Pride and publicity: Emma Teitel on the politics of letting it all hang out

Two things about Pride: 1. It’s bawdy. 2. Not everyone who has a problem with said bawdiness is a homophobe

by Emma Teitel

The politics of letting it all hang out

Mark Blinch / Reuters

Summer is almost here, and so too is something queer—Pride parades in cities across Canada and beyond. Around this time last year, it so happens, I wrote a column about Toronto Mayor Rob Ford and why he shouldn’t have to attend his city’s Pride parade. Yes, I argued, it’s possible (and highly likely) that he abstained because he is a homophobe, and yes, Pride is a major tourist event that rakes in millions of dollars for the local economy and you’d think he’d be obligated to attend something like that. But until the parade changed its style, I suggested, and became a celebration of same-sex rights rather than sex itself, bigots would cry modesty and be justified in skipping town. Needless to say, a lot of other gay people didn’t like what I wrote, and I was cyber-skewered via Twitter and Facebook, for my allegedly radical point of view. According to my detractors, any criticism of the parade’s bawdiness was criticism of homosexuality itself.

Shortly after I wrote the column, I went to a party in an apartment building where I watched the Pride parade go by from a balcony on the 31st floor. From where I was standing, it looked ordinarily festive, with none of the raunchiness I described in my article. Sure, I could make out a few men in sarongs with various corporate logos branded to their chests (TD man in green sarong, BMO man in blue biker shorts) but nothing you would lose your lunch over. Maybe I was wrong, I thought. Maybe I was a traitor to my own kind after all. Then I went downstairs and stepped outside, and the first thing I saw was a man, in his mid- to late 50s, buck naked, squatting on the curb, his genitals grazing the cement. I would go on to see between 15 to 20 penises that day. And the odd vagina.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But a little self-aware honesty would be welcome here. I am tired of being called an Uncle Tom for pointing out the obvious: a) Pride is bawdy, and b) not everyone who finds said bawdiness offensive or distasteful or ill-advised is a homophobe. It is possible to be critical of the part (or parts) without damning the whole. You can criticize the wearing of chadors without being Islamophobic, and you can criticize the wearing of assless chaps without being anti-gay. Because neither group is homogenous. Not all Muslims wear chadors. And not all gay people wear nothing at all.

Yet every year we get the same knee-jerk reactions from either side of this issue when it comes to Pride. Social conservatives find the bawdiness gross and unacceptable (if the state doesn’t belong in the bedrooms of the nation, they argue, the bedrooms don’t belong in the street). And the gay activists argue the opposite: any criticism of or discomfort at such bawdiness is outright bigotry, and more, a denial of gay history. To them, raunchiness at Pride is a heritage moment.

And it is. I can appreciate the historical significance of the in-your-face sensationalism of Pride history. Those who forget their history may very well be doomed to repeat it. But remembering and reliving are two different things. Time has passed by the need for public displays of sexuality. Granted, there was a time in Canada, not so long ago, when gay people had no choice but to be reactively sexual. If we weren’t allowed to act freely in the bedroom, we would do so in the street. Matt Katz, lamenting the death of the urban “gayborhood” in Obit Magazine, describes exactly this paradigm. “It’s where gay people lived and hung out, somehow fulfilling stereotypes while simultaneously stimulating social justice.”

But the paradigm no longer holds. Now we are allowed to act freely in the bedroom and get married at city hall. So the reactionary, in-your-face bawdiness at Pride may make for a good party, but it’s bad publicity. And if there’s anything gay people need in the world at large (where homosexuality is mostly illegal), it’s good publicity. What was once a political statement is now a liability. It also detracts from the truly political statements that events like Pride could make and that are so often overlooked by small-minded people on both sides of the spectrum. While it may not be as much fun to ditch the nipple clamps and naked foam parties, perhaps we have a responsibility to the brutally oppressed gay diaspora to conduct ourselves with sobriety and dignity at Pride—and light some candles for people who can’t afford to celebrate. (That at least would be a cause worth politicizing the parade for, unlike the never-ending Queers Against Israeli Apartheid debate.)

Until we do, Pride will remain what it is, at best a version of the greatest party ever thrown, at worst an in-your-face anachronism. In the end, the naked middle-aged man on the curb is something like the aging hippie; he deserves our admiration and even respect, but the times they are a changin’. In the new era, maybe he should put on some pants. At least some briefs.




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Pride and publicity: Emma Teitel on the politics of letting it all hang out

  1. Totally agree!

  2. If the author is gay she’s an uncle tom. if she’s not she’s just a dumb kid with little sense of proportion. which is not a crime, but why hand her a summer intern writing job on a silver platter unless you’re looking for cheap reactions?

