I Miss Being Visibly Queer at Pride
The pandemic necessarily meant cancelled Pride parades and events. Writer Betty Butch reflects on how this has felt like a return to queer invisibility.
Pride is an overwhelmingly colorful event. The flags that celebrate different sexualities and genders are all striped with bright, bold colors; they dance in raised fists and from the spires of parade floats. Queer people jostle past wearing rainbow tulle skirts, neon neoprene chest harnesses, sequin fanny packs and piles of multicolored bead necklaces. There are people kissing on sidewalks and in the shade, leaving behind bright lipstick prints, smeared glitter, and sultry laughter. Later, when the sun goes down, there are disco balls, glow sticks, and fireworks.
Last year, my city’s Pride celebrations – which are held in October – were canceled due to the pandemic. It was a necessary, obvious decision. But its absence weighed heavy on my heart.
I have plenty of criticisms of Pride, including the prioritization of ally tourism, corporations, and police. There isn’t enough being done to make Pride accessible, safe, and inclusive of disabled folks, people of color, trans folks, and people in addiction recovery.
But in spite of its shortcomings, attending Pride is often the highlight of my year. It’s a healing experience that helps me endure the constant barrage of anti-trans legislation, rising hate crime and suicide statistics, and everyday harassment and othering.
Pride, of course, began as a riot, and by its very nature it remains a protest. A big part of that protest is what makes it so nourishing for me: being openly, intentionally queer in public.
Read: Loud and Proud: 5 People Share How They Came Out
“The main goal [of the first Pride march] was visibility for a community that had been pushed to the margins of society. Being out and proud was a revolutionary act,” points out Danielle Bainbridge of Origin of Everything. The march – which was spearheaded by bisexual organizer Brenda Howard – took place in 1970, a year after the Stonewall riots. “In the beginning, most attendees wore their everyday clothes, but some began to wear elaborate costumes to punctuate the radical act of being seen.
As a queer, nonbinary trans person, the safest way for me to move through the world is to be invisible. Every discernible deviance from the “norm” – holding my partner’s hand, undergoing HRT, wearing “men’s” clothes or queer fashion trends – runs the risk of catching a bigot’s attention and ire. Bigots come in many forms and levels of influence, from family members, neighbors, and coworkers, to landlords, doctors, and government representatives. Their attention can have dire consequences, so I have to weigh every haircut and public display of affection against the possibility of alienation and violence.
But when I enter an unapologetically, celebratory queer space like Pride, those discernible deviances are the norm. It’s normal to use my partner’s pronouns in public conversation, and to kiss them under the fireworks. It’s normal to dress how I like to dress, let my face get scruffy and still wear makeup, and speak in a voice that feels right for me. I’m still vigilant, but I’m not alone. Read: Am I Queer Enough?
The last time I went to Pride, my partner and I handed out small pride flags. We had hundreds of the traditional rainbow flag, but also flags for pansexuals, asexuals, bisexuals, and trans people. Several people admitted it was their very first flag, either because they had to remain closeted for safety, they weren’t ready, or because they didn’t know pride flags for their identity existed. We cried when we saw those same people at the parade, happily waving their flags at passing marchers and floats.