Ask ten people what Gay Pride Month, which starts tomorrow, is about and you'll get ten different answers.
For the massive crowds that will descend on West Hollywood on June 12th, it will be an excuse to watch the annual parade, a menagerie of gogo-boys, outlandishly costumed drag queens and leather daddies, all led by this year's Grand Marshall, Olympic skater Johnny Weir, who knows a thing or two about putting on a show.
From the outside looking in, the parade seems like a fun bacchanalia and celebration of sexual freedom; a perfect rite of late spring, but within the LGBT community, the arrival of Pride month, with its parades and parties, triggers arguments and hand-wringing.
For many, gay pride is a bitter reminder of everything that is wrong with the gay community. All those mirrored speedos, feather eyelashes and pierced nipples, they would argue, are doing nothing to change the stereotypes straight America has of gays and lesbians. There's a sense, not wholly unearned, that the crowds who come to West Hollywood's Pride Parade are coming to see the freaks. For a community exhausted of being marginalized, Pride becomes another thing they have to defend.
A little history will help: Gay Pride Month commemorates the 1969 Stonewall Riots, in which a group of drag queens and gay men, fed up with having their gay bar raided by the police, fought back. For me, Gay Pride Month is not about my having pride in my sexual orientation; it's about me having pride in those who have stood up to make life more equitable and just for people of all orientations.
A "respectable" Gay Pride would be a slap in the face to those who were forced to live secret lives in the name of "respectability." What could be a more fitting tribute to those men, women and transgendered persons than to celebrate their efforts by transgressing, by being outre, by acting fabulous?
The modern LGBT Pride movement hasn't benefitted just gays and lesbians. The work to build a society that is accepting of all its citizens, makes for a stronger nation. It teaches us to live with and celebrate contradiction. It moves us away from a viewpoint of "Either/Or" and closer to the inclusive "And." What could be more all-American?
Something to keep in mind next time you find yourself applauding a paper mache pirate ship filled with shirtless men in wearing nothing, but eyepatches and g-strings.
Japhy Grant is a journalist who has written for Salon, True/Slant, The Advocate, OUT and The New York Observer. He is also the creator of the digital show, FOODIES and has directed music videos for bands like Grizzly Bear and online campaigns for brands like Max Azria. Read his commentaries on the LGBT community in Southern California every Tuesday on KCET's blog, SoCal Focus.