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June is Pride Month!

So, in one of the LGBTQIA-centric Facebook groups I participate in, someone posted a link to a pride month calendar -- similar to this one -- and because it was June 2 at the time, said "Happy Lesbian Pride Day".

It wasn't terribly long before someone said in reply, "Why do we have to have all these separate days for specific categories of people? That's silly! Pride Month should be about us coming together as a community and it should focus on our solidarity and diversity and how coming together empowers us. It shouldn't be about dividing up the calendar so each little unique identity gets its own separate day!"

That, of course, is practically an echo of what mainstream straight folks often say about us, our activism, and Pride Marches and Pride Month altogether: "Can't you just be a person, can't we all just be people together, can't you rejoice in your own unique individual identity instead of needing to label yourself and making a big deal about your labeled difference? Why does everyone have to be doing identity politics, anyway, it's so divisive!"

And of course, the moment I point out that this kind of comment IS, in fact, reminiscent of what mainstream straight people say about Pride and etc in general, there's going to be some people, like those white well-dressed gay guys over there, see them? They're wincing because they're expecting me to say "Check your privilege" and start comparing them to cisgender white males or something. And to say that the less socially visible parts of the LGBTQIA spectrum, like intersex people and genderqueer people (and definitely nontransitioning gender inverts like me), benefit from a little special attention if our identity is prominently noted on one of those calendar days (my specific one isn't, by the way). Which I am (or, rather, I just did).

But relax, be at ease. I'm not winding up to blast anyone for not being sufficiently oppressed and marginalized enough to get off the blame-hook as being part of the problem, or to accuse anyone of keeping us more-marginalized types from escaping our silence and darkness.

I'm not choosing sides between those two positions so much as I'm putting them both out there so we can look at the sensible good points that exist in each of them.

Let's start with Gay Rights. Think about this: the people seeking gay rights basically wanted to be mainstreamed. They were tired of gay people being targeted for different treatment. They wanted to be accepted as the nice guys next door, get married if they wanted to just like anyone else can, teach in your schools and sing in your church choir and go on dates to the local movie theatre and NOT stand out as different.

But because it wasn't already like that, they had to draw attention to what they were being put through. "Look, this is how it is for us", they said. And they challenged negative perceptions of gay people, things that folks said and believed about gay people that were used as justifications for not treating them as people like any other people. "Hey, over here, look at me, I am one of the people you described that way and it isn't true. Don't be hating on me, I'm not so different from you!"

Thus, in order to make progress towards the goal of being mainstreamed and being accepted and treated as people like any other people, it was necessary to talk about the categorical difference and make a social issue of how people in that category were subjected to different treatment.

Lesbians, at some point, became vocal about not feeling very recognized or included in gay rights. "Everyone pretends like on the one hand it doesn't matter what women do with each other anyway, and on the other hand to whatever extent women-identified women are subjected to discrimination and hostility and unfair treatment, hey, getting gay rights for all gay people will fix stuff up for us too. But we have our own experiences, our own specific concerns that aren't a carbon copy of the concerns of gay males, and we're tired of being erased and ignored. We need to be included in making policy and setting goals and having our experiences described and respected too!".

So after awhile, this sunk in enough that the specifically inclusive phrase "gay and lesbian" became common.

Fast-foward by a couple decades, and we've got this ever-expanding acronym and a Pride Month calendar that's soon going to need more than one months' worth of days. The specifics aren't uninteresting or unimportant, but at the moment I want to stress the recurrent common pattern: some marginalized people came together to speak collectively about the barriers to being accepted and understood as ordinary people, and then, within that community, a subset of the participants felt that they needed to point out who they were and what they were being put through before they could really feel like this was THEIR movement and that it was giving THEM a voice, because otherwise the movement wasn't all that much about them and people like them. And then another subset followed their lead and did likewise.

If you were a bird, and you wanted to fly, you would need to beat your wings. And beating your wings means some of the time you are lowering your wings, while at other moments you are raising them upwards. It takes both motions to accomplish the beat.

We need a sense of connection, community, solidarity. We want shared identity, the sense of having an identity-in-common that bridges differences, the rejoicing of coming together in peace and joy. That's the upbeat.

We need the separate experience of our unique situations to be understood and validated. We want to be heard, to have any collective understanding include us and our individual viewpoints. We need to challenge any uniform aggregate sense of "us" that leaves our individuality excluded and our specific vantage point unseen and unheard. That's the downbeat.


Let's fly.


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