What Is Pride, Anyway?

We are now at the 50th Anniversary of the gay rights movement, which exploded into the public eye on June 28, 1969 with the Stonewall Riots. The Stonewall Inn was a gay bar and was frequented by lesbians and gay men, drag queens and transgendered people. The NYC police engaged in a systematic program of harrassment of the gay bars of the time by raiding the bars and randomly arresting people attending there. On that historic day 50 years ago, many of these citizens fought back, drove the police into protective hiding and did considerable property damage. In a sense, the gay community finally rose up in rage at being constantly harrassed and not allowed to live their lives as they saw fit. Within a year, pride demonstrations had spread from coast to coast. Within another year, gay student organizations sprang up at colleges across the country. The subject of gay liberation was constantly in the press and other media.

I cannot, and it is doubtful that more than a handful of people can, describe or explain the complexities of the community that has evolved from this historic gay event fifty years ago. There exist so many variants on and permutations of sex, sexuality, gender and gender expression, and even though understanding all of these variants and permutations is of the utmost importance for each of us in this community, it is tedious to recite them all. However, there is something that I can point out, some one thing that unites us all. Painful and difficult as it is, it turns out that we are a negative category. What I mean is, we are in essence defined by what we are not. We are not straight. We are not (or not only) attracted by the opposite sex. We do not identify with the gender which we are assigned at birth. We are not only men. We do not adequately fit into two sexes, male and female at the biological level. Or the psychological or social level.

To continue for a moment on this negative adventure, so many of the things that we are not have to do with the patriarchy. Now this patriarchy, this is a real thing. In a patriarchy, the social system is set up to favor men and women who behave in certain ways. The patriarchy is in fact based on a binary definition for people: you are born either a man or a woman, and while there are lots of opportunities to individualize, there are also a lot of expectations for your social behavior. And so, what begin as a rebellion against oppression of “deviant” behavior has become an exploration and plumbing of the depths of alternatives to rigidly defined straight male or female behavior. Our group wouldn’t exist without the oppression of non-straight sexual or gender behavior. Also, without oppression, we would have no particular reason to band together for strength.

As it turns out, I have intersected this negatively defined area of human behavior at many times and places and in many ways. I was a mamma’s boy, a sissy-boy, but one who accepted his assigned gender designation for most of his life. I’ve searched my soul; my pronouns are he/him. And so believing this as a young man, I determined that I was homosexual. But as a teen, my puberty was delayed and I developed gynecomastia in both breasts. I have had to contend with gender dysphoria throughout my life. I had a badly done bilateral mastectomy as a teen and reconstructive surgery in my late 30’s. I settled into a gay marriage. But in my 70s I had to face the facts, too complex to enumerate here, that I was most probably a member of the transgender community. I am trans.

And while I know some of my older gay male compadres hate the term, because it was used by cisgendered males to shame them in their youth, for me, the term ‘queer’ fits me. It really feels right now at the end of my life. The boys on my block called me “queer” as they bicycled by. In their eyes, I was bent, not straight. And I was bent, not straight. I had a particular bent away from straight. Now, I see it, too. But I see it in a new light. This negatively defined group of human beings, this alternative to rigid sexual and gender roles, this group is queer. We don’t fit the stereotype. But, never mind, everyone must choose how to describe themselves. I also respond to the term “nonbinary,” because, indeed, I do not fit the binary in several ways.

Returning to the topic, what is pride, then? And who will march in a pride parade? It seems clear to me that who will march in the pride parade will be all those human beings who didn’t fit the stereotype. We kept coming out. Drag queens, male and female impersonators, gay men, lesbians, bisexual, transsexual, transgender, intersex, gender fluid, nonbinary, asexual, questioning, and on and on. And, if you’re an ally, I think you should be welcome to march in our pride parade, but please don’t forget that if you can’t find a place for yourself in this really huge group of queer individuals, this parade is not for you, it’s for us. We deserve it, because we deserve to celebrate our queer humanity, and it’s been a very long time coming that we can get away with celebrating it, and some of us, especially those in the trans community, worry that we still can’t celebrate our queer humanity without endangering our lives.

