Image description: Germán Parodi, left, a chant leader from Philly ADAPT, and Jensen Caraballo, an activist from Rochester ADAPT, at the Health and Human Services building in September 2017, demanding that regulations banning contingent skin shock torture, being used on approximately 58 people with disabilities in Canton, Massachusetts. Parodi has long green hair and uses a manual wheelchair; in his lap is a speaker and he is chanting into the microphone. Caraballo uses a powerchair with a wooden ADAPT joystick and is wearing a red t-shirt. They are in the midst of a group of activists.
Summer is Pride time for me. LGBTQIA in June, Disability in July. Banners and t-shirts, flags and beads. These celebrations often focus on pride as a celebration of those characteristics in ourselves that, though worthy of celebration, are often presented by dominant groups as shameful. And these joyous festivals have their place.
But they are, at the same time, somewhat alien to me. They are at the end of a range of expressions, and my place is some distance away.
To me, Pride is celebrated at 4 am, walking friends who are likelier bashing targets, women in pearls and five o’clock shadow, men in heels and gowns, young couples too in love to pretend they are just friends, home from the clubs, miles put of your way, tired and laughing and keeping a wary eye on the straights you pass and still more than a little drunk.
It is celebrated in hospital rooms, swapping stories around the warm glow of the telemetry monitor, reminiscing raucously as the phlebotomist slips a needle into a vein, and making sure the nurses know they are being watched.
Pride is celebrated by openly admiring the style with which your friends get arrested and are led with quiet dignity to accept their tickets. Or the courage they show in the sweaty half-second before the takedown. Or the shuddering bravado as they are released into the unit from days of seclusion, pretending they are fine. Pride is celebrated in gallows humor and in silent witness as friends thread their lives unevenly through the treacheries of the world.
Pride is celebrated in stoically bearing the punishment of the entire group for someone’s defiance as, 54 lbs and deathly pale and barely able to muster the blood pressure to stand, they continue the months-long demand for transfer to a unit which can provide eating disorder treatment. It is celebrated in refusing to go along with staff’s demand for complaints to the administration as someone screams for 5 days in protest of the leather restraints when they have done nothing whatsoever wrong.
Pride was celebrated — back in the days when Ryan White was all over the news — passing around a bottle and each drinking from it in turn while one person talked about the new experience of having AIDS and nobody acknowledged the hostile stares.
The formal Pride celebrations were born from the violence at the Stonewall Inn, of cishet repression, police massed to crush a community, a woman with a bloodied head, and a small community which had had enough and began to pick up cobblestones and bottles and fight back. Together.
Together. Pride is an understanding that we are in this together. It is solidarity with other people who share your experience of a society which regards you, and demands that you regard yourselves, as valueless.
Sometimes it is joyful; sometimes it is grim and exhausting. Sometimes the self-respect is suffused with rage, and sometimes it is an Oscar-worthy performance. But always it is a counterattack against the attempted imposition of shame. And we do not do it for ourselves, or not for ourselves alone. It is a responsibility to those who sacrificed to bring us this far and those who will begin closer to equal than we will ever get. It is a memorial to those who didn’t make it. It is a commitment to those we love.
It is love, and a recognition of humanity. You say, “I am like these people in the following ways … and if I am without value because of those things, then so are they, and I *refuse* to concede that about them.” You don’t stand out that much; you can’t be the only person who should be ashamed. If you concede that you should be ashamed, then, you concede that so should other people. You say, “I am required to act as if I have value, even on days when I don’t feel that way, because that is part of expressing a belief that *they* have value.”
I love that the party-like atmosphere of the Pride months happens, and I love watching it through the eyes of those who revel. The glittering people and beautiful costumes are thrilling. I love watching a friend flower into the person they were always meant to be, and seeing a stranger burst into view already dressed to impressed, as if they had never been scarred in their life. But I connect better to the grittier parts of pride, the song of the chant leaders screaming into the mics, the flapping of unquiet hands in the faces of the behaviorists, the blood in the gutter and in the quiet room drain, the push of a united mass, the flipped tables and flying bottles, the sweaty bodies held down with gloved hands and then dragged away — and then the St. Crispin’s Day spirit in the retelling later. I don’t know how to really celebrate Pride unbruised, and I think I enjoy it better this way anyway.
Pride is a celebration of one another’s humanity, and it demands a recognition of our own in the process — and sometimes that means marching bands, dancers on oxygen, strutting bulldykes, boys with Down Syndrome in full drag, and all the rest of it, and sometimes it is enacted by sheer bloody cussedness, second by second in the ugliest moments of our lives. Pride, to me, is love of self dictated by love of others — and what others! They are so heartbreakingly easy to love, even on our most self-loathing days.
It’s beautiful, isn’t it? You hate that it has to exist, but your heart lifts that it does.