John Muldoon is a mature student based in Durham, England.
I’m a 35 year old gay man who was raised in Manchester. I’ve been out since I was 16 and I’ve experienced gay-related violence about four times in my life.
There we go, I’ve established my gay credentials, as frankly no one likes a tourist. I have been on marches and protests for gay rights since I was a teen and yet I have always disliked Pride intensely.
I appreciate the history of the event and the essential part it’s played in gay liberation but what it morphed into is not all about pride anymore.
Having people walk about in dog collars on leads, or in thongs with their asses out … That’s not homosexuality, that’s just personal sexual kinks on display. It’s always annoyed the hell out of me and made me deeply embarrassed to be associated with these people.
‘It trivializes my sexuality to a sex act’
I’m personally very sex positive; as sex is great! It doesn’t however need to be displayed to the world and it shouldn’t be what is used to define the gay community. Doing crap like this reverts progress as it makes people think being a gay man is all about cock, and it isn’t.
It trivializes my sexuality to a sex act, when being gay is actually about who we love. Who we can fall for and spend our lives with, and form our own ways forward, against societal norms, judgments and persecution.
Being gay is not ‘just the same but different,’ as you immediately become part of a minority in a society designed for the majority. It has an effect on your world view and that should be celebrated at Pride.
What shouldn’t happen at Pride is dragging your bedroom antics outside, to display to the world, just because you’re an exhibitionist with major issues about personal boundaries and respect of others.
‘Pride doesn’t need to be co-opted by public fetishists’
We bracket ourselves far too much in the gay community by labels we think sexual partners may like: top, bottom or versatile; are you a twink or a daddy, a bear, an otter or a cub; a sub or a dom; a scene queen or off-scene; straight acting or a screamer; masculine or fem; leather, uniforms or formal attire. It goes on and on and on.
Pride shouldn’t be about that. That’s part of our gay world, of course, but it’s not to be put on display to families who support our equality on a day designed to celebrate that gay people are parts of our community.
We are here and queer but we are also people like Tony, from down the Post Office or Debra, who works in A&E. It can be glam, flamboyant, camp and fun, as why the hell not? It doesn’t however need to be co-opted by public fetishists and attached to a seedy sexual tone.
Pride should always be about inclusivity for all. It should not be used as a vehicle for a bunch of exhibitionists to get their bits out in public. It should be about demonstrating that we are your sons and daughters, your brothers and sisters, parents, grandparents: We are part of this world and we’re not going away.
We contribute to society and we have a right to the same opportunities and legal protections as everyone. It’s about standing together united against those who would want those rights stripped away!
It should be a call to those who feel lost or alone due to their sexuality, to tell them they are not the only one and there is a community they can come to that will help them.
But Pride hasn’t been like that for years. You’re more likely just to get criticized for not wearing the right clothes, or being told you are too old to enter a certain bar, by a 16-year-old in full body glitter.
‘Pride no longer reflects the gay movement or gay people in general’
Here in the UK, Pride got co-opted years ago, after the major equality battles were won, by the fringes of the gay community.
It no longer reflects the gay movement or gay people in general, who in my experience are mostly trying to pay their mortgages, sort out their pensions or bring up kids.
The vast majority of my pals are straight. If there was such thing as a Straight Pride rally I would not expect to see Beryl from down the shops being led about by nipple clamps.
I understand that straight people have sex. I don’t need to see bits of it in public to be reminded that they’re straight. It’s just odd to link the two!
Nigel Whitfield is Director of leather/fetish group BLUF.
Many of us have our own traditions for Pride, whether it’s where we meet, the people we spend the day with, or what we do in the parade. For people like me – I run a large leather club called BLUF – part of our tradition is marching at Pride in our gear.
We’ve been an official marching group at Pride in London since 2012, and we’ve been joined by puppies, rubber guys and others.
This year saw one of the biggest fetish contingents in the parade ever. We get a great reception, and many people ask for their photos to be taken with us.
Yet, more so than in the past, it feels to me, it’s quite common to hear the sentiment that the drag queens, or the leather guys, or the puppies give the community a bad name.
Why, the complaints go, can’t we just be normal?
‘If an image isn’t visually arresting, it won’t get used’
The press will print the pictures of the guys in leather, or dresses, and everyone will think that’s what gay is all about. It’s not family friendly!
Yes, the press probably will look for the striking photos. I’m a journalist myself, and I know that given the choice between a guy in jeans and a t-shirt, a scary looking butch person in leather, or someone with 12 tons of feathers stuck to their head, the guy in jeans won’t get much of a chance from the picture editor.
But you know what? That’s not his fault. It’s not the fault of the leather guy, or the feather guy. It’s the media that does that, and I’m honestly not convinced that making the Pride march look like ‘everyman’ (or woman) would mean that photos of the ‘regular’ people are what would appear; If an image isn’t visually arresting, it won’t get used.
Do you believe that people in 2017 really think that every gay person wears leather just because they saw a photo in the paper?
Is marching in leather, or gearing up as a puppy flaunting the sexual side of things?
‘Why should a single section of the gay community be told, ‘No, you shouldn’t be here’’
Read what you like into the gear, but if people abide by the appropriate rules for what they wear and how they behave in public, why shouldn’t they dress as they please?
Why should a single section of the gay community be told, ‘No, you shouldn’t be here, you give us a bad image?’ What next? No gay Tories, or Muslims? No disabled people, or people who don’t go to the gym enough?
Let’s not forget that sexuality, whether gay or straight, is a broad church. Recently we’ve fought for – and in the UK won – equal marriage, but that’s not the only battle.
Laws on pornography, for example, have the potential to affect the sexual freedom of everyone, however respectably we’re dressed. People are more complex than ‘nice boys in cool t-shirts get married, and guys in gear are perverts.’
‘Standing united we are stronger’
To use ‘think of the children’ as a reason to push out some groups is to adopt the same argument as those who supported Section 28 [a 1980s UK law prohibiting the ‘promotion of homosexuality’ by local authorities], and fought against every single step of our march to equality.
Pride is about visibility. All the different groups within the gay community should be allowed to be visible, because we are often all, to one degree or another, affected by the same laws and regulations.
Standing united we are stronger; and we shouldn’t allow anyone, least of all ourselves, to decide that certain parts of the community should be pushed back into the shadows, so that we can present a slick, harmless image.
Equal rights are for everyone, regardless of how they dress, or whatever consensual things they do in bed.
‘We aren’t claiming to represent every gay man’
Whether we’re marching in leather, drag, or dressed up as a puppy, we aren’t claiming to represent every gay man. But we are on the streets to say, ‘Yes, we’re here, and everyone deserves to be treated equally.’ Whatever they’re wearing, why should some of us have to sit at the back of the bus?
If you honestly believe that by appearing in Pride marches we harm the cause of equality, or that we would all be treated equally if only we kept up appearances and ‘looked right,’ then turn your backs as we pass, so that you don’t have to watch.
But as you do so, perhaps you’d care to remember the words of [anti-Nazi theologian] Pastor Martin Niemöller, or ponder that when the police raided the Stonewall Inn in 1969 and started the battle for LGBT equality that so many are still fighting around the world today, some of the first to start the fight were the guys in frocks and heels.
An earlier version of Nigel’s contribution appeared on the BLUF blog.