So I went to San Francisco Pride this past weekend. And it was an adventure.

It was crowded. I waited in line for 30 minutes to buy my train ticket – and that was at the station that was an hour away from the Pride festival. When the train arrived at our destination, it took me 15 minutes to get out of the station. It was THAT kind of crowded.

It was loud. One of the lines in This Day in June says, “Dancers jumping/Music pumping.” And the music was pumping – so much that it made the sidewalks shake. Just like another line in the book.

It was outrageous (I mean that in terms of clothing). Sequined bras, lamé shorty-shorts, rainbow tutus, platform heels, leather harnesses – I saw it all. I didn’t see complete nudity, but there were people I saw who came close.

None of this bothered me – it’s what to expect when you go to Pride (especially San Francisco Pride, which is the second largest public event held in California). And none of this would prevent me from bringing my child to Pride. After all, I wrote a children’s book about Pride – children should be able to go, right? It’s what makes Pride the fabulous event that it is.

But there were two things I saw at Pride that did bother me. A LOT. One was that a lot of people were drunk. Actually, let me specify: A lot of very young people were very, very drunk. I saw quite a few people being carted off by the paramedics because they were so drunk or high. And on the train ride home, a young woman was passed out to the point where it was unclear whether or not her friends would be able to get her off the train. (They did, but barely.)  Has Pride devolved into an excuse to get drunk? I thought repeatedly throughout the day.

You know what else bothered me, even more than the drunkenness? There was trash EVERYWHERE. You know those Burger King wrappers that everyone’s talking about, the ones that look like this?

 burger king wrapper

Well, I got to know them quite well. Because by the end of the day, thousands of them were crumpled up and tossed onto Market Street. THOUSANDS. The city was a mess by the time this was all over.

People were trashed, and the city was trashed. That upset me more than anything else. People live in this city, I thought angrily as I shuffled my way through the crumpled-up Whopper wrappers. How rude it is to come here, get trashed and trash the city, and then leave, expecting someone else to clean up the mess you left! I was seriously awake for part of that night, ruminating about this.

The next morning, I got up and I did some writing about this. (Free-writing often reveals things to me that wouldn’t otherwise be revealed by thinking or talking about them.) And I came to this: How we oppress people isn’t all that different from how we oppress the environment. That’s the basis of ecofeminism, which links ecological destruction with patriarchal oppression under male-dominated capitalist systems. In other words, trashing a city is just like trashing an entire class of people.

Now, a major caveat emptor: A number of well-known ecofeminists, including Mary Daly, have held extremely transphobic beliefs. For example, Daly, in her classic book Gyn/Ecology, went so far as to describe the presumed “unnaturalness” of transgender people as “the Frankenstein phenomenon.” Daly was also Janice Raymond’s dissertation advisor – the dissertation that was eventually published as The Transsexual Empire: The Making of a She-Male. (That is seriously the title.) I’m in no way endorsing this component of ecofeminism, nor do I necessarily agree with the gender-essentialist idea that all women have a “maternal instinct” that is analogous with the concept of Mother Earth. But I will stick with what I came to in my writing. How we oppress people isn’t all that different from how we oppress the environment.

Pride celebrations rose up out of the Stonewall Riots (and, if we go a little earlier in history, the Compton’s Cafeteria Riots). Instead of submitting to dominating authority figures, queer people decided to rise up, speak out, and fight back. That’s why people marched in the first Pride parades – as a form of guerrilla, grassroots activism. So if Pride is about celebrating our collective LGBTQ communities, and rising up from oppression, then how does getting staggering, stumbling-on-the-sidewalk drunk (and high on E, in some cases) and violently trashing a city achieve that?

It doesn’t. And that’s probably why I was so upset. Because if that’s what Pride is all about, then we’re just reaffirming the oppression we’ve been trying to resist all along.

We reveal our internalized oppression through the ways we hurt ourselves. It’s no secret that alcoholism and drug addiction are huge problems in our collective LGBTQ communities. We experience a lot of collateral damage as a result of internalized oppression, and addictions are just one example. At the same time, we demonstrate externalized oppression by imposing our power unjustly onto someone or something else. Trashing a city that has provided a safe ground for so many LGBTQ people is a good example of externalized oppression, in my opinion.

Several weeks ago, I came across an article titled “Re-Queering Pride.” The article, accompanied by an illustration of people yelling, “Stonewall was a police riot!” captures exactly why I think Pride needs to be re-visioned. Our collective queer communities deserve a big fabulous party, that’s for sure. But if we’re going to continue the fight against heterosexism, homophobia, biphobia, transphobia, sexism, cissexism, racism, class oppression, ableism, et cetera, et cetera, then we need to practice what we preach. Treat ourselves with respect, treat others with respect, treat our surroundings with respect.


Filed under activism, biphobia, human rights, racism, San Francisco, transphobia, violence

3 responses to “Trashed

  1. I think that Pride turning into drunken debauchery, in some respects, is very heartening. Columbus Day and St. Patrick’s Day, for example, used to be important political statements of existence for the Italian and Irish communities, respectively. However, as those communities became less and less oppressed over time, their “pride” parades eventually evolved into massive parties.

    The observation that Pride has devolved into a big party says that the LGBTQIA community has achieved so much acceptance and thrown off the chains of so much oppression that it’s okay to treat it as a big party rather than as a politicized march.

    Yes, it would be best if people didn’t litter, and respected the struggle(s) of the elders who came before, but on the other hand, event cleanup creates jobs and human memories are unfortunately rather short.

    • Temple, you are ever the optimist. 🙂 I, on the other hand, tend to be more of a cynic. I don’t think that drunken debauchery at Pride is a sign of acceptance at all. Rather, I think it’s a sign that we still have a long way to go. So few people know about the history of Pride, or are aware of any LGBTQ political movements (other than marriage equality). I also think that a lot of straight and cis people go to Pride because it’s “cool,” not because they’re necessarily truly being allies. I really felt for the people who were trying to make their way to the Clean and Sober area at Pride, knowing that in order to get there and back, they had to wade their way through a lot of alcohol.

      I also wanted to comment on the idea that “event cleanup creates jobs.” It may, but that type of job creation does nothing to alleviate systemic, long-term oppression. In many communities, the volunteers who organize the event are responsible for cleaning up the area, not people who are working for pay. I remember years ago attending Sonoma Pride, and at that event, people were strongly encouraged to pack their trash and “leave no trace,” partly to alleviate the burden on the Pride organizers, and partly as an act of respect. I thought it was great, because there’s integrity in it – practicing radical forms of respect and acceptance while preaching it.

  2. Emilia Marquez

    That’s just awful to be trashing the city like that when San Francisco is one of the most favorite places to go to in the country. To be trashing and getting stupid drunk those people were giving the LGBT community a bad rap, as if they don’t have respect for themselves or the environment. When I went to Sac Pride last month I did see trash on the ground but not so much because there were janitors going around picking up trash. Of course I played my part too as well by putting my trash in the garbage and plastic bottles in the recycle. What did your wife and daughter thought about SF Pride?

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