With the prodding of a few friends and my own restlessness, this summer I attended an LGBTQ festival, locally held and small in comparison to others held in cities like Toronto.
When I first entered the park square where the Pride event was being held, an older woman with a bucket in her hand asked me to donate, I believe to some anti-bullying of LGBTQ youth campaign, which I readily did. She then handed me a most amusing rainbow sticker that read, “Quit hitting on me, I gave already.” I suspect this was so that others collecting money would not constantly hound me to donate when I already had, and I applauded their sense of social decency because I do loathe to be bothered when I am trying to think and observe. I like to stay a while in my contemplative bubble, taking in my surroundings and assessing my reactions. I prefer it when my every step is deliberate. Ultimately to decide if I am satisfied to be in a certain place, or satisfied to be in a certain scene. I like to study everything and everyone, and therefore how my mind is able to categorise all experiences.
And this I did. The park is surrounded by water, and every foot or so around the coastline was a rainbow pride flag. I was almost immediately upon entering passed by two young men parading about in only silver hot-pants and angel wings. Then next came a drag queen who was holding her heels and walking barefoot, which seemed understandable considering she was in possession of some very tall red heels that could not have been comfortable in soft grass and dirt. Multi-coloured lights were arranged around the walking path so to give the effect of a rainbow. It was really quite a lovely way to light up the area, and I love colour.
One of the things that surprised me was the number of families there, of men and women with their young children. It was a very pleasant surprise, of course, because barring the presence of a few scantily clad young very self-confident and ambitious men, it was intended to be a family event. At least I imagine that was the intent because, as far as I know, the political climate of gay, bisexual, and transgender pride is moving further away from “sexual liberation” toward “we are normal people, so please stop being insufferable bigots.” It is less about individual sexual freedom for many, and increasingly about how being gay et.al. is not anomalous, but rather a completely normal way of being.
I had the personal fortune to meet a delightful variety of people. I met a very nice table of young men who were handing out information about HIV/AIDS awareness and offering free testing. I was introduced to a wonderfully charming and hilarious drag queen named Rebel who kept trying to give me packets of glitter. I was approached by a rather intoxicated woman and her friend who wanted to tell me in passionate slurs about how the zombie apocalypse will come about, and with all sincerity what I could do to survive (which included beer, zombie support memorabilia, and feminine hygiene products). I was called over by a table of motherly looking older women who were inviting people to a BDSM conference this February, and who told me with a wink “we can always spot one of our own.” I even met someone who wanted to talk to me about installing weatherproofing to my windows.
There was an inclusiveness there that is rarely found in wider communities, a sense that there is something fundamental shared that, no matter what other differences exist, there is still a vital link between you and everyone else that makes friendship with everyone around you possible. It has always stunned me that modern times, with all of its science and logic, can be so backwards in time with certain beliefs, and that people are still wrestling to “secularise” the body. People are absolutely born with their sexual preferences, and this is not a defect or a sin. The idea of sin is absurd anyway, because sins are like taxes: the powerless suffer under the weight of them while the powerful profit from finding loopholes that justify their unethical and immoral behaviour.
In Rome, we had no strictly defined word for homosexual. It was understood that gay relations amongst men would occur, of course, and we did have rules that regulated the behaviour such as that it was acceptable to be the passive partner only until one came of age, became a man, usually determined by the coming of age ceremonies or when facial hair began to sprout. Indeed, it was thought by many that being the passive partner to another older man was one of the ways in which a boy could learn how to be a man, but then there are others who dismiss this as a lingering perversion of the decadent Greeks.
But I digress.
From the time maturity onward, it was only acceptable for a man to take part in same sex relations as long as he was the active partner because that was the “masculine” role and Roman males were very much shaped and regulated by “masculine” and “feminine” behaviour. A Roman man was to display no hint of “femininity” in his activities. The sole act of copulating with another man was not considered “feminine” because active sex with a woman was “masculine,” so it was not the sex of partners that mattered, but the role one played in the act itself.
Let us be honest with history. We cannot excuse the social and political criminalisation of sexual preference based on what our religious forefathers (and foremothers) taught. The Bible says it’s a sin. Saint Augustine said it’s a sin. Saint Augustine was a guilty malcontent. Jerome was a self-loathing misogynist of the worst and most destructive, let us not forget greedy, sort. Martin Luther, who many say “liberated” women, really quite disliked the idea of women unless they were within the context of his spiritual understanding, in other words control. I’m certain there are a number of Luther writings floating about where the word “woman” or “women” was used in the same sentence as “devil.” Just as I am also certain that one of our religious forefathers likened the womb of Mary to a “dirty purse” holding the tinkling gold that is Christ the Saviour.
Around the year 600 we are looking at a society of people whose ideas about the body pretty much favoured a very bizarre construct of even “heterosexual” marriage where the most spiritual form of marriage was the chaste marriage. Men and women would marry, but then go and live in separate convents and live chastely, praying to God and all of his auxiliary tendrils. Nurture the soul, not the body. Also, the food was terrible. There was nothing, absolutely nothing, about sex that Christianity liked. If indeed you cannot put your soul above your body, and you MUST fornicate with your marriage partner, do it but make sure you don’t enjoy it and be sure that your goal is to have an offspring. Did I mention don’t enjoy it? Definitely don’t.
So if we must use outdated religious reasons to excuse the differentiation of rights, let us not pick and choose.
I will step off of my podium now.
Near the end of the night I was handed something by a complete stranger who was passing out roses of rainbow colour along with simple compliments. I was a bit surprised when a cloth rose was shoved in my face, and too startled to say anything but “thank you” when he informed me that I had beautiful eyes. To my friend next to me, he said had great taste in hats, and to my other friend that he liked his shade of hair.
I am certain I will keep this rose until all of the colour fades from it and it crumbles into dust. Not because of the compliment, but because of the more sublime intent at the core of it: to remind someone that there is always something that they can be valued for.