COLUMN: Pride & My Prejudice
I have never been to Pride before. Any Pride. I’ve been asked, even had an offer to buy my ticket but I have just never really fancied it.
Originally, it came from internal homophobia. I used to tell myself when I was younger that Pride was a ridiculous idea. I was blinded to the fact that homophobia and transphobia is a daily occurrence, I had never truly faced “real” homophobia, the kind that makes it into the papers. My mind naively threw a filter over the micro-aggressions I hadn’t then realised I faced every day. “They didn’t mean it like that”, I would tell myself despite knowing, deep down, that I felt uncomfortable or hurt for a reason. Even as the years grew on, I never cared much for Pride. I felt it was just a massive party rather than a social message. So what was the point in going?
Then Orlando happened. And in the days after I attended an event that opened my eyes. Together, hundreds upon hundreds of LGBT people and allies held hands and created a chain around the entirety of Manchester’s Gay Village. I stood with them, I consoled others as they cried, the idea of something so heinous being too much for anyone to process. Then I heard the thunderous speeches from community figures, heroes and activists whose words hit me hard, like a train, waking me up to what had previously blinded me. I got lost in the beauty of the candlelight vigil, the flickering of the flames danced defiantly, refusing the be dampened by the rain. I realised then that we were indeed a community and that Pride was still intrinsically vital and felt shameful for my past judgement.
When this year’s Pride rolled around, I was still on the fence. I am not a person who enjoys nightclubs or crowds. At 26, I feel I have seen and done everything that can be seen and done in gay bars. I had a wild time when I was younger and I enjoyed it but now I am easily bored and would rather be at home or in a pub having a laugh. The samey music, the awkward dancing… the entire thing just gives me anxiety. But in the back of my head was a nagging feeling that this year, I should go. That I should give Pride a chance. To make up for those times I disparaged it. The guilt won, and so I bought my ticket.
The first night was fun but I got far too drunk during pre-drinks. It was Day 2, on the Saturday, where I came into my own. I was merrily and, this time, appropriately buzzed, surrounded by friends. I wandered the street. I saw men openly kissing, I saw people dressed in leather, even dressed as puppies. Drag Queens roamed, their unmistakably fabulous cackles echoing around Canal Street’s historic alleyways. The floors vibrated gently thanks the collective thump of the surrounding music. I could feel it in my toes. And so my heart swelled. In the face of everything, here we were, partying. Come as you are, warts and all.
In one bar, I got talking to some friends about our first relationships. We all had a similar story. Aged between 13 and 15, our first boyfriends were mentally and sometimes physically abusive. They were supposedly straight and, in their confusion, lashed out at us. We talked about how deeply those relationships had shaken our trust, our self-esteem and our belief in love and what is acceptable. We wondered if we allowed ourselves to be in these relationships because, at the time, we weren’t taught anything else. We couldn’t speak with our parents because that’d mean coming out, we couldn’t speak to our friends in case they exposed us and so, instead, we stayed with the people we thought loved us, even though they hurt us. For us then, it was the only way to feel accepted.
Yet, there I was, 13 years later telling this story in a gay bar. Surrounded by happy, proud gay men. I looked around and wondered how many of them had the same story as my friends and I. How many broken people arrived and, piece by piece, were mended by this community? I relished in every opportunity to flirt in a queue, to catch the eye of a cute guy without fear. I felt empowered.
Still, I feel that this will likely be my first and last Pride. Pride is, indeed, a big party and it’s essentially endless drinking for days. The clubs didn’t allow anybody to take their drinks outside after 11pm so there was no respite from the punishing Bank Holiday heat, the temperature rising with every additional body that entered the club. The crowds were spectacular and would snake for miles, everyone packed together. It was a level of intimacy I’ve never found comfortable. I am a man of simple pleasures; a book, a TV show or an in-depth chat. I feel my days of twerking and sweating in a heaving gay bar are over. It is time for me to sashay away.
Although my club days are numbered, I am still full of love for Pride. It made me forgive myself for my earlier prejudice. It made me proud to be gay. As I walked to get my Taxi on Sunday, bidding farewell to this spectacular festival, I couldn’t help but smile, thinking of the memories I had made in a short weekend. Not a single person within the cordon cared about how they were dressed, who they loved and who they were. I looked back at that special place, sacred, its magic power to heal the wounds of pain and injustice.
So, sure, I may not be present next year, propping up the bars and wandering the streets but I promise this, every single year, month, week and day of my life; I will still be filled with Pride.