Wednesday, July 6, 2011

My first Toronto Pride

Last weekend, I went to Toronto pride for the first time. It was such an incredible experience... I would like to just mention a few things about it, then relate it to an experience I had yesterday where an acquaintance repeatedly told a homophobic joke even after I pointed out that it was inappropriate.

There was one particular moment at pride that I think I will remember forever. I was watching the parade with my partner and a friend. Towards the beginning of the parade, there were a few groups that made me think about how much things have changed over the past decade. For example, school teachers were marching. Now, I do not recall there being any teachers who were 'out' and able to march in parades at any of the 4 high schools I attended, but I do recall a lot of teachers being made fun of for having non-gender typical traits and called many derogatory names. This was in the late 1990s.

Soon afterwards, there was a group of students representing Catholic high school students' attempts to establish GSAs at their schools, which made me think about how far we have left to go. When these students walked by, one of whom I recognized from a newspaper article, I got quite overwhelmed and actually cried. It made me think about how different my life might have been if I had access to this type of a group when I was a teenager.

I almost cried again when I saw the product placements, but in an entirely different way. There were pink razors being handed out to women from a portable bathtub looking thing that was being pushed by a few people (which reminds me, I was surprised by the fact that I didn't see another pair of unshaven legs on someone I would have identified as female). There were also the TD boys, men in little green underwear that represent the main corporate sponsor. I was intrigued by the lack of half naked females selling things... it seems within the queer community, men take over the role of objectified body. Even outside of advertising, the women whose bodies were not covered with clothing rarely conformed to hegemonic standards of beauty.

There was another aspect of pride that bothered me. By Sunday afternoon, Church Street was littered with garbage. I wish I had taken pictures of the amount of trash on the street. It didn't help that vendors and groups were pushing their leaflets and pamphlets, which were later tossed aside, or that there were relatively few employees emptying trash cans (all people of color that I saw). It just reminded me of kids trashing a house at the end of the night... still, the people were pleasant and the atmosphere was good.

Yesterday, after returning home from Pride, there was an incident that made me wish I were back in that atmosphere again (not the litter, but the more open and accepting environment that I experienced, especially on the Friday, which was referred to as Trans Pride Day). I play on the graduate student baseball team... we are in the lowest division and have never won a game, but it is usually still fun. The other team had a player on third base, and one of my teammates made a comment/joke insinuating that the player enjoyed spending a lot of time on his knees.

The player who this had been said to and the other people on my bench started laughing until I pointed out that it was a somewhat homophobic thing to say (implying that a man performing oral sex on another man is a bad or humorous thing). At this point, the group had stopped laughing and kind of looking around awkwardly, except for the guy who made the joke who repeated it more loudly. A friend of mine on the team walked over to me and started asking me about Pride weekend, I am assuming so that the other people would get the hint and stop speaking that way, which seemed to work for the time being.

When the inning was over and the rest of the players on my team came back to the bench he repeated the joke again, to which I responded something along of the lines of "Nice, tell the homophobic joke in front of the lesbian couple". I am not entirely happy with that wording because it implies that it would be ok to tell the joke if there were no identifiable queer people around, but I just responded without taking too much time to think about it. He shot me a dirty look, but nobody laughed at him this time, I am assuming because they were afraid of offending me.

I also think that it is weird that in some instances, such as this one, I feel compelled to say something about what I consider to be hateful speech. Yet, when people are directing it towards me (see here), I freeze and cannot say anything. Like, on a streetcar returning from Pride events in Toronto, a man was poking me and referred to me to my partner as her 'boyfriend' (even though I am not particularly masculine). Again, I froze... luckily, she knows me well enough to understand when I cannot respond and told him to leave me alone.


  1. As the target of what you called the 'homophobic' joke i feel compelled to clarify a few things. As you are no doubt aware people on the team routinely have jokes of a pseudo-sexual nature, and from a group of twenty something is that really surprising?

    These jokes have included both homo and heterosexuality, and frankly, I think that's a good thing. As the target of the joke I took no offense and didn't perceive it as being hateful towards myself personally or to any group generally.

    I actually thoroughly enjoyed it given the quick wit it required. I was asked to play the position short stop (often truncated to simply 'short'). Given my height someone quipped that in order for me to be short i would have to play on my knees. The joker than said something to the effect of, oh, i bet you spend a lot of time on your knees. It was a quick catch of a potential sexual reference which served to boost morale during a particularly harsh game and lightened the mood of several people on the field.

    I do not think its fair for you to called it homophobic since sexual references made are both homo and heterosexual and you are simply picking on one which happened to be related to the former. However, having people self-censor the references they make to specifically exclude homosexual references would be homophobic.

  2. Rafiq, I will concede that homophobic might be a strong word for the joke, however, I do still think it implies that the act it refers to is a negative thing...

    it is a comment I hear a lot, and am not generally offended by it... I know people who have expressed serious discomfort at the same joke in other contexts and, as such, I tend to feel the need to speak up when someone says it. When I different person on the team at a different game said a "hetero" joke that was derogatory towards women, I mentioned it too...

  3. I do not think the aspect of ''spending time on knees'' is a negative thing. Had this been said to me instead of Rafiq, we all would have had a good laugh and moved on. It's the differentiation you are making [between hetero and homo ]which is making this topic problematic. We crack sex jokes constantly... as has always been the case. I have never been offended by any sexual comments made relating to acts which may occur between a man and a women, nor between any other individuals be it two women, or two men, or a group of 8 partners givin' er for that matter.

