Monday, June 18, 2012

Is It Okay that I Kind of Hate the Month of June?

Well, hate may be an extreme word.

And I don't know that it totally captures what I'm feeling, but I don't know that Pride does either. I'm not sure if it's the level of visibility LGBT folks are experiencing at this moment, in positive and negative ways, but there is something about Pride this year and the month of June that doesn't strike me as that much fun, or Pride-like. Maybe it's because I live in the Bay Area, and I take advantage of the fact that people can be "out" in pretty big ways and in ways that others in this country, not to mention outside North America, cannot.  It could be that. Or, it could be that, in spite of all of the things that "Pride" has gotten us, folks still pretend that Black and LGBT are two separate experiences, two separate "issues." Maybe it's that another teenager of color, Brandon Elizares, decided that he "couldn't make it" anymore and couldn't wait for the taunts, the disapproval, the threats to get somehow get better. It could be any number of these things, or it could just be a general malaise.

There was a time when I was really excited and hopeful about the month of June, wonderful things happen--the QWOCMAP (Queer Women of Color Media Arts Project) and Frameline Film Festivals, the Dyke March, even the Sunday Pride Parade and the string of community and celebrity grand marshalls. Mostly I loved seeing people on the streets--dykes especially--in the clubs, in the theaters holding hands, smiling, looking happy. I do love that. There's nothing quite like seeing thousands of women who love and dig other women walk down the streets of San Francisco (or ride their motorcycles). Or seeing lesbians of color out in the city, out in the spaces that we have been slowly pushed out of.

And that's what I saw on Saturday when I went to the packed, Frameline film screening of Audre Lorde: The Berlin Years (and later, Mosquita y Mari)  A super sweet documentary on the last eight years of Lorde's life, split between Berlin and St. Croix. It was beautiful to see her on the screen, hear her powerful words, tone, and mind. One sentence packed with love for both those who share(d) her statuses: Black woman, lesbian, feminist, and those who didn't: white, male, heterosexual. Absolute love. To see her dance with her partner, Dr. Gloria I. Johnson, who reminded us that "Berlin added years to her life." Hearing her address a question from a man about whether or not Black women's liberation was detrimental to the overall struggle for Black liberation and her answering "I'm so happy you asked me that question," honestly, without a hint of anger or defensiveness. And then going on to remind him that we must know each other and know each other's differences because the enemy will use them against us. That kind of meeting someone with openness and defiance in the struggle is something that I miss today. That acknowledgement of our differences, as strengths, not barriers. And that this knowledge only strengthens our community, our work, and our liberation.  Something that I don't hear, as we celebrate Pride, perhaps masking our fear of those differences.

And then to hear her remind us of the role of fear through her famous words from "A Litany for Survival,"

And when the sun rises we are afraid
it might not remain
when the sun sets we are afraid
it might not rise in the morning
when our stomachs are full we are afraid
of indigestion
when our stomachs are empty we are afraid
we may never eat again
when we are loved we are afraid
love will vanish
when we are alone we are afraid
love will never return
and when we speak we are afraid
our words will not be heard
nor welcomed
but when we are silent
we are still afraid
So it is better to speak
we were never meant to survive
(emphasis added)

I take those words to heart and remember the contradictions within them that compel me to speak, even when I'm not sure what I want to say, if it makes sense, how it will be read, etc. She taught me that. And for that, I am thankful. And thankful that Pride has brought me that reminder. And, let me just say, I am a proud queer Black woman and feminist. There, and it's true. And I'm proud of my woman, who she is, what she does in the world. And I'm proud of my friends, the lives they have figured out, the families we raise. I love it. I love it everyday, June is no different.

But, I don't love "Pride," or the Pride that's shoved in my face for the duration of the month. Or, maybe I'm confused by it, the contradictions that we currently experience, including the "Films to Go Gay For" ads that are currently running on IFC/Sundance that focus not on queer filmmakers or even queer sexuality, but just (mostly heterosexual) sex. Or, more precisely, SEXual orientation, as the ads state. Sure, there may be one or two could be classified as gay hookups in films like Y Tu Mama Tambien, but I don't remember seeing any in The Secretary, though it may have had some "queer moments." 

This capitalization on the word and the meaning associated with it, which many of us fully embrace, illustrates a distance from Lorde's words (not to mention Lorde) as we celebrate Pride and move further and further into the 21st century. A time full of contradictions for the LGBT community. A time when I'm not sure what the role of Pride festivals is anymore when, at least L and G folks are enjoying a transparent visibility in mainstream media--gay characters, gay networks, gay politicians, straight politicians advocating gay rights, and companies that hone in on the "gay market." And the significance of writing this in the 21st century is not lost on me. I know that part of the reason that I am able to sit here, typing and staving off sleep because I'm trying to get over The Killing season finale and formulate a critique of Gay Pride is because of people like Bayard Rustin, Marlon Riggs, Barbara May Cameron, Sylvia Rivera, Gloria AnzaldĂșa, and Lorde. But, I'm fairly confident that this wasn't what their struggle was about. Absolute Love, yes. Absolut Pride, no. Especially when the buffer that LGBT Pride was set up against: homophobia and the oppression of LGBT folks--particularly the violence directed at LGBT (actually mostly trans) folks--continues to operate, and divide and conquer tactics on the part of the enemy thrives. 

I was recently at a city council meeting in the Bay Area where members of the community had gathered to urge the city council to sign a petition to stand up against hate speech, intolerance, and violence directed at LGBT people. This was two weeks after the city had declared June LGBT Pride month and were giving the Proclamation to a local youth non-profit who had sent LGBT youth to receive the proclamation. During the open forum, when members of the community were allowed to address the council, several members quoted the Bible to condemn homosexuality as an abomination, others were angered that the same recognition hadn't been given to the emancipation of enslaved peoples, celebrated on Juneteenth, in a predominantly Black city. Still others laughed at the prospect of an LGBT month since so many people were killing themselves. All said in front of the queer youth gathered, most said by my people. Or, my "other" people. I went there as an ally to the youth, but also in an effort to reach my people and be clear that our "issues" are the same. That LGBT people of color exist and that we stand in solidarity as Rustin did with King, Jr.

And this is the issue I have with June. That something that was set up to buffer against and challenge homophobia and the oppression of queer folks now seems to ignore that same oppression. As many of us are still targeted in our homes, our communities, at our workplaces, etc., the call continues to be one of Pride, coming out, and celebration. I am with you in celebration, but I want to also be with you in the streets. There is still work to be done. And we must not be silent in the name of Pride (and marriage equality does not qualify here for me, again, especially when you equate struggles). This silence only signals our fear. A fear that can only be eradicated by the persistent acknowledgment and fight against the ongoing oppression, and the divide and conquer strategies that surface again and again in spite of our Pride.

More than Pride, I want Love. Love for each of us. Love for all of us together. And Love for the struggles yet to come.