Sunday, 5 July 2009

Musings from a straight woman at Pride

My mother and sister came to visit me in London this weekend, so I took them round the big sights. When we got to Trafalgar Square, we stumbled upon lots of very happy people congregated for the Pride celebration. The atmosphere was infectious and I wanted to jump in the fountains and celebrate, but settled for spending rather too much money on rainbow banners and pink Union flags, and waving them around a bit while listening to some rousing speeches and sexy opera. Just a few thoughts, in case anyone's out there...

I know that there is still a long way to go in Britain regarding LGBT rights, but I did feel a surge of happiness that I'm able to live in a country where such a celebration can take place in the middle of a national monument. Of course, that shouldn't even occur to me, but there are countries where the gathering would be dispersed violently by police and the participants at risk of execution. I liked that the atmosphere spilt over into the streets and parks outside the square - I've never before seen men kissing each other outside a specifically 'gay' setting.

At the same time, talking to my mum reminds me that (maybe because I've studied gender and had certain personal experiences?) my thought patterns work in different ways to those of many even in Britain. She's a pretty open-minded and tolerant person, but I still think she finds it hard to take things like bumping into someone with breasts and a codpiece, or me wrapping myself in a rainbow flag, into her stride. I'm not saying I know it all but at least I'm trying to break the moulds of socialisation, whereas some people haven't even heard of the concept. Sometimes I just don't know where to start with trying to explain my views to my mum, because both she and I have lost sight of the roots of our 'gut' feelings.

It's amazing to be among people who at least seem to be refusing to judge others by their appearances or their preferences or their identification. Even to me as a straight woman, it felt incredibly liberating - so much so that it made me take a step back and wonder at how little I notice the pressures I must be accustomed to normally. At gay bars in the past, I've felt much more at ease than in other clubs, given that in some places I've had unpleasant experiences with men who got pushy when I refused or ceased to dance with them. In LGBT spaces people don't seem to make the same assumptions or demands and I feel a lot less 'on my guard'. (If this is me as a straight woman, how much more so for LGBT people themselves?!)

Does this make me 'appropriative'? Firstly, does a straight person 'using' an LGBT space to escape the feeling of pressure divert from the point of gay bars as a safe space for gay people? Secondly, does my very holistic view of the importance of the LGBT rights movement detract from the fact that it is just that - a rights movement? I value LGBT rights per se - being able to love and have sex with whichever consenting adults you choose affects real individuals on a very deep and personal level. However, I also see the issue as having much broader and deeper implications for many aspects of our lives and society - the idea that we are more than reproductive machines, the desire not to force people into moulds, the attempt not to judge on appearances or condemn what are entirely personal choices, a dislike for living rigidly by ancient scriptures. As a straight person, I don't really separate these two dimensions. I'm also female and 'feminist', but not the type of 'feminist' who thinks that men can't be 'feminists' or that their interests are entirely separate from those of women. I imagine there's the same sort of variety among LGBT people as there is among feminists, but I'd be interested to hear any views on how LGBT people feel about 'allies' and how far we can be part of any movement, especially if both dimensions are important to us. Is my getting excited about a Pride event to the extent that I'd like to wave flags and dance in the fountains too much?

Walking through St James' Park afterwards with my rainbow flag did feel a little strange. I think this was because I imagined most people seeing me would assume I was homosexual. I suppose it might be some faint insight into how LGBT people sometimes feel, with the majority 'assuming' that everybody else they see on the street is heterosexual. My mum fretted that I was sending out the wrong signals to 'the right sort of men' (aka straight potential boyfriends). But to me it felt both pleasant and unsettling to forget about my desire for a boyfriend, just for half an hour, and it was revealing that this desire had been a factor in my behaviour before I donned a rainbow flag.