Pride and Displays of Sexuality

by | July 30, 2011
filed under Can-Con, LGBT


The Vancouver Pride parade is one of my favourite events of the year. But so far this year I’ve spent less time thinking about what colour nail polish I should wear and more time thinking about the recent kerfuffle over Shinder Purewal’s anti-Pride tweet.

As Hearts in the Margins points out, Twitter isn’t the best venue for detailed discussions on LGBT rights and sexual self-expression, so I’m taking this one to the blog.

You’ve probably heard the tweet by the Kwantlen professor and former Surrey North federal Liberal candidate: “Vancouver’s so-called ‘Pride Parade’ should be banned. It is vulgar … to say the least!” The tweet not only sparked a Twitter firestorm but was also covered in mainstream media, including a call-in segment on the Michael Smyth show on CKNW on Friday, and a story in the Vancouver Sun.

Most people I talked with disagreed with the initial comment, especially the call to ban Pride, but there was more of a debate around his clarification:

“If I can’t take my family to a place because of open sexuality, my opinion is that it’s simply vulgar.

That does not mean that I don’t support same-sex marriage, which I do and voted for, or that I don’t support people of different sexual orientation, but for it to be in public is vulgar.”

Mr. Purewal is fully entitled to his opinions, but his initial comment about banning and some follow-ups he made to the National Post led me to wonder if his problem is the display of gay sexuality, not sexuality in general.

“Sexuality is what you do within the four walls of your home and that’s your business. Openly in streets, we don’t normally do that. Heterosexuals, we don’t display that.”

He’s not alone in this opinion. One of the CKNW callers went on about how he’s not against gay people but he hates having this display shoved in his face.

And I remember a conversation with a friend who said, “It’s fine if they’re gay, but why can’t they just be more normal about it?”

This whole idea that people aren’t exposed to displays of open straight sexuality on a regular basis is horse-pucky, to use a Rachel Maddow-ism. For a more extreme example take frat parties, or Granville St. on a Friday night (though a friend pointed out kids aren’t usually around at this hour to watch).

Even movie ratings tend to say showing straight sexuality it more acceptable than LGBT sexuality (check out Kirby Dick’s This Film is Not Yet Rated for more on that).

And less exceptional still, consider the straight couples you might have seen making out in your high-school hallways at lunch. It might not have been appropriate behavior for high-schoolers, but the worst penalty you were likely to get was a talking-to from the Vice-Principal. At many schools like the one I attended to, exemplifying any sort of “gay” behavior was likely to get you beat up after school. There was no way same-sex couples could make out in the hallways without risk of assault.

Although, straight couples don’t usually worry about being attacked for walking in public holding hands, it’s unfortunately not rare to hear of gay-bashings of trans people and gay and lesbian adults in Vancouver.  That year-round violent policing of public same-sex sexuality is why I react so strongly to a comment like Mr. Purewal’s.

But let’s say for a moment that someone is equally opposed to displays of straight sexuality, especially exposing their kids to it. I’m not going to pretend there aren’t sexual displays at Pride. Even though my Denman Island hippie upbringing makes it hard for me to understand why people have an issue with it, I acknowledge there are some things in the parade that might make some people uncomfortable. As MLA Spencer Chandra-Herbert said on CKNW, seeing guys dancing in short shorts is “not everyone’s cup of tea”.

But it’s a long parade that shows the huge diversity of the LGBT and allied community. It’s not all guys in short shorts or shirtless women on motorcycles. And no one is forced to go there, or take their kids.

Vancouver Board of Education in the 2009 Pride Parade

If parents want their kids to avoid seeing the displays of sexuality, that’s fine. But I don’t buy the argument that no one should be able to take their kids. Spending time as a kid on nude beaches and at parties hosted by lesbians or gay men, some of whom had naked pictures of themselves on the wall, didn’t traumatize me or make me anyone different than who I was.

By taking me to these things my parents showed me that was one ok way to be, but I also had numerous other models, including their own straight marriage. I didn’t become a lesbian just because I saw a couple making out at the nude beach on Hornby Island, and I didn’t find it confusing. That was just how some people were and I was taught some day I could take whatever path I wanted, as long as whatever I did was safe and consenting.

I’m not a parent, so I’m not trying to tell other people how to raise their kids. I’m just saying in my childhood, open discussion of healthy sexuality didn’t cause any long-term ill-effects. Lots of parents take their kids to Pride every year, and that’s as much of a legitimate choice as staying away if you’re uncomfortable.

Pride is about creating a safe space for everyone’s self-expression. Since the idea of what’s acceptable self-expression is subjective, there can’t be that kind of regulation. Instituting some kind of dress or behaviour code would be impractical and would attack the spirit of Pride.


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