Twink Revolution

Marxism with Twink Characteristics

Walk of Shame: Pride and Paradox

Pride isn’t about sex, or un-sexy “queer liberation.” It’s about humiliation.


12 min read
Who was walking around with 6 different colors of chalk and still ended up with this shitty rainbow? What went wrong here?

Sometime between the marriage decision and twee ads for PrEP being added to the Hulu rotation, the great gay hivemind decided that Marsha P. Johnson had invented Pride.

Her election was conditional of course. First, Johnson, who had routinely identified as the now flinch-inducing “transvestite,” the too-jokey “queen,” and the straight-up inconvenient “gay man” must be deemed a trans woman in the most contemporary sense, lest her life get in the way of the Instagrammable infographics.1An extended obituary in the New York Times on Johnson’s life indicates that by modern-day measure, she might have identified as “gender-nonconforming,” but the point here is that she likely would’ve objected to having to degrade herself to something so crudely identitarian.

Second, her name could only be invoked within the rainbow walls of Pride Month: a time embodied by parade floats that runneth over with nipple tassels, flavored condoms, and comical bulges—overwhelming monuments to sexual shock value intended to convert those who might’ve been titillated (or even disturbed) to lightly amused, or just indifferent. Towering above the gyrating twunks would stand Marsha—a beacon of dignity in depravity, always depicted like some sort of gay prophet: adorned in a flower crown, costume pearls, a grand prize sash that might have been awarded by those same “queens,” self-avowed transvestites—and yes, gay men—who pioneered a gay way of being that was no longer permitted to mention in the same breath as New Marsha. 

Like Pride in the Drag Race age, her mummified likeness became a scrubbed, desexed, and smiling gay face roped into a PR long-game. Like the revisionist history of Martin Luther King Jr—wherein his commitment to nonviolent protest is commemorated and cherished, but never his hatred of the white moderate commitment to civility—Marsha’s avatar is in the process of coming into its ahistorical own. 

Her courage, so it would be written, was not in her commitment to preserving the lives of those whose lifestyles were fundamentally incompatible with the machinations of capitalism, but rather in simply “being herself.” This memorialization is ostensibly meant to form a sense of unity among disparate identities: by letting your own freak flag fly, you foster an environment in which other freaks might be empowered to do the same. 

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However, this ideology is meant to speak to a population presently bonded solely through atomized sexual or coming-of-age experiences rather than any universal material circumstance—too nebulous to define or preserve any sense of categorical difference. So instead: Pride, Marsha, and Chase Bank-branded lube packets for all are poised to usher in the final frontier of gay life under capitalism, wherein those qualities that once horrified the straight world, and made gay pride necessary at all, have been completely defanged. In its place remains a carnival that celebrates the fall of sexual taboo for everyone, not just queers, but preserves a veil of plausible deniability for those who enabled the swallowing-up of what was once a completely differentiated class; content to argue on forever about which sex acts are icky, as if anyone on Earth gives a fuck.

To paraphrase two of the most salient gay thinkers of our time—Britney Spears and Larry Kramer—there’s only two types of homos in the world: the ones who entertain, and the ones who observe; and when it comes to sex, humiliation is essential to them both. 

The entertainers are the faggots: this class includes the circuit partygoers, the leather-clad pups and ponies, the friends of Tina; but also the newly-out twinks in mankinis and bowties who haven’t yet learned to stop chasing negative attention for validation. The faggots confuse gay identity with their own sexual fetishism, or more broadly, believe that their sexual behaviors are what alienates them from the straight world. They confront their sexual shame by summoning the blind courage to pretend it doesn’t exist—the flagrant display of one’s sexual preferences, in some ways a misguided memorial for cruising culture and the “bad” gay sex associated with it, is a method of coping with the panic that still pervades the collective gay psyche—when in doubt, freak ‘em out. This is a misdiagnosis: the idea that gay sex is remarkable, much less politically meaningful, operates under the bizarre assumption that most people just can’t handle the sight of a jockstrapped ass.

