I can’t control the smallness of the mind and heart of another person. I can live genuinely in the hope that people of good will eventually will expand their understanding and compassion for other human beings. But I will say this: If someone starts violating my civil rights, dehumanizes me or uses their disdain for me for an insidious purpose---or does that to someone who I love or someone among my people---that’s a problem. In large part, acts of violation, dehumanization and disdain are why Pride began, and why it’s still needed.

I guess I’m a “big tent” person who doesn't mind that there may be a couple making out in the corner while everyone else is just chatting and supporting each other.

1 comment:

  1. Amen. I get frustrated with people who dismiss Pride (coming out day, anti-bullying day, etc) because they've decided it doesn't apply to them, it's too gay, perpetuates stereotypes, etc, etc. To me, these individuals reflect an inability to see beyond their own needs and opinions into others' lives.