    • ^ If you are able to read and to comprehend what you read, then you would have noted that the writer is gay. Any person over 50 who is brave enough to bare it all in public is very brave indeed. I don’t agree with the writer’s opinion that the pride parade should become more sedate. When acceptance becomes the norm – and I sure hope that by the time my grandsons are elderly it will be – then ‘loud and proud’ may not be as necessary, but that hasn’t happened yet.

      • Let me refer you to this previously posted article:
        http://www.theonion.com/articles/gaypride-parade-sets-mainstream-acceptance-of-gays,351/

        In no way is providing a worse stereotype helpful. You may *eventually* desensitize people to it, but in the end, is it really a good thing to be desensitized to debauchery? I was under the impression that there was a very big difference between debauchery and homo/bi/pan/transexuality. Please, correct me if I’m wrong.

        Alternatively, do you want to take a walk with your grandson and come across two people going at it in the open? What if those two people were furries, masochists, etc?

        (I would like to note that being comfortable with sex, penises, and vagina’s is very, very different from being comfortable with people having sex or wearing lingerie/BDSM gear/etc in the streets)

        I’ll agree that anyone over 50 is brave, but that doesn’t mean anyone wants to see… >.>

        The pride parade would set a far better example if they were clothed. I don’t care if they make out, flirt, w/e, but I don’t want to go see some old guys wrinkled dick – As such, I’ve only been to one pride parade. Nudists can hold their own parades, they don’t need help with that.

        PS: Acceptance is pretty much the norm where I live, at least among my generation (around 30-35 and under).

        • Give them an inch and they’ll take a mile. Cat scratch fever.

        • Fyre – I wish it was true that acceptance is the norm for your generation. However; while progress has been made, same sex relationships and transgendered persons are still not accepted by many people of ALL ages. I include secondary school students who have been persecuted when they admit to their preference.
          It is not legal to have sexual relations in public and, I have not heard of that taking place during a Pride parade. Note that mainstream media plus online media present lots of “debauchery” if you are looking for it.
          Also, the whole, be decent thing reminds me of my early days in the second wave of feminism. We were told we were too loud, too raunchy, and just altogether too too much for ordinary folk to accept. Bah!

          • I agree people need to be more accepting, but I’m not at all convinced the public displays of debauchery help that cause. I support gay rights; I have gay friends. Neither I nor they will go anywhere near the parade because we find some of the behaviour patently offensive. And yes I’d feel the same about a public hetero display of that sort as well.

      • brave no, narcissistic to the nth degree, yes.

      • Going over Niagara Falls in a barrel is also brave. I still question the judgement and the intelligence of anyone who would do so.

    • Sigh. Clearly you did not understand the message at all. Thank you for providing yet another exhibit (no pun intended) lending evidence to the author’s premise.

  3. Which, Ms. Teitel, brings me back to the stupid assertion that indifference is the new intolerance. Sounds familiar? When I can’t voice my disgust at what you correctly describe as bawdy because I fear being labeled as homophobic, even though I support the rights of gay folks to realize the same constitutional rights that I take for granted, indifference becomes my refuge. A very silent “whatever,” becomes my my only refrain. I’d rather be indifferent than be bullied into accepting something I think is fundamentally appalling.

  4. Good article. I find it a little ironic that gays rights have progressed to the point where gays are allowed to do what normal people would be arrested for. It’s gone to far. Grow up you people, or risk losing what you have won.

    • “Normal” people. Go mess yourself. And have you never turned on a television or walked down a street or entered a bar? Every day is Straight Pride Day. And to say that no hetero ever has been nude in public is ridiculous. And what I find ironic is somebody who lectures people to grow up but doesn’t know the difference between “to” and “too”. Good day! Your people’s sexuality makes us just as uncomfortable as ours apparently does for you. If I hate anything it’s hypocrisy. And anybody who judges others on their bodies and sex is the one who needs to “grow up”. You’re probably disgusting to look at.

    • “Normal” people. Go mess yourself. And have you never turned on a television or walked down a street or entered a bar? Every day is Straight Pride Day. And to say that no hetero ever has been nude in public is ridiculous. And what I find ironic is somebody who lectures people to grow up but doesn’t know the difference between “to” and “too”. Good day! Your people’s sexuality makes us just as uncomfortable as ours apparently does for you. If I hate anything it’s hypocrisy. And anybody who judges others on their bodies and sex is the one who needs to “grow up”. You’re probably disgusting to look at.

  5. The thing is a Pride parade has always been for exhibitionists and perverts; it’s not about acceptance, it’s about flashing your genitalia in public and then yelling “homophobes!” or “Uncle Tom!” if others complain.

    Normal homosexuals have always been cowed and bullied into supporting the freak-shows and normal heterosexuals who supported the ideas of gay rights were frightened of being tarred with the bigot brush.

    It’s time to tuck exhibitionist Pride Parades into convention centers like we do with the furries and BDSM fans.

