Pride, tokenism, and trauma
Recently, while discussing trauma, a friend told me to think of it as a tuning fork. Once a note of trauma is struck it inevitably resonates with old things, and can bring them forward in overwhelming and terrifying ways. There is a point where the sound of the fork and the sound of instrument are indistinguishable. So it goes with the memory of the physical and the actual of the physical: The emotional context of yesterday overlays today.
The other day I realized Toronto’s Pride festival and parade was imminent. I had known it was coming, out there at the periphery of my attention, but like most painful things I kept it at a distance. The inevitability of it arriving within a few days, however, brought to focus even my wandering, elusive mind. I could feel all sorts of tuning forks tapping their tines and touching me; my body responding in kind, with muscles tightening and emotions convulsing. Still, in that moment of being aware of those tuning forks tapping I could step back and merely experience, not submit. Instead of lashing out in fear I could only think “Why is this happening?”
As the moment retreated and I reasserted myself in the present I kept thinking “Why?” Pride is an event, like Michfest, from which long ago I lost any personal connection. I still consider inclusion in all events a right for trans women, and I will take part in those fights, but for me Pride is like an abusive lover I let back in too many times. Eventually that part of you is just gone, and so despite all of the gestures and invitations I can’t imagine going to a Pride event. It is not that the issues I consider every day of my life as a queer trans woman are any different during Pride week, but they are certainly amplified. During Pride week those tuning forks are like a screaming tinnitus in my ears, keeping me frantic, awake, and fragile. The lies of desirability and lip service to inclusion seem especially hollow in a week when most cis queers are getting laid at their whim. It’s not just sex, though, it’s the years I spent below their radar, hearing all of the repulsive things they thought about trans people once “they” were out of the room. And all those years since then, above their radar, with their conspicuous absence from the group of people who would be proud to tell their community that they were fucking (or dating, or loving) people like me.
(Also, violence. Cis queer physical violence on trans people exists, despite its almost complete erasure from any queer narrative. And no, it’s nothing I feel like talking about here.)
So I feel like my presence at a Pride event would be part of a garish theatre of inclusion which simply isn’t true. Me at Pride isn’t about my experience, it is to show cis queers that they are better than straight people, even if none of them would ever consider going home with me. It is the essence of being a token, and makes me feel like a traitor to the trans women who don’t even get the limited access I do1.
I spend the other 51 weeks of the year trying to build community and attempting different models of living with one another, and doing it with people whom I admire and love regardless of if they are cis. During Pride Week, though, I have to tune them all out – because Pride makes me feel things about my place in community that, if unrestrained, might push me away from it for good.
EDITED TO ADD: Although I am writing with a trans woman-specific voice here, similar sentiments have been expressed to me by queers living in a diversity of bodies which routinely fail to be granted acceptance by queer culture: bodies with disabilities, bodies with skin that isn’t white, fat bodies, neurodiverse brains, or simply bodies with too little money in their pockets, and all of the intersections of these experiences.
1This is my own experience, and I do not begrudge any trans woman who chooses to engage Pride. I support them 100%, and I hope we see a day when every queer trans woman will feel welcomed and included at queer events.