Conventionally, “pride” is sometimes understood as an emotion, even within the context of orientational identity. In the June Carnival of Aces call for submissions, one of the prompts attached to the theme asks, “Do you feel proud?” This matches some of the language I heard at one of the TAAAP Pride Chats, where I listened to some of the participants talk about “having” pride or “feeling” pride. That approach doesn’t work for me, as it happens, because my emotions don’t work like that. For me, the meaning I draw from Pride events has to come from somewhere else, which is why I’m turning instead to the role it’s played in LGBTQ advocacy and some lessons I can draw from that — on organizing, on visibility, and on the threat of co-optation.
1) Organizing takes organizers.
Things don’t just happen — it takes people to make them happen. Do you think the raid on Stonewall or the subsequent riot was the first of its kind? No. Its annual commemoration is itself an accomplishment, a thing chosen and constructed and enacted through the deliberate effort of activists who had to plan and argue with other activists in order to make it happen.
The lesson to glean from this is that we should not take these things for granted. That doesn’t mean delving into hero-worship or refraining from criticism, of course, but it does mean that our advocates and organizers deserve to have their work recognized as work, rather than something that simply occurs naturally on its own.
2) Visibility is (still) a trap.
“The first Pride was a riot” is a phrase you may be familiar with at this point, but what I want to highlight in particular here about that 1969 raid on Stonewall Inn is the implications that police violence has for frameworks of advocacy. In the 21st century, now more than ever, data collection and surveillance have become powerful tools for the police, government bureaucrats, and large corporations. On Twitter you can find the former asking people to report photos of those involved in the BLM protests. Facial recongition technology has been advancing, with algorithims trained on social media, and in some cases even blurred photos can be doctored with AI to resemble the original. If you’ve posted selfies online, including photos of yourself in a face mask, those images could be used without permission in an algorithm database. All of this contributes to the tools at the disposal of the government and the police. If you are a minority, if you are an activist, if you are marginalized and especially if you’re taking action about it, the cops and the feds want to see you.
Yet ever since as far back as 2001, asexual community advocacy has been discussed and conceptualized in terms of “visibility” — a goal of making ourselves more “visible.” It’s structured our advocacy, our slogans, our hashtags, our organizational efforts (both good and bad). And as I have been trying to explain, it’s time for that politics of visibility to end.
Now more than ever, becoming more “visible” one of the last things I could possibly want for us. Having an irrevocably-identifiable marker of marginalized identity will not make me safer from the things I fear. And while comparable “visibility” to other groups seems blessedly unlikely, I worry about community leaders choosing to push us over a cliff in the name of a naive outlook on the world.
In many other areas, aces have argued that how we express and conceptualize our political goals is a consequential thing — that even a phrase as simple as “we are all sexual beings,” intended to decrease sexual stigma, can be detrimental to a pro-asexual politic. Precision of language is important to a good number of us. I am asking that we extend that consideration to this as well. There are, in fact, alternatives.
Do we want to be “visible”? Or do we want all people — whether their identities are externally-recognizable or not — to be safe from violence?
3) Beware of co-optation and corporatization.
Starting with alcohol companies in the 1980s, various groups have begun to capitalize on the symbolism of LGBT Pride for the purposes of shallow PR stunts. “Rainbow-washing,” some have called it (a counterpart pinkwashing). The problem is mainly associated with corporate marketing, but even the police have gotten in on the act. Even the NYPD itself — historically speaking, the selfsame department which provoked the Stonewall Riot in the first place — saw fit to decorate one of their SUVs with rainbows, and yet:
When asked at a news conference today if the NYPD owes the LGBT community an apology for the 1969 Stonewall raids, NYPD Commissioner William Bratton said, “I don’t think so.”
This is how superficial these gestures can be. A flag is a flag is a flag is just a flag. It can be a symbol of advocacy, but it should not be mistaken for the thing itself. Any symbol can be appropriated toward shallow and self-serving ends.
I never thought I’d say this, but unfortunately we need to watch out for this happening with the ace community, too. Already, we’ve seen an ace advocate sign on with a beer company of all things, ostensibly on the basis that this is somehow an overall net gain for the community — to be reduced to a marketing tactic for a predatory industry. Such is the natural endpoint for the politics of “visibility.”
We, as a community, deserve better than this.
It’s not much, but these are three reflections I have for the ace community on the topic of Pride. Recognize organizing and activism as work, requiring deliberate effort and strategizing. Reconsider the politics of visibility. Beware of co-optation and corporatization, including (especially) of flags.
And stay safe out there.