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Pride, reaction, and the freedom of joy

Fight the battle for something — not against it

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On Pride Night at Guaranteed Rate, a grim sort of apprehension hangs over 35th and Shields, a tension that has little to do with the pallid state of the team. Last night, a car plowed into a crowd of fans, in what seemed like an intentional hit and run, leaving several injured and one person (as of this writing) in critical condition. Such sudden violence on a beautiful summer night reminds us of the terrible fragility of joy, of the constant threat of traumatic horrors that mark the everyday of American life.

And while there is no known motive, again as of this writing, one can’t help but turn speculation to the worst: A vicious assault on a team that proudly celebrates Pride, an atavistic and aggressive attack on the idea of humanity. While that might just be grim speculation — and while drunken malevolence is its own shuddering horror — it is impossible for anyone conscious of today’s tenor not to consider the possibility.

We live in a time of sudden backlash. The tentative acceptance of trans rights — indeed, of the reality and humanity of trans people in general — has been subject to a vicious and grabbling clawback. A targeted campaign of harassment, often at the highest levels of state government and throughout the dark ranks of Congress, has turned the concept of trans identity into, for many, a synonym for pedophilia.

We live in a time of dark conspiracy. The idea of a “trans agenda” — which, in reality, is just the desire to live as full human beings — moved from the obvious fig leaf of newling concern for women’s sports (by the same people who scoff at women’s sports), to the idea that trans people are part of a vast plot to undermine American masculinity and identity. In state after state, legitimate and safe medical care is being denied, with horrible crashing effects on people’s lives, a hit-and-run driven by fountain pens to the crackle-handed applause of floppy-jowled legislators and rictus-grinned televangelists.

This “trans conspiracy” is familiar to anyone old enough to recall the backlash to gay rights, which continues today. Indeed, it is all part of the same reaction to progress, traceable to civil rights or to suffrage or to the end of slavery. One step forward, a hail of gunfire backward. Twas ever thus.

But, you know what? Fuck them. Pride, as a friend reminded me, isn’t just about standing up to Ralph Steadman caricatures. It’s not just about maintaining balance in a galeforce of ignorance and bigotry. It is about joy. It’s about humanity. It’s about celebrating.

In The Labyrinth of Solitude, Octavio Paz said “(t)he fiesta is a revolution in the most literal sense of the word.” There’s great wisdom in that: A celebration is a way that society reorganizes itself around joy. A gathering of the many, united by love and in pursuit of happiness, is how we change. We don’t change, at least not permanently, by a claw hammer or the jackboot. Reaction isn’t revolution. The radical act of love is the only real revolution.

It’s odd for me to write about Pride from something other than a political framework. I am someone who has always presented and indeed acted as extremely, almost archetypically straight. As I’ve grown into middle age I resemble nothing more than a particularly typical cop. But recently I’ve come to realize and embrace bisexuality, though not in any public way — in fact, this is the first time I’ve said this to anyone outside a small handful. Talking about myself at all is not my thing, and due to the extreme lack of risk in my identity — again, looking like a cop — it seemed untoward to make anything even resembling an announcement. There is, for me (and only toward myself, I don’t think this of anyone else) an air of stolen valor in even talking about queer identity. I’ve never suffered for it and never will.

But again, that reduces the idea of Pride — reduces the reality of desire — to the size of the boulder against which one pushes. And that’s silly and reductive and indeed grotesque. It cedes the ground to the element of reaction and lets them define the terms of the conversation. It lets them choose the field of battle.

That’s a lesson I probably shouldn’t have taken this long in life to learn, and for most people reading this article, I am sure it is redundant to the point of eye-rolling contempt. And Pride isn’t about learning lessons. It is so much more than that.

Paz also said of fiestas that “their frequency, their brilliance and excitement, the enthusiasm with which we take part, all suggest that without them we would explode. They free us, if only momentarily, from the thwarted impulses, the inflammable desires that we carry within us.”

They free us. The celebrations free us, not from the jackals and the bounty hunters, not from the school board fascists and grim literalists and the dime-store rambos, but from the idea that life shouldn’t be free. Celebrations free us from the idea that all impulses should be thwarted. They free us from the idea that life should be lived on the terms set by the most pinched and cowardly among us.

You can’t stop every car steered by maniacs. You can’t win every fight against the forces of reaction. But you can take comfort, you can take joy — you can take pride — in the freedom to say that the battle will be fought for something, not against it. That the battle for love will be fought with love — determined love, goofy and anarchic love, and a love that is deeply, powerfully, beautifully and messily human. Take pride in it.

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