As you doubtless know, I spent last Saturday at Bristol Pride. For the most part it was an absolute blast. The weather was great (at least for exiled California girls), and it was wonderful to see so many people of all genders and sexualities out enjoying the fun. I got to do the BCFM Sports Show, and spend much of the day in the Shout Out field studio, which was one of the best places in the park to see all of the action on the main stage.
Having said that, however, I still came away from the event with a sense of unease, and I’ve been trying to work through that and find out what it was all about. The explanation I have come up with is that Pride isn’t political any more.
Now of course I need to explain exactly what I mean by that. Mostly when people complain about Pride not being political they are complaining that it is no longer anti-establishment, and specifically no longer anti-capitalist. While I have some sympathy with that view I think it is inevitable that, as a wide spectrum of sexualities becomes more acceptable in mainstream society, broad political activism is bound to wane. Gays and lesbians are no longer considered to be outsiders, and some of them are quite wealthy. Heck, this year Bristol had a VIP tent where rich people could enjoy Pride in comfort.
I should also note that politics wasn’t absent from the event. Lots of politicians were there to celebrate alongside us, including the Elected Mayor, George Ferguson; the Lord Mayor, Faruk Choudhury; the (gay) Deputy Lord Mayor, Peter Main; the (gay) head of South Gloucestershire Council, Ian Boulton; and the two city centre MPs, Stephen Williams (gay) and Kerry McCarthy. All of them were, of course, very happy about the impending passage of the marriage equality bill into law. That duly happened this week. There was definitely a sense of victory in the air.
Victory, however, means that the battle for QUITBAG rights is over. Many gay and lesbian people probably assume that it is. And yet the marriage bill, as it turned out, was not a “marriage equality” bill; it was a “different but equal same-sex marriage” bill. During the campaign, most QUILTBAG activists tried to refer to it as a “marriage equality” bill, but the government and the media steadfastly insisted on referring to it as a “same-sex marriage” bill, because equality was something they really didn’t want.
For most practical purposes, of course, same-sex marriages and opposite-sex marriages are equal. Where they are not, it mostly affects people who are outside the gender binary. And there’s the rub. Because while the fight for rights for G and L people may be almost over, for Trans people it is still very much in progress, and for others such as Intersex folks it has barely begun.
This is what I mean by Pride no longer being political. There is an assumption that we have won. We don’t have to protest any more. Indeed, having anyone else complaining that their own rights haven’t yet been granted is seen as “raining on the parade”. Trans people were certainly welcome at Bristol Pride. They weren’t shut out the way that they were in Toronto, for example. The organisers certainly tried to provide trans-specific events, and it isn’t their fault that many trans people are still terrified of being out. But the impression I got from Saturday was that trans people were only fully welcome if they were happy, celebrating Trans people.
There is, of course, an argument to be made that gay rights have been won, not because gays are seen as angry political protestors who need to be accommodated, but because gays and lesbians are seen as people “just like us” who happen to have better parties. The general public doesn’t much like angry complaining people. It likes happy, dancing people who are all about love and happiness.
Possibly trans people need to be happier too. There is, perhaps, a suggestion of a start of this in the “Untragic Trans” panel that was held at this year’s WisCon and is available as an Outer Alliance podcast. Initially that panel made me very angry, because tragic trans people are certainly not a myth. It is great that so many people are making a success of transition these days, but to do so you need a combination of privileges in wealth, social class, geographic location, race and so on. While trans women are still being murdered at a rate of around 5 a week worldwide no one should be claiming that transition is easy and risk free. But as the panel went on the panelists made it clear that they were aware of this. What they wanted to do was provide positive role models to counteract the negative ones. That’s a worthwhile project.
So yes, we need images of happy, successful trans people to present to the general public. Bristol Pride certainly provided that. The younger attendees, in particular, seemed very willing to experiment with gender and sexuality. Given how far we have come in two decades, it may well be that we are only a generation or two away from a society that accepts gender diversity as much as it now accepts diversity of sexuality. On the other hand, it isn’t there right now.
That’s my problem. I’m very happy to celebrate the victory that the marriage legislation represents. I’m absolutely delighted for all of the lesbian and gay friends I have who are now able to marry. But I can’t enjoy a supposedly LGBT event that is all about celebration of victory when my own civil rights are being systematically stripped away. Make it an LG, or LGB, event and I’ll be very happy, but I can’t join in something that purports to be an LGBT celebration if all mention of what is being done to trans people is omitted because it would spoil the party atmosphere.
What I expect will need to happen is that independent Trans Pride organizations will spring up, running their own events which are still very much about political protest as well as having a good time. Indeed, there is one such event happening in Brighton at the end of the month, and I intend to be there. Manchester’s Sparkle event has, of course, been happening for years, but it conflicted with Bristol Pride this year. Next year, if the same conflict of dates happens, I might go to Manchester instead. Or I might just stay home.
By the way, if you are interested in an update on what the marriage legislation has done to Trans people, Sarah Brown has an excellent and in depth explanation.