    If you are truly offended, speak to the individual who made the joke. you have access to his e-mail as well as his facebook.

    But I believe that by taking such a strong stance you are doing much more to create a rift between homo and hetero, as you are insinuating that unlike hetero individuals, homosexuals cannot enjoy a good sex joke like the rest of us.

    And really, everyone likes fellatio, or cunnilingus (as the case may be)!

  4. Ms. Marx: glad to hear you enjoyed Pride. Too bad we only know each other through the blogosphere or I would have invited you and your partner out for a beer – I probably could have introduced you to some of the radical queer crowd who were running a lot of alterna-Pride events [like, for example, the QuAIA crew who didn't march in the parade this year].

    As for the above comment... seriously? Is someone actually arguing that equal opportunity sex jokes is somehow anti-homophobic because of the stellar reasoning that excluding homophobic references would be homophobic?

    Why don't we spread the fun around and you can "boost morale" by telling equal opportunity racist and sexist jokes. Maybe you don't understand, but jokes aimed at oppressed minorities are different from the counterparts aimed at the normative group because they are connected to a broader and dehumanizing ideology. And in this instance, when a joke is "funny because it is gay", it clearly crosses a problematic line. The on your knees joke is only funny because of the heteronormative context: it is "funny" because of the supposed insult involved by implying that a straight man is a "fag." Sexual jokes about heterosexuality do not have the same logic: the joke is never about the identity of the person involved, and how it's deeply funny because they're straight.

    So you might have enjoyed this joke, and I'm sure you had a real chuckle fest along with all the other straight folks who thought it was neato, but just because it boosted your morale doesn't make it suddenly okay. And there can only be equal opportunity sex jokes when society is no longer homophobic, which would make the jokes no longer homophobic––though they would probably be different jokes, if you really think about it, because it wouldn't be humourously insulting to imply that someone is secretly gay.

  5. I do understand that "jokes aimed at oppressed minorities are different". however, the joke was not funny because it was a 'gay' joke, but simply because it was a sex joke.

    If a queer individual were to make the same joke which could be over-interpreted to be a 'homo' joke, then clearly this same issue would not be arising and it is there which lies my argument.

    Also, you assume that I'm straight which is not the case. Also, not all heterosexual people are homophobic, that is a vast generalization.

    I understand that your opinion is yours, which I accept. But unlike myself, and Rafiq, we do know the team member with which we play... and it was certainly not a 'gay' joke when it was made, but simply a 'sex' joke.

  6. JMP, thank you... you said a lot of the things that I was about to say, but much more eloquently (as usual).

    Whether the aspect of spending time on one's knees is innately positive or negative is not in question, but what originally made the line funny in the first place was the negative association of a man taking a submissive position and the act of fellating another man.

    As I said in the previous comment, I know people who are very offended by that particular joke, and, as such, I am not yet at a point where I can find it funny. I can enjoy a good sex joke (I can't even tell you how many 'that's what he/she/they said' jokes were told at pride weekend) but I cannot enjoy a joke that I feel is made at the expense of others or another group, or that someone I know from another group feels the joke was made at their expense... whether or not the intention of the speaker was for it to be taken that way.

    And I'm not entirely sure what the comment on liking oral sex has to do with it, but not everyone likes any particular sex act... there are many people who are either asexual or who just don't like particular acts, and that is ok.

    And Jess, I don't think JMP assumed that anyone was or was not straight, nor did he assume that all straight people were homophobic, I read it as that we live in a heteronormative society.

  7. ''I'm sure you had a real chuckle fest along with all the other straight folks who thought it was neato''.

    As a totally heterosexist comment, I'm offended, not for me... but for any hetero who could have possibly been offended by that comment.

    ''I cannot enjoy a joke that I feel is made at the expense of others or another group, or that someone I know from another group feels the joke was made at their expense... whether or not the intention of the speaker was for it to be taken that way''.

  8. Jessyka: to be clear, when I was typing my initial comment "Rafiq" was the only commentator and I was referring to him, not to you. But since you clearly misunderstood what I was writing. Oppression is not about individuals, personal psychologies, or any of this idealist and liberal nonsense: it's about social structures that emerged through a history of real and material oppression. So people from oppressed groups can participate in their own oppression, and have historically, so your identity makes no difference to me because you can be queer and support heterosexism - like the Gay Republican Club in the states does day-in and day-out. Just as you can be part of the comprador class in a neo-colonized country and help oppress your own people.

    And really, trying to pull the identity game that you "may just be" queer, and I can't possibly know that, is a total dodge and a banal attempt at identity politics to excuse homophobia. And by the way, since I don't like how people try to use identity in order to let them off the hook for supporting racism/sexism/homophobia/etc., I'll just point out that I am "straight". I have a commitment to anti-oppression and radical politics, though, in both my intellectual and organizing life.

    You say, in one comment, that you get how jokes against oppressed minorities are different but then act as if it is a level playing field between the oppressed and the oppressor in your last comment about how the heterosexual people could be offended by a joke. This is akin to arguing that there is such a thing as "reverse racism" or "misandry"... It's liberal nonsense.