A week ago today I attended my first Pride celebration. Montana Pride was not designed for non-drinking, asexual introverts. I’m mostly okay with that, mostly being the operative word. Most things aren’t designed with people like me in mind. I go, do my own thing, have fun on my own terms, and then go somewhere on my own to recharge. However, because it was Pride, I had some mixed feelings about how out of place I felt there.
The mixed feelings began before I even decided to go. On one hand, I wanted to go, I wanted to make asexuality more visible in the queer community and knew that if I didn’t go, there wasn’t likely to be much of an asexual presence there. Beyond that, I wanted to feel like I was out and proud. On the other hand, I didn’t want to have to make a space for myself at Pride. I wanted there to be some mention of asexuality there, some activity for us or about us or simply the inclusion of the “A” in the acronym LGBT (QIA2…). Being me, I wasn’t actually likely to make asexuality all that much more visible even if I did go. And I was having a lot of trouble with the idea of Pride.
Why was I supposed to be proud of something that I didn’t really have any control over, that wasn’t an accomplishment, merely part of who I am? Does anyone think heterosexuals should be proud of their sexuality? What was the point of a Pride celebration? Why go at all?
I got an answer to the last question and a dose of perspective on needing to make space for myself at Pride, though the answer was plainly stated while I was there and the perspective only came after I had returned home.
The first Pride activity I participated in was the Pride parade. I showed up late, perhaps my first mistake, and didn’t talk to anyone, just assumed a position near the end of the parade, after most of the organized groups with their banners. We began marching shortly after I arrived. I alternated between being in the middle of a group of people and filling unoccupied space between groups. I alternated between wondering what I was doing and simply being happy I was there. I alternated between wondering if anyone who saw my t-shirt knew what it meant and reassuring myself that I knew and that mattered more than what anyone else thought or understood.
One group that drew my attention was the group I was walking behind, the Montana Two Spirit Society. They reminded me of the book I reviewed for the Queerview Mirror yesterday. Some of the marchers were in full traditional regalia, others wore shorts or jeans and one wore a kilt. At the time, I was mostly just intrigued because I don’t know much about what it means to be two-spirit and was curious about the specifics of what it meant to each of the marchers.
I only realized later that, like me, they were left out of the acronym LGBT. Like me, they had to make space for themselves. There were no mentions of two-spirit people in the speeches or workshops nor were there bar events specifically for or about two-spirit people.
It occurs to me now, thinking and writing about the whole experience, that everyone there at the parade, at the entire celebration, had to make space for themselves. Even gay men, who were so well represented that one of the flags flying at the rally was the bear flag. Because even gay is just a piece of the puzzle. The multitude of intersecting identities that contribute to a person’s personality, individuality itself, requires that everyone makes space for themselves.
And the purpose of Pride isn’t to create space for each group, for each individual. Who actually wants that? Because it would be, in the end, having someone else tell you who you are. The purpose of Pride is to create space that is welcoming to all individuals, all groups. To create space in which we can all be free to make space for ourselves, our true selves. So many other spaces, probably most spaces in our daily lives, try to make us fit into the shapes they allow.
I was given the space to walk by myself, watching the people around me, wearing the t-shirt I so painstakingly painted the week before, which proclaims my asexual identity in colors that most people probably don’t understand. I was given the space to represent myself in a way that was comfortable for me, a way that let me declare, if not my pride, then my presence, my existence.
I walked through the streets of Butte, America, behind the Montana Two Spirit Society, and near rainbow clad skaters, a guy on a bicycle and his friends who were preparing drinks for fellow marchers and the people along the parade route using a bottle of vodka, maybe, decorated with the colors of the rainbow, and a mother wearing essentially long, rainbow colored tutus on her arms and her baby on her back, the baby holding tightly to a small sign that read “Fair is Fair in Montana,” supporting the suit four Montana couples have filed against the state for the right to marry. There was space for us all.
And if I didn’t recognize it in the moment, I am grateful for it now.
At the rally following the parade, I joined a friend and fellow ace who was wearing an asexual pride flag over her shoulders. We were an island of two purple, white, gray and black clad people in a sea of rainbows. We talked about marching the next year as a group, with our own sign and everything. It was the only time during the whole day that I stopped thinking about whether or not I belonged there.
The keynote speaker at the rally was Montana’s governor, Steve Bullock. In his speech, he succinctly and resolutely answered my question about the point of Pride. He said, “Pride is a celebration, but it is also a commitment.” It is a good thought and a really excellent speech. Governor Bullock’s speech writer did quite well. Conditions in Montana, like in most of the country, are improving and we have a lot of victories to celebrate. But we have a long way to go to achieve complete equality.
Going to Pride was an opportunity to celebrate the recent victories and perhaps more importantly a chance to join with the other people working for a better Montana for its queer citizens, see the strength in our numbers, see the passion and commitment we all share, and to use that experience to renew our commitment to keep working until we are all recognized as equal under the law and treated with dignity and respect by our fellow citizens.
Everyone’s commitments are going to look different. And mine come back to the mixed feelings I felt while I was there.
I felt alternately thrilled to be there and a little marginalized at Pride. Nothing new there, I feel frequently to be hovering on the edge of the queer community, not quite part of the community, but also not part of the straight world. In this case, it probably wasn’t intentional and perhaps was only due to the fact that the organizers faced significant time constraints. Montana Pride had been completely canceled in March or April because the original organizing group fell apart. Perhaps the new organizers didn’t know about asexuality. And perhaps my feelings of marginalization can be mostly attributed to the head space I was in.
Either way, my commitment is clear. It is work harder to make asexuality visible in Montana, particularly within the queer/LGBTQ community here. Next year, my friend and I will go back, with a banner that says exactly who we are. Maybe we’ll offer to host a workshop. In the meantime, I’m going to work on maintaining a stronger online presence as an asexual in Montana, try to create for others the visibility I have wished had been created for me.
Whether or not you have gone or are going to a Pride celebration, what are your commitments? What do you plan on making sure you can celebrate next year?