And also, please remember this. If you are not on board with this celebration being a good thing, then please do not shame yourself by marching with us. If you are not ready to make a public statement that gay pride, lesbian pride, transgendered pride, queer pride is a good thing, please have the decency to stay home. Let us have our celebration in peace.

And, by the way, if you happen to be a member of a group or occupation that is well known to have harrassed queer people, arrested queer people, killed queer people on a more or less steady and regular basis over the decades, well then please have the decency to make a public statement that you are ashamed of that wicked behavior, and that you, yourself, will never engage in such harrassment or vilification, even in the presence of strong peer pressure to do so. You will have the same courage that it took for us to build from the closet to this current magnificent display of courage, and you will come out to your friends and workmates as an ally or as one of us. Not just on the day of the parade, but all through the year.

Anyway, it’s our parade. You know who you are.

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Old Age Ain’t for Sissies. Oh, really?

A reflection for the International Transgendered Day of Remembrance

About ten years ago, I was in the lobby of Barnes-Jewish Hospital going to my car from a visit with my spouse, Stephen, who was recovering from an operation. Crossing my path on his way into the hospital for tests was an old friend and former colleague of mine and his wife. We exchanged greetings, brief “catchings up,” and the reasons for our presence there in the lobby. I’ll call this colleague “Roy.” He says to me, “Well, old age isn’t for sissies.” Irrepressible as I am, I stepped back slightly and turned my hand in a gesture of self-display and said, “Oh, yes it is.” And I laughed. He and his wife did, too. Perhaps for each of us, it was a bit of a nervous laugh. I mean, a couple of decades before that, my gay activism had been on display at the campus on which Roy and I then taught. I was known to Roy as a gay activist, a hard-working and competent university professor, and also a man in a long-term same-sex relationshp.

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Bully for me

I didn’t realize it at the time, nobody did, but I was a transgendered kid. I never had a good explanation for all the woes of my childhood while it was happening. It just seemed like my life was really difficult and challenging with a lot of stumbling blocks. On the other hand, there were segments of my childhood living that were a joy. I loved school and excelled in every subject but art and physical education. I hung out with my mom, her mom, whom I called “grandmother” and her mom’s mom, whom I called “grandma.” My social world tended to be the Erb children who lived next door (three girls, one boy), my first cousins who lived next door (three girls), and the cluster of women friends who regularly visited and played cards with the female trio of our household. Not that I didn’t relate to my dad. Though he struggled with alcohol addiction, he parented me thoroughly enough that even today he is often my go-to moral reference. When dad was drunk, he could terrorize indiscriminantly. When dad was sober, most of the time we worked out an uneasy truce and tried to get along. We were so different from one another.

Erb Children
Jimmy (left) with Cricket, Danny, Dolly, Mary Margaret, Lyle?, Alvena and Dody

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Why I Changed to “Jayms” on Social Media

In changing their name to “Jayms,” they are coming out as nonbinary.

I recently decided to change my Twitter and Facebook first name from “James” to “Jayms.” While my friends and family have been largely accepting and unquestioning, I would like to explain why for me this makes a significant statement about who I am and how I have evolved in my lifetime.

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On Gender and Murder

My delayed reaction to the Orlando Massacre.

Sunday morning I awoke to the horrifying news: 20 had been killed in a mass shooting in Orlando. Stunned, I went about the business of getting Stephen and me to church. As usual, we picked up our neighbor, Jim, to give him a ride. His first words in the car were, “Did you hear that 50 people were killed in an attack on a gay bar?” There was something about having that initial estimate of deaths more than doubled that threw me into one of the worst places that I have ever found myself in. I almost couldn’t function. Thank God, our Rector, Jon, started the sermon with silence and a prayer for healing. But I couldn’t even watch the news that day, I was so much in a state of shock.

All of our problems in this world are not due to us queers. All of the problems of this world are due to the killers. The people who hate queer, fear queer, are pissed off at queer.

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A Personal Reflection on Gay Marriage on this Historic Day

I didn’t have an easy time accepting my sexuality. I grew up loved, but I lived in fear of saying that I was gay, let alone acting on that fact. I was 30 before I came out, and essentially lived a second teenage during that decade. I did my share of exploration, but always, I was looking for and not finding another man with whom to share my life.

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