This was the falsehood at the heart of dumpstergate (see above), in which the faggots confused fucking with something politically dangerous; a cosmically deluded perspective, especially in the extremely permissive and pornographic sex culture that persists among young straight people. Reading the tweet is tantamount to feeling your own brain decompose in real-time, but it actually does get at a phenomenon well-documented in Leo Bersani’s writing on gay socialization: the constant push-and-pull among LGBT individuals between pride, as it were, and self-erasure.2Leo Bersani, “Gay Betrayals.” Is the Rectum a Grave?—Parses the push-and-pull of pride and self-erasure in LGB individuals with a vision for “outlaw existence,” or the option to preserve a way of living in a meaningfully gay way without destroying the option to assimilate into traditional family structures and lifestyles. “At his or her best, the homosexual is a failed subject, one that needs its identity to be cloned, or inaccurately replicated, outside of it. This is the strength, not the weakness, of homosexuality, for the fiction of an inviolable and unified subject has been an important source of human violence… a radical anti-relationality that may be the prerequisite negativity for an anti-identitarian community. In homosexual sociality, it is perhaps our antimonogamous promiscuity that best approximates this relational betrayal, a truly gay betrayal that frees us from some of the benefits of a social assimilation to which some of us understandably but no less sadly aspire.”

“Pride is not a gay zoo,” immediately followed by a laundry-list of zoo-like behaviors that one should be entitled to perform publicly in the name of pride, is a confrontation of sex shame that requires an audience, but swears it doesn’t want it, in order to (ironically) cover its own ass. 

Consider the faggot methodology: limiting Pride “protest” to the invocation of shocking sexual imagery (when actual gay sex, constantly proliferated across the Internet from WeHo to the bible belt, is comparatively banal) seems like a move for social isolation. It suggests that the way to socialize the gay individual is to avoid socialization entirely: that to be gay is to live on an island of unmonitored sexual perversion that no one outside it could ever understand or tolerate. 

And yet this approach has had the opposite effect: Chicago Pride alone sees an annual turnout of over 1 million parade-goers in a city that doesn’t even clear 3 million in total population—and barely 150,000 identify as LGBT. The faggots put on a much-beloved show that has had great bearing on LGBT-specific politics. Even at their freakiest, after so many years of parading it around, they eventually seemed pretty normal. Honestly, let them work at Starbucks!

Of equal guilt are the observers, the queers: the purveyors of so-called “radical inclusion,” wherein anyone who doesn’t feel comfortable with normative sexual conventions might have a special place outside of heterosexuality—and all of the traditions and privileges that accompany it. The new vanguard of queerness includes straight men with “aromantic” tendencies, cisgender men and women who abstain from sex entirely, even the faggots with their vulgar approach: there is a name and a flag for everyone, even those whose identity markers have no real-world consequences beyond certain segments of the Internet that require meticulous rendering of the digital self.

For the queers, the individual takes precedence over any kind of collective circumstance. Forfeiting the already flimsy sexual connection, the queers forgo the gay sensibility entirely in favor of a self-serious academic approach that willfully ignores the realities of contemporary gay life—from the social to the sexual. The project of queerness exhibits similar paradoxical logic as the project of the faggots, but inverse. Redefining the gay lifestyles of the 20th century as inclusive of all vague dissent from heteronormativity reads like a move for integration and expanded community, but it’s actually isolationist. 

The queer desires a future in which social constructs are completely dismantled—which means binary gender and sexual acceptability politics, sure, but also a community. Since no one can tell you what’s queer and what’s not so long as you wave that flag, “queerness” includes everything, but stands for something so formless that it may as well be nothing.

And yet, the queers want—no, need—you to think that queerness is something: a universal (oppressive) experience that vast swaths of individuals endure, and the crowd only keeps growing, including younger and more impressionable faces. There is an implicit acknowledgment among the queers that remaining a distinct social class affords you certain benefits that reaching the alleged endgame of queerness wouldn’t allow for: art credentials, aesthete status, lucrative coming-out stories and essay collections, presumed moral authority, the illusion of pop culture market control, and get-out-of-misogyny-free cards

Being a sex pest ruins all of this. Marketing and monetizing your identity doesn’t work if the thing anchoring your identity is as boring as who you have sex with—hardcore gay porn barely has the power to raise an eyebrow in the replies of a Ben Shapiro tweet, so who cares? Queerness, as it follows, is the migration of the gay identifiers beyond sex and into something that can live on as a new market in perpetuity: being special, for some unclear reason. 

Shockingly, those as seemingly mindless as the faggots are a threat to this vision. The scolding tone with which the queers refer to the faggots’ raunchy behavior at Pride begs the question of what Pride events the queers have actually been going to— there are no academic studies about how many people give head behind port-o-johns along the parade route on average, but based purely on anecdotal evidence in any circle of LGBT individuals, it seems a ludicrous proposition to say that anyone attends Pride to collect brochures or discuss the frustrating limits of the gender binary. 