  6. Thanks for pointing out the obvious. Most gay men and women do not attend pride parades. Many find them tasteless and pointless. It’s a tiny minority who cause a lot of embarassment for the majority.

  7. Good column, Emma. I don’t often agree with your efforts, but this one is spot on!

  8. You’re right Emma, a pride parade is in-your-face bawdiness at best and a freak show at worst. But then aren’t you kind of being in-our-face by constantly alluding to your religious and sexual preference?

  9. Whether or not you intend to, this kind of angsty pearl-clutching gives comfort to the homophobes…who are out in full force in the comments here. It makes them ecstatic to be able to justify their hatred with this kind of coded language. Think about what you’re doing, please.

    As for being called an Uncle Tom: well, if the shoe fits… http://www.joemygod.blogspot.com/2012/06/watching-defectives.html

    • So is there any way to oppose the display of graphic nudity and public debauchery without being labelled a homophobe (if straight) or an uncle tom (if gay)? Surely the gay movement is powerful enough now to be open to some criticism of its behaviour and practice.

    • Forced to give credit where credit is due and tip my hat to AVR, here.

      • Then you harbour the same delusions he does.

    • You reading the same comments I am? I do not see any homophobic comments on here. Anti-exhibitionism, yes. But the two are mutually exclusive. I don’t give a hoot what a person’s sexuality is, as long as it is between consenting adults. But gay, straight or whatever, I don’t want it on public display.

      I’m a big supporter of gay rights but you’ll never find me anywhere near the parade until they end the exhibitionism. I think it hurts their cause far more than it helps, by reinforcing every stereotype homophobes have.

    • The article was addressing precisely the attitude you espouse. It is not homophobic to express disapproval for the tasteless, exhibitionist behaviour that defines these events. What you are saying is that no criticism of said event can be tolerated; that by definition any opposition to the behaviour of attendees is “homophobic”. With that outlook, it is no wonder you see homophobia everywhere. If you define it that broadly, you’re bound to find many millions of “homophobics”.

  10. Isn’t that David Frum in that photo?…

  11. As a gay man myself, having lived through the Dark Ages of gay liberation, I can understand why some gays might parade nude. For myself, I find the practice in poor taste, though I do not condemn it.. Public nudity and sexual orientation are two different issues, and not to be confused. Minorities seeking the rights and privileges of the majorities in a democratic society like Canada might be more successful if they accepted the same responsibilities as the majorities; and likely they would project a mature image of our country internationally. Thank you, Emma, for a well-considered article

  12. Unless you’re fresh out of the closet or looking to hook up, I don’t know why you’d want to go to the Parade, it’s mostly corporate advertising and a lot of unfortunate nudity.

  13. I’m a little late to this party, but I just got around to reading your piece in the print edition.
    None of the nude people I saw at Pride this past weekend were acting lewdly. We’re getting to the point where the general public (at least here in Canada) is accepting that homosexuality is not unnatural; why preach that nudity is unnatural? The naked body itself is not sexual and therefore not “bawdy”. I thought we got over that with the whole topless women case, no? Guess not.

  14. I love the bawdiness at Pride! I think it’s something this uptight city really needs. And as a gay man, I’m really happy to see how many str8′s embrace it! If you’d been there this year, you would have seen thousands of str8s, most of them young but not all, walking around all day in sexy slut-wear, many of them wearing rainbow colours in support. It made this gay man proud to see what a great affect we’ve had on this city.

    I think we are all WAY too afraid of sex. We are taught how wrong it is, and how shameful our bodies are, since we were babies. I’m grateful that the nudists and the leather fans and the sexy women and men of ALL shapes and sizes are willing to show how comfortable they are with their own bodies and with their sexuality, whatever form that may take!

    Sure, there are some who really don’t like it, who find skin and sex distasteful. That’s okay; you don’t have to love everything about Pride. No-one ever will. But rather than trying to stop everyone else from having fun, why not go somewhere else instead?

    After all, someday you may change your mind, accept your body, and be willing to show a little skin in public.

  15. You make some good points, Emma. But here’s my view:

    The issue is a basic one, one that has energized societies around the world since the dawn of civilisation. It can be trivialized as “The Prudes versus The Sluts”. It’s something we each struggle with, the pull of our genetic programming versus the values our parents and schools shoved on us.

    People struggle throughout their lives with this conflict. When you first realize that you can cast off the shame you were inflicted with as child about your body and about your sexuality, it’s a hugely liberating experience, whatever your sexuality.

    The collective realization of this in the queer community was a HUGE step forward towards freedom and equality. Thus the bawdiness at Pride IS a Heritage Moment.

    But every individual who attends Pride (or Caribana, or any other raunchy festival around the world) is also undergoing their own internal struggle, trying to liberate themselves from fear and shame. I’m glad that there’s a wonderfully accepting and loving festival like Pride where everyone, queer or straight, young or old, large or small, can publicly proclaim their pride in their bodies and their sexuality, AND be applauded and cheered for it!

