Yesterday was the Pride parade in Washington, DC, which was a unique experience. Having never attended such a mass gathering of the gender and sexuality minorities community, I was overwhelmed by the immense crowds and the vast spectrum of style and presentation. But, as potentially affirming as the experience was, it was more disheartening. I was particularly troubled by three things: the lack of trans* representation, the rampant commercialisation of the parade, and the heteronormative appropriation of a GSM event.
As a trans woman attending with another trans woman and a trans man, I was looking forward to seeing others from my subsection of the community stepping-out onto streets that are more often hostile than friendly. I was anxious to see myself represented in the community and to feel a part of something larger, yet there was a distressing lack of trans* representation at the event. Though we missed the beginning of the parade due to metro rail-work also slated for this Saturday and Sunday, the section of parade I saw did not have any trans* specific floats nor was there trans* representation in other floats. There were gay, lesbian, queer, and drag specific floats. There we’re rainbow flags, gay pride flags, marriage equality shirts and banners. But, what I saw of the parade did not include political messages promoting trans* rights, demanding fair use of bathrooms, or acceptance into public spaces. I did not see anything memorialising the trans women of colour beaten and murdered by intolerant people. It felt very much like we were simply overlooked by the community.
Complicating this feeling was the rampant commercialism the parade was mired in. The number of banks, products, churches, and service providers with little to no connection to the community overwhelmed the floats that had strong ties to the community, such as The Blade and the homosexual contingent of the AARP. Conversations I overheard after the parade had more to do with the companies represented and how sexy the multiple floats of gay, cis, white men dancing in their underwear were then recognition of the gay owned businesses, such as The Blade, which has had to make cut backs on its staff and coverage due to the harsh economy.
But, perhaps, all of this is to be accepted and overlooked with a nod and polite thank you for thinking of us and allowing us to have our parade in your fine city. Except, I left with the realisation that it wasn’t really our parade. Much like how everyone is Irish on Saint Patrick’s Day, it was looking to me that everyone was homosexual during the pride festival. A conversation held by two women on the metro ride home validated this impression. Their conversation started off innocuously, with the one observing the other’s rainbow flag and pointing out that she, also, had gone to the parade. Ah, yes, I thought, members of my community out and open. This was not the case. Here is a snippet of their conversation.
Woman 1: That’s a great flag.
Woman 2: Yeah, I marched in the parade.
Woman 1: I was there. It was so much fun! I’m NOT gay, but I totally respect you people.
Woman 2: I’m NOT gay either! ::laughing:: The bank I work for was in the parade so we all had to march. I had to tell my parents that work required it otherwise they wouldn’t have approved of my going.
Woman 1: Oh, I know, it’s SO hard to be a supporter for gay people, but I love my gay boys!
Woman 2: I know, right. My gay, I call him my gay boyfriend, is so fabulous how could I not support him.
Woman 1: I have a BOYFRIEND, but I ALWAYS tell him when a gay boy thinks he’s hot.
Woman 2: Me, too! I ALWAYS tell him because that’s the highest compliment you can get, to have a gay boy think your boyfriend is hot.
Woman 1: Not that I don’t support the gay girls, too.
Woman 2: Oh, definitely! But the gay boys are cooler.
Their conversation continued for fifteen minutes, at inappropriate decibel levels, as the two proud supporters shouted across the aisle at each other. It eases my worries of harassment, discrimination, and physical assault knowing I have such staunch and committed activists being fabulous and marching on my behalf in my parade.
Although I enjoyed the company I was with, I cannot say I got much out of the parade. With the lack of representation, commercialisation, and appropriation holding centre stage in the venue, I would have been happier at a coffee shop chatting with my friends and getting back to the grassroots movement to gain a little recognition and respect.