A Cynical Queer Killjoy's Mixed Feelings on the Rainbow Machine

06/19/2017 05:58 pm ET Updated Jun 20, 2017

It’s June, which means that cynical, nerdy, political queer killjoys are spending the month rolling their eyes at the shiny whitewashed respectability spectacle of corporate-sponsored pride celebrations. I would know--I'm one of them.

But sometimes I fall off my high horse and remember: I didn't start out thinking like this. Not even close.

When I sigh at the rainbow-themed sneakers and laptop ads popping up around the city, unimpressed with corporations' willingness to co-opt symbols of a successful liberation movement now that it has been deemed more profitable than not.

But I also remember living in a time and place when public support of LGBT rights was more of a business liability than a strategy, and think of how much tweenage angst I could have avoided had I seen rainbow-plastered shoe stores then.

When "I Kissed a Girl" comes on, and I rant about the way queer female sexuality is fetishized for the male gaze and sensationalized for mainstream consumption.

But when I first heard that song during seventh grade carpool, my friend's mother expressed a very different type of moral disgust based on the title line alone. I immediately chimed in with an "Ew, that's gross," despite the fact that I had been listening with fascination to Katy Perry's description of anonymous girl's touchable skin, in awe over how she was able to admit these desires on the radio.

When I lament how pride has turned into just another party for straight people, despite the revolutionary origins of the celebration.

But I sure as hell wouldn't have had the guts to show up at my first pride event if I couldn't have been written off as just another straight person there for a party.

When I cringe at how the legalization of same-sex marriage was celebrated as the pinnacle of queer rights, while issues of violence, employment discrimination, and youth homelessness remain under-addressed. If anything, the eagerness to join a domestic and historical oppressive patriarchal tradition seems like as the pinnacle of respectability politics.

But the first time I heard of same-sex marriage was being told not to talk about it. It was the off-limits topic in elementary and middle school discussions of elections and politics--too controversial and scandalous. I remember thinking that it must be impossible to live something like that, if it couldn't even be said out loud.

I make no apologies for where I am today, delving into more critical and intersectional forms of queer politics, but that sure isn't where I started. And whether I like it or not, the shiny mainstream gay rights machine undoubtedly played a role in getting me to this point--even as I came to realize that it wasn't always built to include me. Even as I came to realize that some of the people it claimed to represent were being thrown under the bus.

Beyond any too-cool cynical facade, I wholeheartedly believe in critiquing queer conformity, consumerism, and commodification--not to mention colonialism. But I also can't deny that it's far easier to eschew my place in the mainstream order now that I feel like I have one.

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