The caged bird sings of freedom – Maya Angelou
What are they celebrating?’ my dad asked as Toronto’s gay pride parade dominated the television news. My mother and her equally elderly Kenyan visitor looked in shock at the varying degrees of nudity and excesses characteristic of Pride.
Indeed, how to explain Pride to elderly parents whose brief experiences of North America only confirm their conviction the biblical last days are finally here? The younger generation in the room searched my face intently to hear how I would respond to this one.
Pride’s mission statement as a celebration of the ‘history, courage, diversity and future of Toronto’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual, Transgender, Intersex, Queer/Questioning, 2 Spirited, Allies communities’ (www.pridetoronto.com) would only add fuel to the fire, so I decided to minimize the explanation. Well dad, they are celebrating Toronto’s diversity. But why 20 years? Well dad, possibly that’s how long the parade has existed as an annual event. A cop-out reply from a queer female who only a day earlier had wholeheartedly partaken of the festivities at the dyke march and other Pride events.
An honest but not brazen, in-your-face answer would have been preferable. Pride is a celebration of the ability to finally be true to myself, to break free from heteronormativity’s chains. While evidence shows the existence of non-hetero sexualities in our traditional societies, the current increasingly open public discourse appears to have fueled phobias at the same time as the resolve to assert difference has intensified. Pride is broader than sexuality however – it is about multi-dimensional identities in all their complexities, and the reality of the possibility to thrive because of and not despite of difference.
My mother’s channel-flipping in search for a more palatable show halted at a television evangelist’s sermon about chains that bind. The evangelist maintained that chains in any single area of an individual’s life will hold back her progress in other dimensions of her existence. Exactly! A person’s constitutive identities cannot be compartmentalized; fetters in one or more of these identities will inevitably feed back and link into her other identities, in turn constraining her possibilities to fully and truly thrive.
The essence of Pride is a fête of the (no longer caged) bird’s freedom to finally name the sky her own.