Being a “dumb gay”—that is, a faggot, preoccupied with the sexual dimension of queerness—may not be admirable, but a commitment to the sexual reveals the deep-rooted shame among the queers, one that betrays how easily things might crumble if the thing that once differentiated “queer” life from straight life were allowed to rear its ugly head. 

“Gayness” indicates a sanctioned class of people, bound by undesirable same-sex desires, occupying a strange cultural vantage point that tends to facilitate an unorthodox life. “Queerness” means that anyone who has ever felt “different” in their entire life—whether it’s ostracized them or put them at risk of real, actual violence or not—has their name in the ring for a limited-run Netflix original about being: special, different, misunderstood, unexpectedly sexy, totally unique, and not alone. But of course, they are alone.

What’s so depressing about Marsha P. Johnson’s designation as the face of Pride is that it’s a grave-robbery. Nominating her as the grand marshal of the shame parade, arguing that what she fought for 40 years ago somehow relates to the fight to fellate in the streets or the scattering of a community that once harbored something actually special, makes a mockery of her life. 

Her status now as painted lady of the queer-capitalist project desecrates a monument to a different, actually exciting social integration project that now seems beyond possibility. Bersani dreamt of the gay “outlaw existence,” wherein gays might be defined by their range of incompatibilities with the mainstream rather than just same-gender sex: their failure to satisfy the demands of capital, their dissenting aesthetic sensibilities, their sexual and romantic deviancy.3Leo Bersani, “Gay Betrayals.” Is the Rectum a Grave?—Parses the push-and-pull of pride and self-erasure in LGB individuals with a vision for “outlaw existence,” or the option to preserve a way of living in a meaningfully gay way without destroying the option to assimilate into traditional family structures and lifestyles. “At his or her best, the homosexual is a failed subject, one that needs its identity to be cloned, or inaccurately replicated, outside of it. This is the strength, not the weakness, of homosexuality, for the fiction of an inviolable and unified subject has been an important source of human violence… a radical anti-relationality that may be the prerequisite negativity for an anti-identitarian community. In homosexual sociality, it is perhaps our antimonogamous promiscuity that best approximates this relational betrayal, a truly gay betrayal that frees us from some of the benefits of a social assimilation to which some of us understandably but no less sadly aspire.”

Those at Stonewall recognized their essential incompatibility with the straight world for reasons beyond just sex, as well as the crucial importance of un-gay institutions like family, community, collectivity—and above all, a need for immediate physical safety that would last. Johnson’s life of activism sought after that future: physical bodies protected, but also the freedom from expectation to LARP the gay away. 

Contemporary Pride festivals are the nauseating result of years of misplaced feelings of sexual shame, the flailing of a fragmented social class trying to get something, anything to matter in a way it once did: whether that’s getting fucked in a dog costume in public, or shouting that your intimacy issues should make you a protected class. It’s desperate, pathetic, frustratingly inescapable—and everyone who participates knows it. Everything is permitted. Fetish gear? Sure. Huge age gap? Why not. Graysexual? Whatever that means, I’m sure it’s fine. 

The refusal to recognize that nothing that satisfies the subversive sensibility under capitalism is possible is what keeps the Pride floats rolling through every year: just look at me one more time. Are you sure this doesn’t matter? This is so embarrassing.

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1. An extended obituary in the New York Times on Johnson’s life indicates that by modern-day measure, she might have identified as “gender-nonconforming,” but the point here is that she likely would’ve objected to having to degrade herself to something so crudely identitarian.
2, 3. Leo Bersani, “Gay Betrayals.” Is the Rectum a Grave?—Parses the push-and-pull of pride and self-erasure in LGB individuals with a vision for “outlaw existence,” or the option to preserve a way of living in a meaningfully gay way without destroying the option to assimilate into traditional family structures and lifestyles. “At his or her best, the homosexual is a failed subject, one that needs its identity to be cloned, or inaccurately replicated, outside of it. This is the strength, not the weakness, of homosexuality, for the fiction of an inviolable and unified subject has been an important source of human violence… a radical anti-relationality that may be the prerequisite negativity for an anti-identitarian community. In homosexual sociality, it is perhaps our antimonogamous promiscuity that best approximates this relational betrayal, a truly gay betrayal that frees us from some of the benefits of a social assimilation to which some of us understandably but no less sadly aspire.”

Tags: humiliation, identity, pride, sex, sexuality, shame

Nick Malone Nick Malone (See all)
Nick Malone is a writer, critic, and sweet rack living and “working” in Chicago. He co-hosts the cultural commentary podcast Thot Topics. Website | Twitter

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