The big slogan for Stonewall's 50th anniversary merch is "The first Pride was a riot." McMann and Tate couldn't have done better - it's a nice piece of marketing. Of course, since that first year of the Stonewall riots, Pride has become more and more of a party. Even during the worst of times, when AIDS was killing off a generation of beautiful young men who hadn't even had a chance to really live, yet, Pride events always left lots of room for a party. I was thinking about this, last night, as I was wrestling with really severe pain, and convincing myself to just take all the damned painkillers in the morning, push past it, and get my ass to Pride. Because showing the fuck up for life can be a show of power.
We've all heard the saying, "living well is the best revenge." That saying has been lingering in the back of my mind, lately. It strikes me as the perfect slogan for Pride. I looked up the origin of that saying, expecting to find that someone like Dorothy Parker or Oscar Wilde had first said it. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the phrase is much older than that, and can be traced back as far as 1640, when it first appeared in print.
The concept of enjoying life in the face of adversity has been with us for a long, long time.
We see it in the African American community where an entire people who have had so much stolen from them not only survive, but thrive. The laundry list of what the institution of slavery took from Africa is too long to even start documenting in a little blog post but, while African Americans still struggle for all kinds of justice and equity, the truth cannot be denied: those enslaved in North America and the Caribbean found ways to achieve the truly audacious. They created - and their descendants continue to create - music, dance, literature, art, and food that looks adversity in the eye and says, "Fuck you, I'm here."
We see it in so many stories of immigrants and the colonized who land on the US mainland, work hard, contribute to society, face discrimination of all kinds, stand little chance of ever making it out of poverty, yet never let go of their ethnic pride or devotion to children and family, and hold on to their mother-tongues with all their might. "Fuck you: they're here."
While the first Pride was a riot, more recent Pride events are celebrations. And that's as it should be. Because the best way to respond to anyone who tells you that you have no right to exist, to express yourself, to feel good about who and what you are and how you live your life is to show the fuck up for life and dare to find joy. "Fuck you: I'm here."
Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, who we have to thank for the Stonewall riots, weren't just queers. Marsha was African American. Sylvia was Puerto Rican/Venezuelan. They were descended from slaves, colonized people, and immigrants. The business of living well as the best form of revenge was in their DNA. I never met these pioneers, but I know this about them: they knew how to have a good time. They knew that living well was the best revenge. They showed the fuck up for life.
Fuck you: they were here.