The articles I submit to this website are educational in nature. Last week, however, I was asked to cover the events of Long Beach Pride. I happily obliged, as I am a proud gay man living in Long Beach and would be patronizing many of the events included in the three days of festivities anyway.
As Sunday approached, and I stood in the kitchen of a friend who throws an annual parade party, I was surprised with agreement while listening to an outspoken guest frustrated with some aspects of how Long Beach displays its “pride.” I found myself reassured by many of his observations, frustrations, and overall impression of our community.
Instead of covering the usual events, parties, festivals, and such associated with last weekend, I asked if he would mind, as a member of the Long Beach community, a gay man, a college student, and someone’s son, brother, and friend, to put into writing his argument in order to be posted here. I’m grateful for his submission, and encourage you to comment as you wish.
I am what I am: Reflecting on Long Beach Pride
By Brian J. Addison
As Pride came to its 25th beginning-and-end here in Long Beach, we have had little reflection on what the past 25 years have represented for Long Beach and its gay community. Pride, in its essence, is overwhelming empowering. It has provided an avenue for those disenfranchised or marginalized by their gender and sexuality to openly proclaim their individuality; to stand up and, proudly, denounce the powers that have kept them in the shadows and propel the power they hold from this public proclamation of identity. The tradition of the Pride Festival also has an essence that is progressive and conscious-expanding: it invites everyone — normal or otherwise, secular or religious, popular or esoteric — to come and see the culture that they might be excluding themselves from. A culture that is accepting, inclusive, and, above all, loving.
It is heavily on those tenets — acceptance, inclusivity, love — that many of those not only from within, but from without the gay community come to enjoy about Pride. There is such an overwhelming sensation of feeling at calm and feeling in place. It is why many of us bring our mothers to Pride for her first ‘outing’ and not a bar. It is why many of us include our family — gay, straight or otherwise — to join us for Pride. Pride is about all of us, working cohesively like the colors of the gay community’s iconic rainbow.
I am what I am.
What a wonderful saying. Such a beautiful mantra that has unfortunately, like the essence of Pride, been taken for granted. In turn, Pride has become exactly what it isn’t: exclusive, uncomfortable, and immature. Instead of the festival being what it was advertised as — a fairgrounds where kids and adults alike can be submerged in the rich GLBT “culture and colorful human diversity” — it was more of a sad sight that was littered with trash. Men and women openly exposing themselves (I thought we had a beach at night for that?), intoxication to such extents that safety is questioned (a friend found it “hilarious” that his boss was so utterly incoherent that he had unsafe intercourse with a young man in the back of his truck — STDs were not even hinted at)… In other words, people completely and utterly within their own world, without any acknowledgement of what they were celebrating or, more importantly, with whom.
When we’ve reached a point where something as truly magnetic and beautiful as Pride becomes an inverted reason to completely ignore those around you, it becomes overwhelmingly depressing. It is sad that our family, from parents to cousins, brothers to nieces, are being more and more castigated. There was no apology when someone was stumbled onto by someone else. There was no thank you for the people serving endless drinks and plates of food. There was no acknowledgement of the battle this community has faced, from Stonewall to the court’s recent decision on gay marriage. This is not Pride. This is a self-aggrandizing parade of putting one’s ego on a pedestal. “I am what I am” — again, such a beautiful mantra — suddenly sours and becomes “LOOK at what I am”.
This is not an easy call to make. Pride had helped immensely with accepting and feeling comfortable with myself. I was proud of ‘my’ community: flamers, drags, butches and all. And why? Because they never batted an eye at someone else; they were open-arms thoroughly because they knew, some quite too well, of the castigation and exclusion they had received from society. But those fairgrounds told another tale, one in which backs were turned and noses stuck up if you weren’t ‘in’; one in which we had abandoned our essence in exchange for advertising ourselves. Even more disheartening is the fact that those having backs turned on them have been some our most important and caring supporters. These people, connected to us by GLBT family members or friends, are what have made us possible. They have been standing by us and this is of most utter importance– for what is the point if you are by yourself in facing the battle?
I am what I am. Take that in and you begin to see that something is missing. For as a great philosopher and fellow member of the gay community, Michel Foucault, once said in a quote I use often, “It is not about creating our OWN culture. It is about creating A culture.” In this sense, Pride used to do this continually. However, now we must make an uncomfortable, albeit essential change: we must regard and reflect and recreate. Why are we charging families to experience a culture? Why are we excluding participation? Why are we cutting off correspondence?