Saturday was supposed to be the End Of The World, so I appreciated the irony in participating in my first-ever Gay Pride parade on the same day that eternal damnation had been predicted f0r people of my orientation. When I came out five years ago, the idea of marching in a parade seemed almost as foreign to me as the concept of Judgment Day. But I turned out to love sharing the streets of my hometown with queer and straight friends, soulmates and supporters. It was a wet and cold day, but we danced to Eurovision songs, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some marchers even were grinding against each other.
I had considered not going. Although I’m deeply engaged in party politics, I’ve never really been much of an activist, by the slogan-shouting, marching-the-streets definition. I march for the advancement of working people on May 1, but generally I’m a little wary of the whole movement thing. I guess that’s a quintessentially Norwegian reaction; we tend to be so shy and self-conscious that we think as much about what other people might think of us as we’re marching (“Affordable child-care NOW!”), as we do about what we’re demanding and why. I was a little afraid that there wouldn’t be any people there, so I wouldn’t be able to blend in with the masses. Not because I was in any way ashamed to be marching for my rights, but simply because I didn’t want to attract much attention (I suppose this impulse could stem from a life of trying to make my disability less of a life-defining issue. It’s hard not to attract attention if you’re the only one.)
Plus, a gay pride parade was something completely different from those other forms of activism. Of course, it turned out that what was different about the parade, also was what made it so much fun. It sounds banal, but as I was marching, I actually again felt that very sense of pride, in a way that I don’t think I’ve felt as strongly since I started coming out to people. Yes, I’m a little like these people, I thought, and these people are a little like me. We might not share anything other than our orientation, but that’s important. It didn’t make me feel less like an individual, but it did made me feel more gay than usual. In every sense of the word.
Which brings me back to a point I’ve made previously on this blog (sometimes I wonder if I every bring up a topic or a point for the first time), about my relationship with labels. I’ve written about how my identity as a gay man is much more important to how I see myself than the fact that I am also disabled. I think it comes down to a simple fact: To know that I’m disabled, you only have to look at me. To know that I’m gay, you have to know me. Or, to quote myself from a year ago: “My legs don’t fall in love with other guys. My brain and my heart does.” I mention this not only because it’s important to me personally, but because it illustrates something about the state of gay rights in Norway. Even though disabled people still face some challenges in Norway, it’s as a gay man I could face the threat of hate crimes, not because I am disabled. I’m fortunate enough to never have experience any harassment for being gay, but a victim of hate crimes came forward in the news here just a couple of weeks ago. I marched for the right to be myself one hundred percent. It’s great that I don’t have to be ashamed of being disabled. But I want to be able to express the parts of my personality that you can’t see, who I am on the inside, without fear of repercussions.
Which is why I was frustrated when I read the comments under articles about the parade on local news sites. I know, I shouldn’t read these things. But when I did, I discovered that the debate could be divided into three different lines of argument. The first was the pro-gay camp, who offered support and encouragement. The second was the usual bigots, who either told people like me that we’re leading immoral lives that go against nature and God’s will, or proclaimed their deeply felt concern for what this “normalization” of homosexuality could mean for the poor, impressionable children who might been exposed to it. It’s never stops to amaze me how people can say these things, but I don’t usually spend much time on them. The third line of argument, however, concerned what I’d call a “hetero-chauvinist call to arms”. In these comments, self-proclaimed straight people took it upon themselves to fight back against the notion that gay people somehow need to “fight” for anything. The reasoning goes something like this: Why do gay people always feel like they have to show their so-called pride? I’m straight, and no one ever invited me to march for my rights! I think it’s important that we raise the visibility of straight people, to show that there are role models for those who struggle to accept themselves as straight.” I’m paraphrasing, but you get the picture. These comments are dripping wit a sarcasm so thick it’s almost aggressive. I’d like to dismiss with a reply along the lines of, show me how straight people are threatened with imprisonment or death all over the world, or with violence and harassment in our streets, and then we can have a real debate, but it’s probably for naugth. We have to drown them out, by taking opportunities like parades to show people that gay people are just as diverse a group as straight people.
So, I guess this is the definitive farewell to the pride-skeptic I was five years ago. I will rejoin the march next year. It was simply too much fun to pass up.