  16. Why pick on Pride? What about Caribana, or their much raunchier cousins around the world? What about the public beaches where people strip down to next to nothing, like Sunnyside? If you don’t like nudity and sexuality, why focus on the gay events that celebrate it, rather than the corporations that exploit it?

  17. Okay, maybe *some* of the people who object to the bawdiness of pride aren’t homophobes, and are merely objecting because they’re prudes. So, uh… Why are we meant to pander to them?

  18. I’m a gay man who used to find the nudity at Pride to be disgusting, mainly because none of the guys I wanted to see naked were naked while the guys who were naked weren’t attractive to me. Btw nudity isn’t debauchery, not by a long shot, even if in public. But then I got thinking about why these people who aren’t genetically blessed, I’m not either I admit, were the ones parading in only socks and shoes.

    It occurred to me that the nudists, mostly members of TNT MEN (Totally Naked Toronto Men Enjoying Nudity) weren’t exhibitionists so much as challenging the shame most people feel about their natural bodies and the embarrassment so many feel in even just taking off their shirt on a hot day since most people are not genetically blessed. They’re promoting the concept that all natural bodies are beautiful in their own way and no one should feel shame about their body because they don’t measure up to the beauty standard in advertising, in movies and on TV. Ads use the genetically blessed to make people feel ashamed of their own natural bodies in order to promote sales.

    The nudists in the parade aren’t promoting sex but pride in their natural bodies, in seeing the beauty of bodies as they exist even if they don’t match societal standards of beauty. That’s a very powerful message that contradicts pretty much everything we’re told by our consumerist society. I went from being disgusted to being very impressed by the nudists in the Pride parade after I took the time time to think about what they were all about. They challenge our perceptions of what we should feel ashamed or embarrassed of and what we should feel proud of and that is a very good thing and most definitely not debauchery in the least bit.

    But then again what is supposed to be so wrong with debauchery in the first place? Marching in the Pride parade naked isn’t debauchery by any stretch but lets face it, debauchery feels amazingly wonderful and is good for anyone to engage in however they choose to do so. Being LGB is all about sex and who we’re having sex with, just because some LGB, and T people as well enjoy more traditional sex lives doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with those who enjoy fetishes or less conventional sex lives. LGBT people are an incredibly diverse group, why shouldn’t the full range of LGBT people be in the Pride parade? Where’s the pride in being ashamed of other LGBT people? Why should the Pride parade only include the most sanitized LGBT people that even social conservatives and prudes wouldn’t object to?

    Toronto Pride is supposed to be a celebration of Toronto’s LGBT communities, not just certain elements of it. For far too long LGBT people have been censored out of sight and forced into hiding. How sad that some LGBT people now want to hide away and censor out other LGBT people just because they’re different than them when it wasn’t so long ago when even the most socially conservative LGBT folks were also censored out of public view. Pride is a time for celebrating the incredible diversity of LGBT people regardless of what social conservatives think of some of them. Pride is a celebration for the LGBT communities, its not and hopefully never will be, some marketing tool for social acceptance by socially conservative hetero folks, that will be the day when Pride is officially dead and done with. Pride should never ever be about marketing LGBT people to social conservatives, Pride does not exist for their benefit, its for all LGBT people to celebrate who they are, regardless of who they are or what they enjoy doing.

    That’s why so many enjoy Pride so much, that’s why people travel so far to partake in Toronto Pride, because its not like the everyday, socially “respectable” society we live in. People enjoy Pride because its accepting of all and all people are free to display those parts of their lives they must keep hidden away the rest of the year. Pride is a chance to celebrate and to be free to be yourself in public with others like yourself. How sad it would be if Pride were ever to become “respectable”.

  19. Wise article. There are special rules for special groups it seems. Gay public nudity makes stereotypes about gay people being lewd and insensitive to the reasons for sexual mores seem true.

  20. As long as you’re a man-whore who likes women! Then that’s fine. If gays gotta hear about everybody’s escapades and see heteronormative culture and entertainment and sex and nudity in places you wouldn’t assume, then straights should too. So too, with oppression, thinly veiled attacks that are passive aggressive, (slurs mean other things but all things lame are “gay” or the other “f” word), stigma and hypocrisy. Get over yourselves. They’re bodies. I don’t advocate for public nudity but to say that gays are so evil why don’t you look at the logd in your own pornographic eyes rather than the splinters in ours

  21. That hetero Vancouver couple practically screwin in the streets during their riots was a national treasure. Good for that guy!

  22. Don’t like being called a bigot? Then don’t put groups of people down for what your own community does! Get over yourselves! Any movie or walk through the park and you’ll see naked straight people in public too

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