Put the "Sex" Back in "Homosexual"
I can think of one reason Pride Vermont is postponing Burlington’s celebration until September 22 instead of doing it in late June like everyone else. The summer is stuffed to the point of regurgitation with festivals — jazz, garlic, solar power, yoga, history, heifers, hot-air balloons.
So never mind that Pride Month commemorates the radical act that sparked the gay liberation movement — when working-class queers, young hustlers and drag queens fought back against the police raid of New York City’s Stonewall Inn on June 28, 1969.
There are more important things to consider: By late September, hotel reservations are slumping and crêpe sales are down on Church Street. Vermont tourism needs a jump on leaf peeping.
Bring on the homos!
If you doubt that LGBTQ has become another consumer niche and Pride Month another opportunity to sell stuff outdoors, I give you 2012’s theme: Fun, Family and Food. The festival will share space with Northern Decadence Vermont, Vermont’s LGBTQ-friendly Food and Travel Expo, featuring such homophile treats as gourmet ice cream and microbrews. Not to lose a watt of marketing synergy, the organizers also folded in a New Age motif. Looking for LGBTQ pride? Google “Equality Equinox.”
Maybe raising a glass of artisanal wine is appropriate for what Pride is proud of this year. The president endorsed same-sex marriage. The “don’t ask don’t tell” repeal went into effect. The Presbyterian Church ordained its first openly lesbian minister. And the first trans woman to compete in the Miss Universe Canada pageant was named Miss Congeniality.
This year, too, it must be noted, Pope Benedict XVI opined that same-sex marriage is a threat to “the future of humanity itself.” Former Miss Pennsylvania Sheena Monnin threw down her crown after the Miss USA contest admitted transgender competitors. “This goes against [every] moral fiber of my being,” she huffed.
And soon we may witness the Roberts Supreme Court upholding defense-of-marriage laws — as long as they extend the rights of matrimony to corporations.
But party down! Marriage, the military, religion and beauty pageants — the three greats of gender oppression and one close runner-up — are opening their arms to LGBTQ people, and LGBTQs are thrilled by the embrace. As the social critic Leo Bersani wrote in an essay called “Against Monogamy,” “[Michel] Foucault’s hope that gays might be in the vanguard of efforts to imagine what he called ‘new ways of being together’ appears, for a large number of gay people today, to be considerably less inspiring than the hope that we will be allowed fully to participate in the old ways of being and of coming together.”
Alas, I usually sigh at this point. The Queer — as opposed to Homo domesticus — is an endangered species.
But why mourn? Why not accept that people, like statistics, tend to regress to the mean? From my privileged position as a white, coupled heterosexual, it would surely be more polite to stop insisting that those on the margins stay there — and relish it.
What’s wrong with Fun, Family and Food?
Mulling this over, I considered what sort of festivities might feel more congenial to me. And in Brattleboro I may have found them: a June Pride that promises to be campy (a drag show), funky (the Shondes — Yiddish for shame — a “traditional Jewish political pop” band), and political (a film about ACT UP). With dancing and drinking on the agenda, it could be sexy, too.
At the Fun, Family, and Food Equality Equinox Festival, meanwhile, you can bet that the fun will not involve bodily fluids. Well, maybe saliva, but that will be kept inside each person’s own mouth.
What’s missing in Burlington is sex, and with it any reference to the history that Pride marks. Gay liberation, as it was then called, was born in desire and became a movement through networks of desire. After Stonewall and before AIDS, in bars and baths and on the streets, gay men forged interlocking chains of friends and lovers. Lesbians did the same in their way, seizing feminism, declaring the freedom to have sex how and with whom they pleased, and creating new kinds of families.
These networks of desire strengthened the political solidarity that sustained communities through the AIDS crisis and built the institutions that still respond to the epidemic. These cultures resisted normalization. They brought sex into the open. They were out and proud and, in the case of men, unapologetically promiscuous.
But you don’t have to take your clothes off in public for homosex to be a public act. Just coming out is one. “I’m gay, Mom” says implicitly: “I lick pussy” or “I put my penis into another man’s anus.” Being public, homosex is also political; it holds the potential for social cohesion and action.
Vermonters are not big on talking about sex or openly expressing their sexuality. Maybe it’s just too cold. But it’s June, and even the end of September can be gloriously hot. The good news is that Pride officialdom can’t stop the topless, tongue-kissing lesbians or leathermen clad in little else but chaps from showing up, and showing off, in the parade.
What makes gay people gay is sexual desire. Sex — along with messing with conventional genders — is also what makes people despise queers. It’s not about, as the euphemism goes, “who you love.” The pope does not care who you love. What imperils his civilization is what you do with your genitals.
LGBTQ people are legitimately angered by the suggestion that theirs is a “lifestyle,” not an identity. But expurgate the sex from homosexual, and what you’ve got left are hers-and-hers kayaks on the roof of the Subaru or, if you’re a guy, a skirt worn to the Montpelier contra dance: a lifestyle, a consumer demographic — more brand than identity.
Equality is essential. I have nothing against the equinox. Family and food are fine, too. But, concerning fun, let’s just say there is important fun that you don’t have with your kids (maple syrup and artisan cheese optional). During Pride Month, let us not demote pleasure to a negotiable demand. There can be no just and loving society without sexual freedom.
“Poli Psy” is a monthly column by Judith Levine. Got a comment on this story? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.