Believe it or not, but there are straight people in this world who need straight pride. It took a question about this weekend’s straight pride march from a 14-year-old boy to convince me.
His question was simple: “One of my friends wants to go to straight pride and I don’t know how to explain to him that this is a bad idea. What should I tell him?”
Behind his question was years of complicated context. Since elementary school his classmates have assumed that he is gay. Thanks to his strong preference for collared shirts over t-shirts and his complete lack of interest in organized sports, he knew it would be futile to try and convince them otherwise. Given that a close family member of his is gay, he has friends who are gay, and his family socializes with LGBTQ families, the idea of proclaiming his straight-ness felt like a betrayal to these people in his life. So he ignored the gossip about his sexuality, or tried to.
I suspected that he didn’t have a friend who wanted to go to straight pride. My guess was that he wanted to go himself. And why wouldn’t he? He was straight! And he’d refused to proclaim it even though he was bullied all through middle school because no one believed he was straight! Why couldn’t he take one day out of the year to let his straight flag fly?
I finally told him that the parade was being organized by “a bunch of Nazis” and promised to text him links to credible news stories that he could forward to his “friend.” It was a good enough answer in the moment. But it didn’t touch on the real issues at play.
By letting a mob of middle schoolers believe he was gay and refusing to engage in a Seinfeld-esque game of “not that there’s anything wrong with that,” he had done more to publicly honor the humanity of LGBTQ people than many LGBTQ people ever do. But it came at a cost. My young friend had been subjected to a slew of homophobic insults because he lived only slightly outside the lines of traditional gender norms.
There are plenty of boys and young men who are straight and who find the strictures of traditional masculinity depressing, soul sucking, and even repugnant. Can you blame them for wanting a day to come together where they don’t have to worry about being bullied? Yes, I know that’s what women, gay men, bisexuals, and transgender and gender queer people deal with every day. But that’s not the point, is it?
The point is that tightly enforced gender norms hurt everyone. A straight pride day that celebrates all expressions of heterosexuality doesn’t sound so bad in this context.
Or course, that’s not what Super Happy Fun America’s straight pride is about. As Boston’s straight pride organizer Samson Racioppi has explained, given the ubiquity of media representations of “drag queens” and other expressions of LGBTQ pride, straight people “need to be reassured that … it’s still perfectly natural to identify as a heterosexual.”
Put another way, Racioppi wants men to know that it’s still okay to be the type of man who calls other men sissies or worse.
So what’s to be done about all this? A few things.
First, do not let your 14-year-old sons attend straight pride. Second, stop agonizing over whether deplatforming alt-right leaders who organize events like straight pride marches is the right approach to fighting hate speech. Of course it is.
The influence of Sandy Hook denier Alex Jones and right-wing troll Milo Yiannopoulos has greatly diminished since their bans from Twitter, Facebook, Google, YouTube, and Apple’s app store. In fact, Milo’s gig as a speaker at Boston’s straight pride might be one of his most high-profile appearances since losing his online platform. Sad.
Last? It’s easy to make fun of the Nazis organizing straight pride. It’s easy to tally up all the ways that LGBTQ people are still marginalized. But it’s also easy to forget that the message of Super Happy Fun America is appealing to some young men. In our response to straight pride, let’s not inadvertently push them into the arms of trolls like Milo.
With all that in mind, you won’t find me anywhere near straight pride tomorrow.
Susan Ryan-Vollmar, a communications consultant, was formerly editor-in-chief of Bay Windows and news editor of the Boston Phoenix.