Whose “family values'' deserve to govern all of our behaviors at an event where the LGBTQ+ community is supposed to celebrate our freedom?
A disturbing trend that seems to be gaining more credibility with each passing year is a call from some Leftist internet voices to prohibit nudity, kink, BDSM, and other expressions of sexuality from Pride festivities. The argument echoes with eerily precision that of the conservative Right, centering the discourse around children. Phrases like “family-friendly” are being weaponized in a recall to familiar anti-gay stereotypes of pedophilia and sexual predation. In fact, we are seeing it today as so-called “don’t say gay” bills sweep across the nation. To see young queer folks echo and propogate these antiquated and harmful notions is disheartening at best and dangerous to the future of LGBTQ+ liberation at worst.
There are many often shared images in this discourse. There’s photos of kids petting kinksters wearing pup gear — which, contrary to claims, involves children in no sexual acts, only exposes them to people dressed up like dogs. Another is an image of a muscular gay man wearing only a bandana to cover his genitals, as some gogo dancers are prone to do. That particular photo has gone viral multiple times, sparking debate over what attire is acceptable at these events, the politics of body image, consent, public sex and many other issues stemming from ideologies of what and who Pride is for. I was shocked to see such intense disdain for public nudity from mostly young queers.
To be fair: some of their concerns are valid, such as whether public nudity violates the consent of strangers who may not wish to see a naked body, or whether that could be triggering for those who have trauma around nakedness or body issues. But complaints that this contributes to an already oversexualized image of our community are problematic. Those making this point are either wholly or wilfully ignorant of the historical role that sex-positive and body-positive movements have played in LGBTQ+ liberation. Communities like those including BDSM practitioners, kinksters, nudists, and more have always pushed back against puritanical, conservative religious-based oppresion of queer folks since the beginning of our modern liberation movements, including at Pride events. But also, respectability politics have rarely worked out for our community at large, only benefiting the most cisheteronormative amongst us.
Another key flaw in much of this discourse, as with many that start with conservatives, is that this strawman argument is built on anomalies. The idea that there’s a pervasive issue of purposeful and inappropriate nudity at Pride parades is, quite frankly, nonsense. People occasionally appear topless, and there’s the good chance you may see butts, but videos that circulate on social media depicting live sex acts are practically always from festivals like Folsom Street Fair or other adult-only gatherings — Pride festivals have even begun to throw separate Youth Prides to target those who feel even this is too much. But, to claim that there is some widespread desire LGBTQ+ folks have to perform sex acts in front of children are talking points taken straight from the homophobic fantasies of the religious Right, that continue to feul some of the most damning homophobic legislation. It’s shameful for queer folks to buy into them, much less to disseminate them.
Many early LGBTQ+ movements were hyper-focused on assimilation, desexualization and normalization. This ideology ran a throughline from the Mattachine Society of the 1950s, all the way to the movement for marriage equality that culminated in the legalization of same-sex marriage during the Obama presidency. The trans and gender non-conforming activists, the sex workers, the Black and brown queers of the early liberation movements, all were often a thorn in the side of the mostly affluent white gays who saw the path to equality as rooted in a quiet acceptance of gay folks rather than a violent revolt against systems of oppression and inequity. In the 1980s, debates raged about the inclusion of trans folks as visible members of the community, particularly at Pride celebrations. In the 1990s the leather, kink and BDSM communities faced a similar resistance. Each time, we have found that assimilation was not the key to our progression.
If Pride is to be a “family-friendly” space, I would ask: for whose family? Family, for so many LGBTQ+ folks, is not necessarily two same-sex partners and their children in any traditional sense that stems from white heteronormativity. Creating our own families that exist on the margins is something so many of us have had to do when our biological ones rejected us. For many of us, sex workers, kinksters, nudists, and BDSM practitioners are our family.
I think back to my first Pride experience when I was fifteen. I grew up in a family where nudity was not seen as shameful, inappropriate, or as inherently sexual as it is made to be in much of the U.S. Yet, as I was young, my parents insisted on accompanying me to San Francisco on Pride Sunday. I recall standing next to my father as we both witnessed an incredibly tall person in high heels and a mini skirt bend over in a Porta-o-Potty with the door wide open, accidentally revealing their bare buttcheeks and what appeared to be a scrotum to all. This wasn’t purposeful, some attempt at sexualizing the event. In fact, my father and I exchanged a look of shock and laughed.
Those who seek to turn Pride into a space solely welcoming to the commodified, sanitized and desexualized version of LGBTQ+ culture they have deemed “family-friendly” do not actually care about children — much like the Anita Bryants and Ron DeSantis types who have oft quoted the line. They care about creating an image of queerness that does not challenge systems of oppression and inequity that still enact violence on the most marginalized among us. Their idealized vision of Pride is something that is inoffensive, commercialized, and is simply a rainbow colored walk down mainstreet erasing the Black and brown queers, the sex workers, the trans and non-binary folks, the sex and body positive radicals, the kinksters, the weirdos and the freaks from our own history. We cannot and must not let them do this.