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.


  1. Wow, for once I actually feel qualified to comment on one of your blog posts!

    So my new girlfriend and I were walking around London yesterday. I really like her. She really likes me. Consequently, we held hands and kissed and were generally pretty sickening in our Public Displays of Attention. We had no wolf-whistles, comments, negative attention, or positive attention. So far so good.

    But there was still a little part of me thinking, 'this is wrong. I'm kissing a girl in public. What would my mother say?' As we know, my mother is generally pretty wrong. Still, I had this weird niggling feeling. It passed as the day went on. Maybe it's just because I'm not used to having a pretty girl on my arm?! Hmm. I feel like I'm being an exhibitionist just for being with Natalie in such a public way. I wonder if I would if I were straight...?

    Oh, and I have absolutely no objection to straight people in gay clubs, so long as they're not there to titillate a straight partner. I've TAKEN you to gay clubs before, for heaven's sake. I think it's nice that there's generally such an inclusive atmosphere. Yes, some people do object. But there's always idiots in any culture.

    And as for 'allies' - well, I'm not sure how I feel about gay rights at all. I'm not active in any kind of movement. Being gay is just part of who I am. And talk of 'tolerance' kind of makes me feel like there's an implication that gayness is something to be tolerated, i.e. that we need straight people to say it's ok. When really, it should just *be*.But anyone sticking up for other people's rights is fine by me, really.

    On a final note -

    PS Apologies if this is incoherent!

  2. Yes, the term 'rights' is an odd one. I used to think 'rights' is 'whatever people ought to have without question', but it seems it is often used these days in a legalistic sense. So perhaps it's more clearly a case of 'rights' when we're talking about countries where, for example, the state-enforced penalty for gay sex is execution. I'd also use it to talk about the right to be free from hate crime (eg. Iraq, eg. 'corrective rape' in South Africa, but also here). I prefer the term 'rights' precisely BECAUSE terms like 'tolerance' imply straight people condescendingly 'putting up with' something they still look down upon.

    For me 'rights' generally comes down to choice, and choice depends on full knowledge. So women's rights are about the right to choose freely and without social pressure whether to be a housewife, whether to have sex with someone etc. And I know being gay isn't a matter of choice, but I'd say having free discussion and information, freedom to kiss in public etc without being embarrassed, would count as a right.

    The Iraq article is pretty horrific. I hadn't read about the violence against homosexuals before but I studied how the 'liberation' of Iraq may have been a backward step for women in some ways. I don't know if things are changing, but the occupying forces were dropping the pressure for certain measures aimed at promoting gender equality in order to placate non-representative right-wing groups who were disgruntled with other aspects of the new constitution. Also, when there's a foreign invasion some places see a tendency to uphold 'our traditional culture', correctly or incorrectly interpreted as oppressive towards women and homosexuals, against the 'evil' influences of the invaders.