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First person

A quiet Pride

Aifric Ní Chríodáin, our guest contributor this issue, works for ShoutOut, a charity working to improve the lives of LGBTQ+ people through education. She is also a board member of GAZE International LGBT Film Festival.  As this year’s Pride celebrations are quieter than ever before, she hopes for a reimagined future for the LGBTQ+ community…

Pride feels very different this year. No parade. No floats. No clubs. 

The one constant: In 2020, queer people are pretty angry a lot of the time. Still.

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This comes as a surprise to some people, who might expect us to be grateful and relieved at how far we’ve come. People who might only see the celebrations, the parties, the big day out at a parade. If that’s the main thing you see, try and look a little harder.

You’ll often hear the queer community remind you that Pride is a protest, not a party, at this time of year. That’s a phrase rooted in the things we are currently protesting; a healthcare system which fails trans and intersex people, state complacency in an ongoing HIV crisis and the senseless inhumanity of Direct Provision for LGBTQ+ people seeking sanctuary in Ireland. We’re still protesting these things because queer lives are at stake. 

If you are in any way online, you’ll have noticed that trans people face relentless waves of lies and hatred from some of the richest and most powerful people on the planet every single day. You may have realised that these lies ultimately manifest in violence against trans people. Maybe you’ve heard that LGBTQ+ people around the world are still being imprisoned and murdered by their governments. As long as this brutality continues, we will still be angry.

But as much as we are angry, I think we’re tired, too. We’re tired of the shame that’s still ground into us, shame that comes from still needing to fight for your place in a world that doesn’t seem to want you. That shame is so destructive. It has killed so many of us. It killed us during the AIDS crisis and it continues to kill us  through hate crimes. It kills our young people and it kills their futures.

We see that shame in teenagers and the way they hunch in on themselves in a classroom or if they still can’t bring themselves to come out to their parents. For a lot of LGBTQ+ people, you can see echoes of shame on their bodies. I get a sinking feeling when I look closely at another queer person and I notice faint, familiar lines of scars along their forearms. That feeling lands hard in my chest, where it’s sharp and it tears. It makes me feel so tired and so angry. I wish so many queer people didn’t have those scars. I wish they’d never felt the shame that caused them.

For me, shame snuck in the first time I went to Pride. I was 14, I was in the closet and I asked my friends if they’d come with me to check it out. I didn’t say why I wanted to go. We walked up to Dame Street and I stopped in awe at the hundreds of people marching, carrying the flag together. I don’t think I’d ever seen more than two queer people in one place before. After about 15 minutes, I asked if we could leave. I couldn’t take it. I couldn’t stay there much longer because if I did, I don’t think I’d have survived going back to real life on Monday.

To be queer is to live in defiance of that shame. We’re not there quite yet. Queer theorist José Esteban Muñoz talks about queerness as a future, the thing that we’re all reaching for but that just evades our grasp. 

Queerness can – should – feel closest at Pride. Pride is supposed to be a reprieve. A suspension of reality, just for a moment, to imagine that every day we could be together and be ourselves and not have to feel ashamed again. You can shake it off for the day when you look into the crowd and see people who look like you. When you dance at a party that’s finally – finally! – been built to welcome you, where other parties never did. The feeling of being in that crowd with your people – proud of each other and loving each other – is just so different from how the world normally feels. When we look at other queer people we can see their beauty and feel so glad, so proud that they exist and that we do too. We are so proud of everything we’ve built. Of the most vulnerable among us who can step into the crowd at Pride and be themselves and be happy and be free, just for a moment. 

We don’t have that this year. We can’t gather and we’re trying to stay connected but it’s hard. At the end of the day, a Zoom DJ set doesn’t really compare to the abandon of a darkened club. Maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe we’ll appreciate those spaces more. For the last few years, it had felt like Pride was slipping away from us. The parties got bigger, the floats got gaudier and every coffee chain was selling a rainbow latté. We never asked for that. We didn’t ask for the same system that never wanted us to press a vodka into our hands and tell us labels are for bottles. 

Pride is quiet this year. It’s personal. It might involve taking some time to think about what Pride means to us, and coming back next year and building something different. If we can take one thing from this year, let it be a reimagining of what our community can do and what Pride might be, one day, when we are finally, truly queer.

Images all courtesy of Aifric Ní Chríodáin

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