Life & Culture

Tom Rasmussen: Why Pride Month Can Be Exhausting

Ahead of London Pride 2019, Tom Rasmussen explains why he’s experiencing ‘Pride fatigue’

The other day I got on the DLR in Deptford. Sat at the back of the train I realised that the next carriage had a rainbow TFL sticker on it, which read #DLRPRIDE, or something like that. I mean it’s true, nothing makes me feel Pride (capital P) like riding the DLR. The same DLR that has been the silent bystander to some of my most violent homophobic encounters since I moved to London seven years ago.

I walked through Bank station and 50% of the adverts were about Pride. I logged onto Twitter and it felt like everyone on the planet was tweeting about Pride. I checked Instagram and there were endless sponsored stories from fucking water bottle companies who had slapped a rainbow on their single-use plastic. I ran, because as is my right in Pride Month, I was a drag queen running late for a panel talk about, you guessed it, Pride. 

Now, I’m not here to tell you Pride is too commercialised. It is. I’m not here to tell you Pride is a protest. It is (or, at least, it should be). I’m here to say that Pride Month can be exhausting.

Sure, I sound like an ungrateful wanker, a moany queen with a chip on her shoulder about something that I should feel a deep sense of connection with. But that’s the point: with it Pride brings a pressure, one which says we should feel Pride above all else. But I don’t feel Pride all the time, because Pride isn’t going to save us.

For many queers, Pride Month brings with it this complicated nexus of emotions. Here’s a month for us, for me – someone who is constantly calling for better visibility, better treatment on the ground – and yet I’ve lost my mojo. We’re told to feel good about ourselves, to feel seen and honoured by culture wider, and yet day-to-day life remains an often overwhelmingly terrifying concept. Like lots of queers, I feel critical of Pride, I feel disappointed by Pride, I feel like all I do in Pride Month is complain about Pride. Why can’t I just enjoy it? 

And yet the fight for our rights should be something we meet with vigour and energy. The honouring of our history and our present is something we should do with power and volume. If I don’t feel Pride now, when will I ever feel it? And if I don’t feel happy about being allowed to feel Pride now, will I ever feel happy at all?

Add to the list: Pride Month also being a time where you feel status anxiety because you’re not named one of the ten most important people in history for LGBTQIA+ rights (obviously you’re not, but should you be doing more? Or should you abandon the idea of lists? WHAT SHOULD YOU DO?); Pride Month being the time where people like me – fat queers – also feel dreadful about our bodies, it exacerbated by the terror of having to be around hot, topless, muscular people who rub their smelly, pheromone-filled sweat all over your clammy body as they squeeze past you on the streets of Soho because you’re invisible. And that’s just me. Pride Month misrepresents most of us who exist on some kind of margin within the queer community. And yet we’re told to feel Proud. And when you don’t you feel terrible. Like a snowflake. And it’s exhausting. 

My drag sister Glamrou puts it perfectly: “The way I feel about Pride is the way I imagine women feel when they get told to smile on the street. It’s like I’m being forced to smile for a month when in fact I still feel so much rage.” And I would argue this rage amplifies in a month where we’re supposed to feel less rage.

To think of young queers at their first Pride makes me feel emotional, in a good way. To think of leather pups and toddlers playing together – a scene I saw, and shed a tear over, at Lancaster Pride two weeks ago – makes me feel healed. To think of charities and community projects that actually get to be celebrated properly is wonderful. To think of people feeling safe enough to express themselves in Central London streets or at regional Prides when that task often feels impossible 364 days of the year, makes me feel glad Pride exists – even if it isn’t perfect.

But none of that necessarily feels like actual pride with a small p. Real pride is being allowed to exist unbothered, to fight on your own terms, and to not be forced to feel it just because it’s the day on the calendar people picked. Pride (with a small p, although that had to have a big p because it was the start of a sentence) is often not found on the plastic cup littered streets of Soho. It’s found in places where you don’t have to swerve and shape-shift to feel comfortable. I feel pride, for example, when I’m at home, eating cheese from the block, with my queer friends who don’t ever ask me to change who I am to be welcome into a space, nor to fight to remind anodyne attendees that, swear to God, companies have never really done anything for LGBTQIA+ people.

Getting to a place of pride in your difference takes a long time. It’s truly an exhausting process. It’s one which can never be understood by Taylor Swift or Wagamama or your cis straight friend’s boyfriend you have to take to Pride because they love you. That’s not their fault of course, it’s dominant culture’s fault. We’ve been failed by so many, and yet we’re told to feel happy about it. And it’s exhausting.

Perhaps it’s just me and Glamrou. But if it’s not, remember it’s okay to find this time hard, exhausting, complicated, infuriating. It’s fine to feel tired, to not go to Pride, to not tweet about it or wear a rainbow. It’s fine to find pride in your own way.

As for me, I’ll be going to the parade in London and drinking copious amounts to numb my body anxiety. I’m sure on the day I’ll feel emotional because all these feelings have to produce some sort of response. But, really, I’m most excited about the fact I found this amazing oversized white blazer in a charity shop that honestly looks really great, and I get to wear it in the street for the first time. I’m sure I’ll get some looks as I saunter onto the DLR, even though it’s just a white blazer, but that’s okay. It’s taken me 27 years to feel good enough to wear white and not feel disgusting. That’s my act of Pride. I’m here, I’m queer, and I look good in this blazer.