MORE THAN A WORD | Protest, not party; visible, not hidden; loud, not silent. Jess Glaisher examines what ‘pride’ means to her.
by Jess Glaisher
You really should have more to say about this word than comes to mind.
Hasn’t it all been said before though?
Protest, not party; visible, not hidden; loud, not silent.
You were behind on the discourse when you attended your first parade. Tears in your eyes, you watched rainbows troupe by tailed by corporations looking for the elusive ‘pink pound’; noticed the party atmosphere preceded by a black-painted coffin and mourners for the resistance this parade once stood for. You still enjoyed it: the chance to be visible and free. Until you entered the tube and had your rainbow socks and makeup scowled at, judged.
That pride was short lived. Does it count?
Two successive years, holding the hands of two successive girlfriends felt better. Discussing how each company failed their queer employees, cheering each charity.
Still, you aren’t saying anything new.
Marching. Perhaps that would change something.
‘Love is a human right’ on your banner and t-shirt, bright sunlight shining down on sparkling sea and pink-burnt limbs. Cheers and shouts and aching feet, but you were smiling. You were smiling with pride. Weren’t you?
Until you saw the t-shirt: ‘I don’t care about your rights, I’m just here to party’. And you didn’t feel proud. You felt tired. Deep, bone-weary. The fight dropped out of you.
That isn’t the pride you want to talk about.
“You try to take pride in everyday existence. In outward expression. In a rainbow-covered desk at work. In short hair that you were never brave enough to cut until you did.”
You want to tell how each bigot examined their actions and privilege; how the pockets of people at each parade, preaching hate and wishing death on people like you, turned their banners around and ripped their leaflets in two. That companies looking for pats on the back would instead improve their representation: banks allow their employees to change pronouns; Starbucks use their money for more than just rainbow window stickers; brands stop trading in countries where you could be executed for your pride.
You don’t get to tell that tale. Not yet.
You try to take pride in everyday existence. In outward expression. In a rainbow-covered desk at work. In short hair that you were never brave enough to cut until you did. Being able to exist with minimal fear and harassment. You can ignore the occasional jeers from boys in cars with vanity plates and blue lights under the bumpers – ‘Ahhh! Look! Lesbians!’ – because calling a spade a spade does not make the shovel weep.
You take pride in being able to protest in small ways. Sometimes. Maybe.
Start with the word. It comes before a fall. Well it came before many: broken hearts and tear-stained plaid shirts. Being proud before you fall in love: does that make it fail? Is that why those loves didn’t work out? Were you too proud?
But no, pride is not always bad; the dictionary says so. ‘A feeling of deep pleasure derived from one’s own successes and achievements.’ You can understand that, surely? You have pride in other areas of life. Your sexuality is not the only thing to be proud about, even though it is simultaneously the thing that you’re supposed to take pride in, and the thing people will most hate you for.
Another dictionary: ‘Consciousness of one’s own dignity.’ You are conscious that you are not always dignified. Far too filled with innuendo to be an embodiment of dignity, and too unsure beneath the surface.
You search for better definitions. More appropriate definitions.
How about this one: ‘A feeling of pleasure because you have done something good.’ When you apply the good-ness to the thing and not to you, it becomes easier to be proud. You marched for a human rights charity. You raised money for them too, more than you thought possible. You can feel some sense of pride in that, surely?
The immediate image in your head, though, remains that parade, that first one. The one where the joy of being seen, of being accepted, blinded you to the hatred. Standing amongst rainbow balloons and happy couples, watching a policeman propose to his boyfriend on the street in front of you, you felt, for one day, like the majority. You forgot how many countries your existence is illegal in. You forgot how many places you could be killed just for being you. For being proud of you.
You wonder if you will ever feel that sense of pride again.
Jess Glaisher | tinyletter.com/jglaisher | jgrenaissencewoman.com
Jess is a writer, performer and theatre professional. She is a queer feminist and activist, whose writing focusses on LGBTQ+ character representation, mental health visibility, and the lives of women. Her story ‘Destiny’ appears in the anthology ‘(Re)Sisters’, and her work has also appeared in Novelty Magazine and on Dear Damsels. She is currently working on a novel – Dear Lina – a speculative piece on the subject of inheritance. She writes alongside an incredible, inspiring creative collective of women who met through For Books’ Sake’s Write Like a Grrrl course. She regularly performs her poetry and prose at spoken word nights in London, and writes a Tiny Letter about her mental health called ‘The Stories I Tell Myself’. She is often to be found procrastinating with cake.